Katherine Soper’s heartfelt and hard-hitting 2015 Bruntwood Prize winning debut play, Wish List, opens in London’s Royal Court after a successful run at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Both a politically-charged piece about existing on the hazardous cliff edge of zero-hour contracts and a sympathetic portrayal of a young adult carer and her brother who battles Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the benefits system.
We are in the age of Amazon where, although the company is never mentioned, the ‘wishlists’ that consumers compile on the website creates a click and (soon-to-be drone-dropped) demand that results in the impossible task by the under-paid packers to reach their daily targets. In the warehouse, not ironically named the ‘fulfilment centre’, Erin Doherty’s moving portrayal of intensely anxious, 19-year-old Tamsin sees her begin a new job after their mother dies. Orwellian-style instructions – “Work. Enjoy. Improve.”- ‘encourage’ the workers to maintain high output whilst regulating their toilet breaks to the designated time-limit. Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s strongly designed traverse-stage succinctly compartmentalises the conveyor belt and the siblings’ cramped flat. This play is a real observation of a reality faced by many who live hand-to-mouth and who never know if they will be needed for a shift until the last minute. A friendship blossoms with co-packer, Luke, whilst the never-ending flow of products to be boxed slides down a chute, sensitively acted by the young actors and directed lightly by Matthew Xia.
The life of plenty is expertly juxtaposed against the harsh existence of the workers where excessive orders highlight a culture of consumerism. The question of where and who manufacture the clothes on one’s back is an obvious but not out of place observation rather than a didactic comment in Soper’s writing. The younger brother, Dean, quietly played by Joseph Quinn, loses his right to benefits even though he seems barely capable of leaving the bathroom where he continuously fixes his hair and thus illustrates the failure of the welfare system to properly support those who have fallen through the net.
As this ‘gig economy’ becomes more prevalent, a rethink of the provisions of our welfare state must be considered. Today, key aspects of the social safety net are tied to full-time employment which leaves many in a difficult situation. Robots were jokingly referred to in this eye-opening play but the future of these workers are under threat by the advancement of technologies that will leave many, not only out of a zero-hour contract, but out of work completely.
Katherine Soper’s debut deservedly warrants the accolades it has received by presenting the concerns of our society without pushing an opinion either way and, in doing so, leaves the audience to discuss the politics that lie behind this precarious work-life.
‘Wish List’ plays until the 11th February at The Royal Court Theatre where tickets start at £10. Box office: 020-7565-5000.