With 1 in 5 of us reportedly now meeting our other halves in the workplace, what happens when a relationship between colleagues breaks down? R(ex)ception, a comedy about two exes working together on an NHS reception desk, is a short but entertaining portrayal of a situation many of us will be able to identify with.
Written by Francesca Mepham and directed by Adam Morley, the play gets its first full-length performance this weekend as part of the Clapham Fringe at the Bread and Roses Theatre. Hannah (Charlotte Hunt) and Mark (Glyn Manfo) recently broke up – but they still have to see each other every day at work. The stage is set for arguments and awkwardness… and we certainly get plenty of both, as they deal not only with their relationship issues but also with the demands of their job.
Following its debut outing at the first Actor Awareness scratch night late last year, the extended play takes us outside the office, as the couple attempt to rekindle their romance by going to the cinema and out for dinner. As they argue over everything from broccoli to The Danish Girl to Hannah’s overly friendly relationship with Mark’s dad, they’re interrupted by an array of characters. These are all played by Rachael Hilton, who adopts a variety of accents and accessories as she revels in the role of mischief maker.
R(ex)ception draws an insightful picture of a couple who can’t live with or without each other, and who deal with their problems in different ways. Charlotte Hunt’s attention-seeker Hannah is all about in-your-face conflict, constantly throwing around revelations and accusations to try and provoke an argument, while Glyn Manfo’s Mark is master of the muttered retort (which can mean it’s sometimes hard to catch what he’s saying, particularly during the restaurant scene where he’s facing away from us) and seems to enjoy playing the victim in the whole situation. Yet while neither of them is showing their best side, there’s a certain charm and relatability to the characters that makes us feel for them and wish they could figure things out.
The play is also good fun for anyone who’s ever worked for the NHS – like writer Fran Mepham – who’ll recognise the eccentric patients and bureaucratic red tape (I particularly enjoyed the health and safety scene, which reminded me of the time I sat through a whole day of training even though as admin, all I had to do in an emergency was “get out”), as well as the implied hierarchy that places Mark, as the son of a doctor, on a slightly more elevated footing than Hannah.
It’s very early days for R(ex)ception, so perhaps it’s no surprise that while what’s there is enjoyable, it feels there could be more of it. The ending comes abruptly and catches the audience off guard, so we never get to see how the ex-partners’ story ends. Do they get back together, or do they finally learn how to move on? There’s lots of potential here for a more developed story, and all the delicious awkwardness that comes with it.