The World of Work – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Reviewed by Sam Pryce
This wasn’t strictly a play – more of an out-of-body experience. Or at least that’s what it felt like. The aptly named Difficult Stage have brought us a black comedy of failure from the delightfully disturbed mind of Katy Owen. Presumably autobiographical, this hilariously dark reverie through Katy’s psyche comprises a birthday celebration, an acapella sing-off, a rather profane episode of The Archers and a minstrel (not the confectionery kind). Unlike anything you’ll ever see ever again in your life ever, The World of Work is an evening of utter absurdist hysteria. In fact, it’s so vibrantly original, I can guarantee that every critic will struggle trying to put it into words; alas, I’ll try my best.
Hemmed in by a jungle of potted plants and tasteless furniture, we find ourselves as guests to Katy’s birthday party welcomed by a charmingly witty Ben Tyreman who plays Neil, intermittently offering cheese to front row audience members (there’s a tip for any cheese-loving punters – nab a front row seat). Along with Neil, another of Katy’s motley crew is François Pandolfo playing an out-of-work, out-of-mind actor who’s penned what he believes to be a ground-breaking new play about Aborigine Australians moving to the Valleys (a performance of which is given as a painfully funny climax). And last but not least, Lisa Palfrey steals the show as the, shall we say, unstable Aunty Andrea guzzling vodka and yelling vulgarities.
The narrative is fragmented through discussions of Katy’s failures over the years – her bit-part inCasualty, her… Well, actually, that’s about it. Owen seems to be pleading for recognition of her impractical talents for mimicking demented leprechauns. In an attempt to console herself, through a mist of liquor, she lists of the failures of her guests and so grows to the point that we are all let-downs, and it’s those who can make something of it that succeed.
Though Lisa Palfrey’s virtuosic set of accents and deranged farcicality earns many guffaws, the comic timing is consistent throughout the company. With the addition of Jamie Garven’s direction, the audience are left with creased faces and damp seats.
What is reassuring though is a total absence of pretension – this is a play that ultimately has a heart and a truth to it, a genuinely optimistic love for behaving badly. With the brand ‘absurdist’ comes many presumptions, but the originality of Difficult Stage bypasses the label. You have until Saturday to catch this work of unhinged brilliance. I suppose, yes, your sanity will diminish slightly after you’ve seen it, but you’d be raving mad to miss it.