You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps – especially in the sort of office life spoof the Fringe throws up on repeat. Alastair Curtis’s Dining Al Desko is the latest in a long line of wacky workplace comedies, wringing the banality of work for all its absurdity, suggesting students fear nothing more than meaningless work in a mundane environment.
There is, however, a snobbery in that: a dismissal of anyone working nine to five to make a living. Curtis comes dangerously closely to sneering at the three employees he sends up. Julie, the eager-beaver receptionist with little to do beyond desk-tidying and plant-watering, sees "an art to stapling". Trish is the ambitious intern spouting buzzwords and hashtags without a clue what she’s saying, while isolated accountant Tom is frantically cooking the books to keep the company afloat.
Written entirely in monologues, the script struggles to find any sort of flow – let alone a story to speak of. Instead, it’s content to spoof the clichéd jangle of jargon and management speak that comes as office standard. Trish talks of taking the business "post-customer", while Tom insists that "malpractice takes practice".
At best, Dining Al Desko nails the bizarreness of maintaining an upwards career trajectory in an economic downturn. As the office downsizes, all three cling to their jobs with increasing desperation, whether by blackmail, fraud of "sans desk" work. Beneath the surface surrealism, Curtis nips at a flawed system that needs all the propping up it can get. Dining Al Desko hits its targets occasionally, but almost 20 years after The Office, it’s hard to shake the sense you’ve seen all this before.