Ever wonder what people must've filled their time with in the days before email, and sites like Londonist provided respite from the monotony of office life?
Well, if this latest production of Alan 'History Boys' Bennett is anything to go by, the answer's not much. Office Suite takes us back to a time when co-workers addressed each other by their titles (Mr Skidmore, Ms Binns), filling in forms occupied three long hours, retirement really did mean getting an engraved carriage clock, and computers ('glorifed adding machines') were viewed with suspicion.
Office Suite is made up of two one-act playlets, seemingly from the same sketchbook that would bring us Bennett's later Talking Heads series. The first, A Visit From Miss Prothero, sees a recently retired Mr Dodsworth bothered for afternoon coffee and cake by the office busybody, as determined to pass on the news from the firm as he is to get rid of her. In the second, Green Forms, two co-workers, Doris and Doreen, employ nearly every work avoidance technique in the book (pre-Facebook); debating the minutiae of their uneventful home lives, petty office politics, and generally doing anything but attending to the forms that seem to be the entire purpose of their hopelessly overstaffed company. 'You have to be in the mood for pink forms', says Doris, justifying missing her deadline by a week.
This is The Office for the 1970s, Bennett-style.
Unfortunately, this is not Bennett as his Olivier-award-winning best. Patricia Routledge somehow wheels out the same Hyacinth Bucket she seems to have been playing since Bennett wrote the parts for her back in 1978. The majority of the late-middle-aged audience nodded and guffawed along to the slow, under-developed caricatures being played, paint-by-numbers-style and left us feeling young, uninspired and out-of-place.
If you've never worked in a place where people were plucked from the typing pool and sent on computer courses to Newport Pagnell, steer clear of joining this smug, near-silent audience, only reacting like a canned-laughter machine at tired, nearly-knowing, in-jokes. Check your emails, send a couple of witty forwards and engage in some proper office banter instead.
Office Suite by Alan Bennett, 28th May–2nd June, Richmond Theatre.
For more information go to The Richmond Theatre website. Tickets £13–£27.
Photography Tristram Kenton
Words Zoë J Griffiths