Guest review by Ross McGregor
Written and directed by Evi Stamatiou, this is the first production from Fanny Pack Theatre, an all-female collective founded by Rachel Scurlock and Maria Alexe. Their company seeks to produce “contemporary stories about contemporary women”, and has been set up to tackle theatrical gender inequality. In a recent interview with The Stage, the co-founders said they wished to focus on working with women who are “outside the industry norm”, and although this is perhaps a lofty way of saying “give character actors a chance”, Day Job proves that the actresses in this project should be anything but overlooked.
Constructed as a series of interlocking tales about the lives of four female artists struggling to make ends meet in modern day London, Fanny Pack Theatre have created an energised, vibrant, engaging and at times hilarious piece of new writing. The device that links the narratives is the fact that all four women share the same bus journey to work, and scenes switch and intersect with ease thanks to Minglu Wang’s simple yet effective (and entirely blood-red) set. There is a degree of physical theatre and symbolised movement that is incorporated more or less well into the piece and melds fluidly with the more script-based moments.
Of the three stories, Maria Alexe’s songstress French teacher stands out as the highlight. The tale of a woman needing to get to a potentially life-changing audition whilst being stuck between a gaggle of remedial students and an overbearing teaching supervisor was played to perfection by Maria Alexe, and the fact that it involved a degree of comfortable audience participation made it all the more enjoyable. As Alexe’s frustration and desperation with her predicament grew, so in turn did the hilarity of the scene, and for me it was the highlight of the production.
Because unfortunately the other tales, one of baby-stealing escort service and a receptionist-murdering Devil Wears Prada rip-off were far too absurd and long-winded to maintain the laughter. With the French Class tale, it seemed obvious what we were in for: an hour of semi-autobiographical tales of the plight of being a part-time actress/full-time barmaid, but then shortly afterwards the subsequent stories descend into surreal tales from the underworld, with an infernal and demonic escort agency (with their contact phone number even ending in 666 we wave goodbye to subtlety) owning the rights to every baby their escorts produce, and a team of receptionists for “Dirty Business Inc.” (a company along the lines of Enron one assumes) being slaughtered by their line manager as the police break down the doors. The jokes started to flag here, and the characters, whilst ably held up by the talented cast, are just too two-dimensional and grotesque to warrant concern. It’s also a shame that the writer/director/devisers picked sex worker as a generic female job – surely this experience is not as widespread and relatable as teaching, bus driving or receptionist? This decision is so clichéd that it feels like Fanny Pack are actually promoting the theatrical views their company attests to strive against. A misstep here, to my mind.
These script qualms aside, it is the cast that deserve the highest praises. Switching from role to role in a matter of seconds, handling pathos and comedy with a clear aptitude, this quartet of actress prove that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Rachel Scurlock chews the scenery in every role she assumes, and is a complete delight to watch – she steals every scene and comes complete with an electricity in her eyes that makes her almost impossible to stop watching. Maria Alexe has a sultry, captivating and vivacious presence on stage, as well as a truly beautiful singing voice. Clare Langford is perhaps the most introverted and demure of the group, though this may be due to the selection of roles she’s given, and thrives when she is given the opportunity. Out of the four, Langford is the most underused, and this is a shame as she seems capable of tackling so much more than the material she was given. Stephanie Merulla as the enigmatic bus driver is the heart of the piece and holds the shows thematically together with a wry and knowing delivery, knowing how to hold back when needed and sharply point every punchline she’s given.
Day Job is an entertaining night out held together by four very talented young women. The script needs work in terms of its focus, but the performers deal with this ably, allowing their natural talent and creativity shine through.
Find out more about Fanny Pack Theatre on their website.