work.txt at Soho Theatre – Review – ★★
A surprisingly unimaginative audience participation take on work culture, which asks its audience to take a DIY approach to a night at the theatre.
Writer Nathan Ellis’ gimmick, in this show about the gig economy, is to get the audience to perform the show themselves, while being given instructions by text on a screen. For audiences who haven’t experienced interactive shows like Luther & Bockelson’s Reformation 9 or the participatory works of Onroerend Good, or who don’t know about the immersive Fluxus movement or the conceptual art of Yoko Ono, work.txt might feel revolutionary. For us, however, the show feels derivative, and too rooted in the text to be truly inventive or playful. The orders, relayed via the screen on stage, feel too directed to be genuinely rooted in experiment.
The trouble with a show like this ultimately ends up being the volunteer cast. On our visit, the audience (cast) is mainly comprised of actor types, un-phased by an impromptu performance, which makes things feel a little stagey and less authentic than ideal. On the other hand, you could imagine other volunteers freezing, or struggling with the dialogue they are given to recite – and the show might be a little hard for dyslexic people, say, or those with other learning disabilities.
But at the 4th March performance, at least, the duologue elements did work as short plays, performed well by the volunteer actors from the audience – at times, so convincingly that they could have been stooges. It’s tempting, however, to think that it would have been even better with a more standard casting of regular actors, performing each piece as ‘straight’ theatre.
The show nearly gets to some interesting points about zero hour contracts, but never really arrives at the point of saying something truly impactful. Perhaps if an Uber or Deliveroo driver was in the audience, and allowed to relate their experiences, there could be some more interesting results. But ultimately, the script is Big Brother, and we have to follow our instructions.
The one truly engaging aspect of the show is the way it dissects the middle classes who go to experimental theatre, and exposes the shouty show offs who take their opportunity to speak louder than others. So, there’s something to be got out of experiencing work.txt, even if it’s not as profound as it thinks it is.