Fringe review: Electric Dreams – work.txt

Immersive and unique, work.txt is an experimental theatre piece for everyone who has secretly suspected their day job to be utterly meaningless. ★★★★★

Feb 24, 2023, updated Feb 24, 2023
Work.txt is a show in which the audience members become the participants. Photo: Alex Brenner

Work.txt is a show in which the audience members become the participants. Photo: Alex Brenner

For a theatre-goer with a deep-seated aversion to audience participation, a production in which the audience becomes the cast sounds like a new circle of hell. But don’t let similar fears stop you from experiencing this powerful, ingenious and thoroughly enjoyable show by UK writer and producer Nathan Ellis.

The stage is simple – two microphones and headphones on stands, a pile of wooden bricks and a printer. The audience sits facing the backdrop of a large screen. Like so much of modern life, the screen is our focus – and we are transfixed.

As the show begins, our instructions are light-hearted. We read aloud as the script dictates, breaking into small groups according to our lives, interests and work practices. There is laughter, but beneath the witty stage direction a theme is emerging – how we work, who we work for and why.

Within minutes, the dry wit of the voice behind the script has us onside, the entire audience happily rising from their seats to arrange the blocks into weird little sculptures that become the set.

Once the ice of audience participation has been broken, the text on the screen calls for volunteer actors. The printer spits out pages of dialogue and the plot of the show unfurls.

Hour by hour, we are guided through a working day in a major city. But on this day, one of the workers rebels. A marketing manager for a multinational corporation, whose daily responsibility is creating social media content, has had enough. The worker (played by Ishani in our performance) lies down on the lobby floor of her workplace and stays there.

With the audience happily stepping up to the microphones to read scripted scenes, the consequences of Ishani’s rebellious act ripple out into the world. We are taken from water-cooler chats between corporate workers, to an art gallery where a curator considers the meaning of Ishani’s action and how to exploit its artistic merit. From there we are whisked to a cruise ship where Ishani’s parents are blissfully unaware of their daughter’s sudden fame, their conversation shedding light on the ways in which even our leisure time is twisted and reframed as work. One parent watches a sunset while the other is glued to a game on their phone, determined to get to the next level.

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Work.txt is an astute commentary on work – the outsourcing of labour to the audience has at its heart a deep understanding of our social conditioning as workers. Ellis knows we will participate. It’s what the modern workforce has trained us to do. Yet at the same time, it reveals our value. Without us, the show would stop.

Work.txt is a brilliant indictment of the nature of the modern workforce and the ways in which our roles as cogs in the machine bleed into the few hours each day we have to ourselves. Insightful and powerful, this is an impressively original theatre experience in which you may find yourself in a starring role.

Electric Dreams – work.txt is playing until March 17 at The Little Theatre, University of Adelaide.

Read InReview’s interview with Nathan Ellis about the development of this show here, and see more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.


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