Monday, August 7, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'Workshy' at Summerhall, 6th August 2017

Workshy reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

Katy Baird's Workshy made me remember the shittest job I've ever had. I was unemployed, Christmas was just around the corner and quickly needed some money in my pocket. So I turned up at a Whalley Range job agency and said "I need a job. Any job will do. I don't care." The next day I got up at 3am and trudged a couple of miles through freezing winter to clean a branch of Matalan.

It sucked, but in retrospect, those early mornings spent encrusted shit off a Matalan toilet was a useful reminder not to get too high and mighty in life: after all, you're only ever a couple of bad decisions away from grimly plugging away at a clogged bog at 6am.

This kind of reminiscing fuels Workshy, an excellent performance piece in which performer Katy Baird guides us through twenty years of employment. In the opener, she explains that her jobs fall into five categories: food, booze, sex, drugs and offices. What follows is a trek through Burger King kitchens, Wetherspoons pub, Butlins fish n' chip shops, drug dealing, online sex work and, finally, employment in the arts.

Baird seems like a glass-half-full kinda person, so perspective on the service industry is actually pretty positive. There are moans about the soulless and vaguely creepy Burger King training videos staff are forced to watch ("Empathise with your guests" one intones, then over plinky plonky piano music we learn that this customer has breast cancer, or that a woman eating chicken nuggets has just had a miscarriage), but what sticks in her memory was the camaraderie and friendship between staff.

Very quick, she also proves ballsy as fuck, giving us a casual run down on how easy it is to make a tonne of money dealing drugs, complete with tips for sending ket through the post and how to buy MDMA on credit and then upsell it in nightclubs. It turns out that Baird and I went to some of the same nightclubs, so it was a good nostalgia hit to hear her talking about bribing the bouncers at Sankeys Soap in Ancoats to sell pills on the dancefloor.

The sequence is a brilliantly unashamed advert for drug dealing, Baird explaining that the job gets you invited to all the best parties, you make a tonne of friends and (duh) you've got a load of really fun drugs lying around all the time. There's also the neat observation that being the centre of social attention is addictive in and of itself. The point to all this comes in a sharply satirical video that parodies business management courses, filled with language about growing your business and increasing your profit margins. After all, the government wants to encourage private enterprise and small business, but please not by chemically enlightening your friends and family.

Then we get into the sex work, presented with precisely the same matter-of-factness as everything else in the show. I'm not going to spoil what happens here, but fucking hell Baird is committed to this act.

Workshy is exciting and unpredictable - but more than that it's superhumanly honest. There's a tangible aura of reality to the show, coupled with the realisation that the life Katy describes is simply the way things are for the millions of people working low paid jobs in the service industry. Baird puts a silver lining on this cloud, and concluding with a subtle but pointed argument for the benefits of state funded university education. paid for by the state.

There's a whole bunch of great stuff in this show that I'm not talking about because the surprise is half the fun, but I will say there are treats galore in this show that I can guarantee you won't see anywhere else on the Fringe. I can already tell that Workshy is going to be one of my most treasured memories of this festival so please, 

Workshy is at Summerhall, Edinburgh Aug 6-8, 10-15, 17-20, 22-27. Tickets here.

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