Fringe review: Electric Dreams – Temping

A stint covering a holidaying worker should be a breeze, right? In Temping, a show unique to each audience member, you have a team behind you but you’re ultimately on your own. ★★★★★

Feb 21, 2023, updated Feb 21, 2023

It’s my first day on the job at Harold, Adams, McNutt & Joy, an actuarial firm where I’m filling in while an employee is on leave. After being given a few moments to sign my contract and flick through the staff handbook, I’m shown to my office space by Sandy, a friendly and welcoming company representative.

I’m here to stand in for Sarah Jane, who is heading to Hawaii for a long-awaited holiday, and it’s explained that I can make myself comfortable at her desk. Everything I’ll need – phone, computer, screen, printer and stationery – is within reach. Sandy leaves me to get on with the job.

After a quick snoop around my temporary workspace (one drawer is full of chocolates!), I turn my attention to the calls and emails that have started coming through. Sarah Jane has thoughtfully recorded some voice memos to talk me through the key tasks. I might be a mere temp but it’s soon obvious that I’m expected to pull my weight.

I quickly grasp how to navigate the systems (I’m no stranger to Microsoft Office’s Outlook, Excel and File Explorer) and manage to keep up with the requests that arrive from my co-workers Darren, Diego, James and Allison. Around me are reminders of why I’m there: a postcard of Hawaii on the pinboard, a cocktail umbrella in the pen bucket, flashcards with Hawaiian words, and beach panorama screensaver. There’s a faint perfume in the air. It’s a candle (the scent is The Last Paradise).

Temping ­– written by Michael Yates Crowley and presented by New York-based Dutch Kills Theater Company and “narrative technologists” Wolf 359 ­– is a technologically complex theatrical experience offered for a single audience member at each sitting. The satisfyingly unsettling work is site-specific (a self-contained office cubicle has been set up in Adelaide University’s Union building), and is being presented for the first time in Australia as part of the Adelaide Fringe’s award-wining Electric Dreams festival.

Temping is described as an immersive and interactive experience that challenges its audiences with “themes of human interaction through technology, isolation and death”. The description is perfect. Glimpses of human frailty punctuate the mundane office routine, and seemingly simple tasks trigger moving reflections on the lives of strangers and one’s own mortality.

In one of her increasingly pensive messages, Sarah Jane reminds me that “every one of these rows is a person” with a whole history that can’t be erased by updating a spreadsheet cell from “active” to “deceased”.

Although I’m working solo, I’m not immune to office politics. Secrets and gripes come to my attention via various subtle and not-so-subtle lapses in communication. Has my presence triggered disquiet among my colleagues? There are quite a few laughs, too, and plenty of surprises (including several big ones towards the end of my “shift”).

Temping is intriguing, amusing and surprisingly thought-provoking. To say much more would be a breach of workplace confidentiality!

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Electric Dreams: Temping is showing at the University of Adelaide until March 18.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.



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