Office Suite – May 2007

6/10

By: Alan Bennett

Directed by: Edward Kemp

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Wednesday 9th May 2007

I enjoyed this production, though not as much as I’d hoped. This was partly because I led with my chin (had too high expectations) and partly because I lived and worked through many of the changes depicted in the two plays, so some of it felt a little too close for comfort.

The first of the two plays was A Visit From Miss Prothero, originally written for Patricia Routledge, and starring the lady herself. (Both plays were written for her, actually.) It concerns a retired manager from an unspecified works, who receives a visit from one of his former assistants. He’s largely forgotten about the place, filling in his time with evening classes and a budgie. She wants to gossip about the office, as it seems to be her only life, and she finally gets him hooked in by telling him how things have changed.

It’s almost Pinterish at this point. The sense of a power struggle reaches a climax, and she wins – reminiscent of The Dumb Waiter, for example. I could relate to so much of this, having seen so many people reluctant to change when computer systems were introduced. I felt Patricia Routledge was more domineering than I’d seen before in this part. She was obviously the critical type, and this brought out the humour. Edward Petherbridge as the manager was pretty unassuming, and changed to become quite worked up as he realised his life’s achievement was not only being discarded, but surpassed by his successor! All very nicely done.

The set was typical 70s, and because the play is set in such a specific time period it didn’t seem dated as such.

Green Forms was the second play, and in this one, Patricia Routledge plays the “nicer” of the two ladies who while away their time in the office by chatting, reading the paper, having cups of tea and finding the occasional minute or two to do some work. There’s a long-running feud with Personnel over stolen wash basin plugs, and a sudden influx of requisition forms, for various items. Gradually it dawns on these two shirkers that someone will be joining them in their office, at the spare desk, and they discover, to their horror, that the lady in question’s arrival has presaged the closure of various departments around the country. The first green form that they dismissed as irrelevant was in fact to let them know she’d be coming. The play ends with her about to enter the room, so we never get to see what havoc she wreaks in this particular department.

Janet Dale was very good as the office sniper, constantly complaining about everything (she does have to look after an invalid mother, which does take it out of people). Patricia Routledge’s character is the office junior, who has better networking skills, and who manages to find out who the mystery requisitioner is. Edward Petherbridge is the messenger, who manages to keep up a running conversation with his assistant all through delivering the mail, entirely about union representation. And the office itself is one of those tatty, run-down affairs, with dodgy Venetian blinds (apparently a chopped off piece of Venetian blind will help you get into a locked drawer), missing light bulbs, broken light shades and window panes, and a  missing wash basin plug.

Good fun all round, and again a bit Pinterish, with some of that sense of being cut off from everyone else in the universe.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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