Scratchworks Theatre Collective’s “On Hold” is written by Isabel Tennyson and it is currently established at the Spaces on North Bridge. Time is running out at the Fringe, and I am not disposed to be generous to timewasters. “On Hold” is supposed to satirise the boredom of working in an office, but it ends up becoming as boring as following other people’s office politics. This play finishes with a stupid joke in which it transpires that a customer who was put on hold at the start of the story is still waiting. Lucky guy, we might think. He’s been listening to music.
What’s the point of this play? It is hardly to satirise the awfulness of office life, since these characters appear to live in a golden age of workplace liberties. The manager (Katherine Darke) quits without giving any notice and her pal ends up with her job. The office workers openly discuss each other’s sex lives and mental health. Malcolm (Darren Siah) and Dennis (Michael Smith) become embroiled in fisticuffs (or “physical assault” as the health-and-safety incident book would have to describe it) but they are both at work again the next morning. Any real-life human resources facilitator who watched this play would probably drop down dead in horror (not a bad id…. No I didn’t think that).
If you worked in an office with people as tiresome as these, you would not take the remotest interest in their lives. You would not speak to them outside of your work. These characters appear to be sick to the back teeth of each other, but there is still a collective haemorrhaging of personal information all over their office. You may counter that this is a madcap comedy and that it is not supposed to depict office life realistically. It is actually not that much of a comedy. All of the characters are squalidly tragic and whatever we are laughing at, it is not them. Perhaps the mayhem of their office existence is supposed to be funny, but there is nothing in the least comparable to a stapler-in-the-jelly moment.
I got the impression that Scratchworks must be a young theatre company, because they generally look like children who are impersonating the mannerisms of their teachers. Katherine Darke’s Maggie is the sort of a scatty old frump who you would find administrating over a Geography Lesson. Malcolm is the martinet maths teacher who the kids think is still a virgin. Dennis is… the blokeish head of Design and Technology? Celi Crossland’s character is the slutty French teacher?
Oh, I’m back now. Sorry to keep you waiting…