“Hello and thank you for waiting, how may I help you today?” Words we have all heard when trying to fix our internet, tax code, credit card, lives. Now, through Stan’s Café’s new digital production For Quality Purposes, we get to see what’s behind the cheerful politeness and the faces on the other side of the call centre. Best listened to through headphones, we follow five call centre workers through their day, as we see their faces across our otherwise blank screen.
Directed by James Yarker and devised by the company, we see the workers answer various calls addressing a variety of complaints, from a laptop failing to connect to the internet to someone on a shopping spree who needs their credit upped. As relatable and amusing these fairly mundane situations are on their own, the piece gets really interesting where it starts to verge on the ridiculous, primarily on the subject of security questions. We watch each worker cheerfully ask their customer a series of questions ranging from the normal, “what is your mother’s maiden name?” to “what is your favourite cheese?”, “the 37th letter of your password?” and finally “was it always meant to be this way?” We’ve all felt the fear of forgetting our own security information, but this is taking that to another level. While being oh-so relatably comedic, it does put you on edge as it makes you question how much companies truly know about you, and what picture that might create of you to people you have never met.
After this point the show becomes more serious, as the workers receive calls dealing with loneliness, assault and suicide. Slowly but surely the women answering the phones become the callers themselves, voicing how they distract themselves from their own dark thoughts and proving that even those who provide support sometimes need support themselves. This transition from supporter to caller was handled superbly and sensitively by the cast, providing an impactful, touching and purposeful closure to the piece.
While the piece, to me, tackles the highly important and still often taboo subject of mental health, asking for support and providing that for others brilliantly, one thing that felt jarring was that the cast was all female. Every actor was fantastic in their role, tackling the subject matter with honesty, emotional clarity and dedication, but I wonder if only showing women as being able to support others mental health issues, as well as opening up about their own, inadvertently perpetuates the stereotype that men cannot do these things. By presenting an all-female cast we see women tackling their demons, opening up and receiving help, which is a powerful and important message, but one I feel that men also need to see reflected on stage and screen. Sadly in our society it is still sometimes seen as unacceptable for men to acknowledge and seek support for these issues, as we see the cast here doing, and I feel that by including a male role this stereotype could be challenged, adding another important and interesting layer to an already important piece.
For Quality Purposes is a sensitive, relatable and engaging production that uses humour, honesty and creativity to tackle some of the most pressing and often taboo topics in our society. While I feel it could have done even more work to promote reaching out for help, regardless of who you are or what your job is, this is an important piece that has the power to start an even more important dialogue within its audiences.
For Quality Purposes is now streaming online. For more information and to watch, see the Stan’s Cafe website.