There’s a fine line between finding dignity in what you do and admitting it when you are being treated with disrespect. In 2018, employees in all kinds of industries have to ask themselves how safe their role is in an organisation. Am I just a cog in the machine? Can an actual machine do my job better than I can? Satire on corporate life like “The Office” pokes fun at how seriously employees take themselves, as if paper distribution is a matter of life or death. But at what point does this kind of self-delusion stop being funny? Does it ever escalate to… a matter of life and death?
Dining Al Desko finds a slippery slope and tiptoes over the edge. Julie (secretary) and Tom (one-man finance department) are two employees who have been brainwashed into a language of boardroom bullshit. For a time, it’s utterly hysterical. Julia Pilkington nips about the stage, incessantly getting her pens in a row or sitting solo at her desk, having a cheeky nibble at her croissant. She is wonderfully gullible and wide-eyed with enthusiasm as her career is rapidly disintegrating. Optimistic headings (e.g “A Wobble.”) are perfect for punching in and out of each scene and the Chaplin-eqsue music blairs out like a bugle to tell us that Julie will solider on.
All the while, the satire is ticking over into something more sinister. “My role is to man the reception. I am a long term asset”, says Julie. The comedy clouds over with such stealth that I can hardly see it coming. Julie’s monologue is only addressed to us because no one else in her office would listen. Probably none of them care. It’s “Rock Bottom” and Curtis still has us laughing. But twiddling her fingers in the chord of an unplugged phone, I’m actually worried what Julie might do when her time is up and we’re not there to keep an eye on her.
At it’s extreme, Al Desko is a social horror undercover. Tom cracks jokes about the trickle down effect of the company to make light of the damp in the ceiling. It should go unsaid that Christopher Page nails it. It’s funny. We laugh.
Comedy is Tom’s saving grace, as I think it often can be for lots of us. It’s a coping mechanism for addressing or ignoring ugly truths. In Dining Al Desko, comedy can’t cope with its own characters, and when it cracks, it’s completely astounding.
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