Apparently a hit for the Bush theatre back in 2000, A Place at the Table is BAFTA-nominated Simon Block’s biting satire on the TV industry. This revival is presented by Signal Theatre Company under the direction of Robert Wolstenholme.
The themes Block obviously wishes to highlight are immediately apparent. All of the action takes place in the soulless meeting room of a TV production house. Young, disabled playwright, Adam, has written a ‘lethally good’ script and impressed readers with writing that is ‘vehement and compassionate’. However, from the first minute it is his wheelchair rather than his artistic prowess that is the focus as not one person he interacts with manages to see past his disability.
Whilst Sarah, the nicotine-dependent (what a cliché!) script editor Adam has come to meet, possibly appreciates his talent, her motivation is to make a name for herself in a shallow and revenue-driven arena. The battle between artistic and commercial motivation is played out between the two as Sarah struggles to persuade Adam to redirect his efforts into writing a sitcom about a disabled man. Insulted at first, Adam leaves in a rage. Three months later he succumbs to towing the line but returns only to find he is too late; the fickle Sarah, personifying her industry, has moved on to something else and Adam’s potential project has lost its appeal.
It is clear that these characters are supposed to be odious, but surely not to the point that one ceases to care very quickly what happens to them? The reams of boring dialogue about the whys and wherefores of the way the ‘industry’ operates and the differences between a ‘place’ and a ‘seat’ in a script littered with numerous, tedious industry in-jokes, unnecessary swear words and downright jargon, are in danger of overshadowing some good, solid performances; any empathy one might start to feel with the characters’ plights is quickly lost.
Kellie Batchelor puts in a solid performance as queen of bullshit Sarah with her delusions of grandeur and inflated idea of her own influence and importance. Christopher Tester’s Adam is frankly quite dull, however comes into his own when faced with rejection, putting on a believable show of genuine hurt. Eva Tausig is truly entertaining as out-of-place, art history Oxford University recruit Rachel, the ‘trustafarian’ (another cliché) trainee who appears to lack any kind of social intelligence.
This play would possibly be of interest to those who have particular experience of the seemingly unpleasant way the ‘industry’ operates behind the scenes and the monotonous characters that inhabit it. But ultimately it is niche writing for a niche audience and fails to go anywhere much after its main messages are transmitted in the first 15 minutes.