Wish List at the Royal Court Theatre
It is a shame Love has just finished at the National Theatre, as Katherine Soper’s Wish List functions beautifully as a companion piece. A young woman is trapped between an unforgiving job in an anonymous warehouse (well, not really, it’s Amazon in all but name) and her home-bound brother who is suddenly declared fit to work – a situation that, beyond the parameters of the narrative, could easily lead to temporary accommodation found in Alexander Zeldin’s bleak Christmas play. From this Soper produces a quiet, tender and often funny exploration of a familial bond that cannot be broken and a work/home split that can barely be reconciled.
For the fineness of the playwright’s style – it is a deserving winner of the Bruntwood Prize – Wish List would be a markedly lesser experience without the central performance by Erin Doherty. Speaking with a near-permanent tremor, the actress imbues Tamsin with a fragile optimism, one that is more a survival tool than a genuine belief that things will get better. Almost as important is Joseph Quinn as Tasmin’s OCD-suffering sibling Dean. Quinn makes sure he isn’t just a bundle of ticks but instead someone who clearly struggles with the most basic of tasks; he’s not devoid of emotion but merely unable to fully understand the pressures his sister is under.
The specificity of the siblings’ relationship is representative of Wish List‘s greatest strength; unlike Love which, though fantastic, was content to keep its characters as archetypes, Soper digs a bit deeper. For example, initially the flirtatious conversations between Erin Doherty’s Tamsin and Shaquille Ali-Yebuah’s charming co-worker Luke feel like a vessel to package the grim details of their job. However, a melancholic date in middle of the narrative helps give the characters an inner life, preventing them from feeling like case studies ripped from a Guardian exposé on workplace practices.
Not that those practices aren’t soul-sapping. The company views its workers with utter contempt, but still demands that they show gratitude for the job despite the culture of suspicion and doubt they suffer through. In Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s design, a cloud of boxes looms over the empty expanse of warehouse, with the siblings’ home forced off to the side. Life exists on the periphery of work, as the barriers between the two gradually erode. Performance reviews, targets and arbitrary percentages: the rulebook of Damocles now hangs over the employees at the warehouse. With Wish List Soper plucks elements of Kafkaesque bureaucracy and Orwellian guidelines not from the works of those authors, but the very real conditions millions of people are expected to live under.
Wish List is at the Royal Court Theatre from 12th January to 11th February 2017, for further information or to book a visit here.