Audacious, banal, raw and, come its pinnacle, shockingly demonstrative, Workshy is an episodic recounting of performer Katy Baird’s forays into the world of work. Themed around Baird’s experiences across various economic sectors, the show cartwheels through anecdotes related to food, sex, drugs, booze and office work, and skims the surface of higher education and social security issues before reaching its final destination. While there are moments of genuine pathos and humour, the performance is abound with mixed messages and changes of direction that do not fully manage to knit the material into a meaningful diagnosis of the prejudices, barriers and exploitation faced by many of Britain’s workers.
The show works best and is easiest to grapple with when Baird confides in the audience as though we are all co-workers in it together, with similar gripes and woes. These moments mainly come in the opening episode centred on the food industry. Several videos are played, from commercialised customer service tutorials to a documentary-style mobile phone capture of a pub interior, that are entertaining and contrasted to interesting effect. The dance sequences, particularly the latter routine symbolising a fast-food worker miming with a mop, are pitched vividly somewhere between the absurd and the tragic.
The mixed messages come at several junctures and are most apparent in a number of impromptu polls put to the audience around broad socio-economic indicators. In the age of data-crunching in which personal circumstance can easily be lost, it is not quite clear what is gained by reducing the audience to a few tally marks, especially in a play that seems to want to narrate beyond quantitative and social misconceptions. Similarly, it seems inconclusive whether aspiration at work is being portrayed as hollow and futile, or as something human and necessary.
There are many issues addressed that merit further consideration. Workshy may get you on side and will likely make you laugh, but the ending is certainly the aspect you will remember most and might make you lose some of the more subtler points raised along the way.