Thursday, 21 November 2013

Theatre review: No Place To Go

The theatre space at the Gate has been turned into a Jazz club, but the stage is lit by anglepoise lamps and decorated with bits of broken laptop keyboard, and the band look like a quartet of Jewish accountants turning up for a day at the office. That's because 9-to-5 office life is at the heart of Ethan Lipton's No Place To Go, both a celebration of working life and a look at what happens when it's snatched away. Lipton is a "permanent part-timer" who's been working in a publishing-related firm for the last ten years, to help fund his true passion as a playwright and singer-songwriter. Although in practice he seems to work a full day, his official part-time status means he doesn't get any benefits, but he does genuinely like his job and the people he works with. So the news that the company is moving to a different, cheaper town comes not just as a financial blow but a bit of a personal betrayal.

The company offers all its workers the opportunity to move with it, but offers only help with the moving costs in return, and their claims to value the staff and not want to make cuts quickly ring hollow the more obvious it becomes that they'll make no particular effort to keep them.

Lipton tells the audience his story interspersed with his bluesy songs, backed by his band (Vito Dieterle, Eben Levy and Ian Riggs.) The show's the very definition of bittersweet, despite the downbeat subject matter the songs are more celebrations of his job and workmates, the quirks of daily routine and the way working relationships spill over into social life - the song about Lipton's role in the company 7-a-side soccer team is particularly funny. There's a slight tinge of the surreal that occasionally dips in to the narration - the new town the company's moving to feels like such a departure Lipton insists it's on Mars, and sometimes he'll sing songs from the perspective of the last sandwich left in the conference room.

It all adds up to a rather special little show, with some foot-tapping music (Ben even considered buying one of the band's CDs on the way out; he didn't in the end, but at least he considered it) and an intimate nature that makes the audience part of Lipton's attempt to understand what's keeping him in his town while his job leaves it (the band clear their throats meaningfully behind him at these moments, but it takes him a while to take the hint.) A damning portrait of modern corporate America, but wrapped up in a genuine kind of optimism and positivity for the people behind the corporations.

No Place To Go by Ethan Lipton is booking until the 14th of December at the Gate Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

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