"Well-scripted satire on work values"
by Tristán White for remotegoat on 21/02/18

On paper, there's a lot to like about this hour-long play by Michael Ross, currently running at the hard-to-find Network Theatre beneath Waterloo Station. The gig economy, zero hour contracts, universal credit, and it's only going to get worse come Brexit. So this could be a play for our times.

"Work Makes You Free" of course refers to the slogan that welcomed Auschwitz prisoners, and in this case refers to a throwaway comment that the character of Adam, a Tory MP who heads the Department of Work and Pensions and one of the four characters in the play, made to the press that almost scuppered his career. In actual fact, Iain Duncan Smith said almost exactly the same thing in 2010 on a BBC Breakfast interview ("Work actually helps free people" - Google it) and hardly anyone raised an eyebrow - and he is still in his same job today, seven years on.

Tory MP Adam is an excellent character, the most developed and interesting. It is sadly quite commonplace that men tend to write the best roles for other men - the other three characters (all female) are sketchy and underdeveloped by comparison. They comprise of Jane (city worker for Moody's and secret social media troll), Kirsty (job centre employee and wannabe musician) and Willow (drama school reject trying to make ends meet while being trained at Poundland). There is a tenuous link between all four characters, but it is so tenuous I kept forgetting it.

Had the other characters been better developed, I believe this would have made for a better play. However, had this meant that Adam would get fewer lines (played superbly by Nicholas Stafford) then that would have been a shame. Therefore, I believe the play should have been longer, and that in that extra time the female characters should have developed as well as Adam was. As I said, there is a link between the four of them, but it is so fleeting that it seems too contrived. Some of the best ensemble movies have their characters intertwining and affecting one another to a much greater effect.

This was opening night so there were technical issues, especially with regards to the lighting. Spotlights occasionally hit wrong characters, or turned off them before they had finished their respective lines. This must have been quite tough for the actors, who handled the situation well nonetheless. I imagine that this will improve as the run continues, though they mustn't take too long - the final show is this coming Sunday.

I will add that I did enjoy the snippets of music that we got at the start of the show and occasionally between scenes. I have no idea who they were by or whether they were specifically commissioned as they do not appear in the programme, but they were a good choice nonetheless.

The ending of the play is actually quite clever. I won't give it away here, but it's worth hanging around for. It does help further cement the female characters' connections a little more, though again the link to the male character still remains a little tenuous. Perhaps an hour was too short for this story.

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