Nathan Ellis’ play, work.txt is a new experimental piece of theatre about – you guessed it…work. Our relationship to work, especially since the pandemic has changed significantly, and Ellis’ play makes some interesting commentary about the shift in how we look at our work/life balance, with the main twist being…there’s no cast. The audience are in control (sort of).
Having never attended a show like this before, it takes a while to come to terms with the fact that no cast member is going to pop out from the wings and take over – we’re going to have to continue reading from the script projected on the screen. This is an interesting gimmick at first, but soon gets a little tiresome. Although, when we are invited to build a city with the giant yellow jenga bricks piled up on the stage, it’s a welcome and satisfying break. Overall, this show is a fully immersive, communal experience where you can choose to get involved as much or as little as you want, with some audience members speaking parts of the script printed out in real-time on the stage.
There is an undercurrent of a plot throughout, focused around a high-flying social media content manager who, out of the blue, decides to lie down on the marble floor of their office lobby and not get up. In each performance, the identity of this person is dependent – in ours, it’s an audience member called Jade. The conversations around why Jade has decided to lie down in the middle of the lobby draws upon the “futility” of work, specifically corporate jobs in huge companies. It attempts to get existential, making outlandish statements near the end: “In 50,000 years, light will dress for the job it wants”, almost sneaking into Samuel Beckett territory.
Ultimately, it feels quite pretentious. You can’t help but sense the smug, self righteous tone, firstly judging people who enjoy more traditional forms of theatre (e.g Mamma Mia), and people in more corporate jobs (how could they possibly enjoy that?). Yes, sometimes work can feel futile, and there is more to life than that spreadsheet with all the company numbers, but many cannot afford the privilege to pursue jobs in the arts – and this piece feels unaccessible for that reason.