This Isn’t My Desk – Smock Alley – Review by Paddy McGovern
This Isn’t My Desk (#globalfuturism)
At Large Theatre Company
24 – 28 Oct | 8pm | Main Space
Kate Cosgrave’s preoccupations in her play, This Isn’t My Desk, at Smock Alley are nothing if not topical in a week where corporate Ireland is at last pinned down publicly, its culture and ethos mercilessly exposed in Dáil hearings and the media. While there is no specific reference to banks, there are uncanny parallels with what went on there at the height of the boom and the subsequent bust. Many of us are familiar with the reputation of finance companies, brokers, merchant banking and e-companies for how they treat their workers; the company effectively owns you. When you are of no further use or merely at the whim of a supervisor you are expendable.
Cosgrave’s play is set in this world dominated by profit margins and productivity, overseen by a sweet-faced, ingratiating but flint-hearted head of Human Resources and Productivity – though her official title will be far more impressive no doubt. Maureen Rabbitt hits every note of her character spot on, not least in her symbolic seduction of the important, creepy client towards the end of the play. Alice ní Bheoláin, as the first employee to fall foul of the system, wanders about the stage, bewildered and directionless for the next twenty minutes after her dismissal. What can she do now? Her silence is as articulate as anything you are likely to see on stage. Go! When? Now. Now? Yes. She might be taken back at some point in the future, but on restricted hours, no pension rights – sound familiar? She is replaced by Darcy Donnellan Poole, simpering, giggling, anxious to please, desperate in fact, as she knows the den she has entered.
At Large Theatre doesn’t seem interested in conventional theatrical structure or linear narration. Instead, they offer a series of loosely-connected, occasional, (deliberately) repetitive scenes which present a clear, coherent composite impression. They make great use of physical theatre. Orla Devlin is Documentation, buzzing into action, dinging and zinging, then slumping into inertia like a computer set to “hibernate” – even becoming a contract herself. Yes, a contract! Colleagues are flat-packed for ready disposal when they are dismissed. Cards and buns at tea-break and “We’ll Miss You” banners? Forget it.
Sarah O’Farrell is a janitor – mistress of the empty box – and has a small but important part in a kind of epilogue. Dominiik Domresonski plays a number of parts, most notably a symbolic predator- cum- important company client. Ciaran Treanor’s functionary shows the human cost of subservience to The Company. It has driven him mad in his attempts to get through to top management, wherever they reside. It has drained the life out of him; what is left is an empty husk. It is a fine performance in a part that is needed dramatically to counterpoint the automatons he must “work” with. There was a slight audibility problem at the end, the actor having to compete with music. No doubt this will have been ironed out.
Following on from Anecdotal Evidence earlier this year, the show seems to confirm that At Large is a company setting out to plot its own course. The group bring a freshness and ambition that is welcome. Programme notes and publicity refer to comedic elements. Perhaps because of the all-too-raw contemporary relevance of its content, there are few laughs but there is a lot to think about. Direction by the author is fast-moving, imaginative and clearheaded and extracts clearly delineated performances from the entire cast. The show continues at Smock Alley (main space) until October 28th.