Before many people were forced to turn their homes into their workplaces during 2020, office politics were likely a dull daily normality. But, with some distance, how ordinary were they? Well, Actually Productions used the space of the global pandemic to closely examine how inequality and sexism manifest in office microaggressions and not-so-funny colleague banter.
We’re All Terrible, Let’s Watch TV was structured like a revue set within the workplace of a sketch comedy television network with sketches punctuating a larger narrative arc concerning the network’s employees. When a new producer Todd (Alec Ebert) was hired to up the male demographic of viewers, he bumped heads with battle-wearied producer Amber (Lisa Davidson) and overworked runner Adam (Simon Porro). With his sidekick Dave (Brett Watkins), Todd had a plan to inject more traditional masculine humour into the network with a healthy dose of misogyny and a touch of homophobia. Amber, after years of convincing senior executive men to take her seriously, decided to beat Todd at his own game. But in a plot a la the First Wives Club, a thirst for revenge got the better of her.
Co-writers Roelene Coleman and Natasha Cheng discussed their intentions with this new Australian comedy in an interview with Night Writes in November. The script was split between the naturalistic style of an office comedy and the more satirical mode of the sketches which took aim at marital conflict, beauty standards, and the figure of the mediocre white man. Coleman and Cheng demonstrated their strengths in the realist narrative as the sketches themselves had a scattershot effect, often distracting from the overall storyline as they struggled to find their punchlines. On the other hand, the office drama introduced some pertinent social topics like performative allyship, rape culture on university campuses, and structural sexism regarding maternity policies. With more time spent exploring the interpersonal relationships between the employees, there might have been more space to add subtly to these ideas and flesh them out beyond impassioned outbursts from the affected characters.
The set design by Kate Beere was appropriately malleable with a theatrical red-curtained doorway and lots and lots of confetti. Charlie Hollands’s sound design began to introduce a slapstick quality to the comedy with the use of sound effects but this proved short-lived as they didn’t continue past a few scenes. Which was a shame because a bolder production design could have informed the more original aspects of the production.
In terms of the performances, Davidson and Jasmin Certoma stood out for their believable frustration and female camaraderie. Certoma’s quirky characterisation with a talking cast puppet and a lesbian angst subplot with colleague Stephanie (Jessica Marchi) endeared her to the audience and made her a clear favourite. Erin Franks as the taken-for-granted director Isobel and Noah Fowler as soft-hearted hunk Ricky also provided charming humour.
Overall, We’re All Terrible, Let’s Watch TV had good intentions and a workable central narrative but a general tightening of focus and vision would allow the heart to shine through more consistently.
We’re All Terrible, Let’s Watch TV is running at Tom Mann Theatre from January 20th – 30th
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