A strange scene greets the audience as they sit themselves either side of the long stage Asking for a Raise occupies at The Space theatre this week. At first, your eyes aren’t sure where to look. At Jack Westgate, who’s stood with a lampshade on his head? Or perhaps at Poppy Lawless awkwardly holding a potted plant, at Jacob Ward frozen mid-conversation or at Gemma Wray, who’s face-planted on the ground? Eventually your eyes turn to Imogen Parker, who stands alert, ready to kick-start the show.
Each cast member’s place on the stage is marked by a small portable light, a bit like a Tetris block, signifying the levels this play will climb as the characters try to figure out how exactly one can ask for a raise, let alone actually get one. Once they’ve served their purpose as markers, the lights are quickly moved and manipulated into props, be it a gun or a computer.
The fluid format of the show keeps you on your toes. One minute they’re walking you through a simple flow chart — is your boss in their office? No. Wander your department. Are they in their office now? No. Try again tomorrow. Repeat. After this, the frustrating pattern of technicalities and social rules dictated by the work place are transported into different settings; a video game, a musical performance, an action film, an expedition and a board game. Scene changes are mark by the playful use of sound and lighting as spotlights and arcade reset sounds prove to create effective transitions. The cast take turns playing the boss and the unnamed, everyman protagonist — the one looking for a pay rise. Each of the performers brings their own unique quality to this show; even going as far as acknowledging the fact they are performing.
The scenarios in the play are ridiculous and hilarious but not all that unrealistic, turning this easy-going comedy into a poignant piece of satire about contemporary working dynamics. It finds a creative way to get serious for a moment, without disrupting the play’s fast pace, to discuss gender pay disparity (though it fails to mention ethnicity pay gaps).
The attention to detail of the design in this play is noteworthy — the greyscale office wear costumes are interrupted by splashes of yellow — a blouse, a tie, a button on a shirt, socks and a vest. The colour unifies the cast and shows how much care and attention has been put into making this production feel whole, which it wholeheartedly does.
By the end the cast are dishevelled and exasperated but it’s worth it, not necessarily because they get a raise, but more because Asking for a Raise is a feel-good and fun show, injected with wit and unexpected plot twists.
Asking for a Raise is playing The Space until 7 July 2018
Photo: The Space