Edinburgh Fringe theatre review: Work.txt by Nathan Ellis

A drama about an online Zoom meeting that takes the form of an online Zoom meeting, with the audience performing the story.

work.txt is a show performed entirely by the audience.
work.txt is a show performed entirely by the audience.

Work.txt by Nathan Ellis ****

Nathan Ellis’s work.txt was first seen in London just before Britain went into lockdown, but all the same, it’s a piece that might have been created for the age of enforced social isolation.

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In its new “virtual Fringe” form, it’s a drama about an online Zoom meeting that takes the form of an online Zoom meeting, with members of the audience performing the story with the help of pieces of script that appear slightly unnervingly in our chat boxes, with instructions to read them out to the rest of the company. If the form of the performance is intriguing and slightly nerve-wracking, though, it’s the content of Ellis’s story that is truly haunting, fully exploiting the resonances set up by the situation.

The central character is a man (appropriately called Adam, at the performance I attended) who is in the middle of a vital Zoom meeting, convinced that his job as a social media marketing manager is essential, when he suddenly just stops taking part.

His refusal to play any further part in the work-from-home game is an act that seems to resonate across our hyperlinked world; and within hours, Adam’s silence is being watched by millions worldwide, and discussed in the virtual equivalent of water-cooler conversations. The quality of the writing around this situation is eloquent and sometimes beautiful, even when mainly performed by accidental actors who have never seen the script before; the overall atmosphere is poignant, quietly apocalyptic, and full of a sense of the need to resist the forces that are transforming us all into mere electronic cogs in the machine.

And in a week when angry school students have been gathering in London to shout “f*** the algorithm”, the story of Adam and his silence seems more than timely; and just a little a frightening.Bookings for work.txt can be made at https://listings.edfringe.com/listings/work-txt, with final performances on 21 August.

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