The Royal Court’s latest offering doesn’t want, ask for or try to elicit your tears. Wish List affords its characters dignity and compassion, but is quietly angry – and demands action.
Katherine Soper’s debut play, Wish List, is a timely, impassioned remonstrance against reductionism. 19-year-old Tamsin is anything but a number or a piece of data, but her new Orwellian employer (carefully left unnamed but obviously Amazon, you don’t need to look past the title to work that out), and the government, do their best to make her believe otherwise.
She’s worked hard, in a frighteningly competitive environment, for even the most ‘unskilled’ of zero-hours contract jobs. She’s packing boxes for 10 hours a day in what’s, entirely unironically, called a ‘fulfilment centre’. She faces absurd and bottomless targets (1 box per 10 seconds is her ‘starter’ goal) with her toilet breaks scrutinised, and her productivity statistics haunting her on omnipresent screens. Simultaneously, she’s trying to care for her house-ridden brother, whose obsessive compulsive disorder has spiralled out of control since the death of their mother.
An apt winner of the Brentwood Prize, Wish List is so effective simply because it affords its central characters compassion and dignity without overloading anything with ‘theatrical’ or emotional weight. Tamsin is a remarkably well-rounded character for a new playwright to have created. She’s quietly intelligent, she has ambitions which seem utterly three-dimensional, and a kind, selfless and stoic spirit. Egged on during a date with her sparky co-worker, her unexpected and goofy rendition of “I Would Do Anything For Love” is quietly moving; the one time she truly ‘lets go’ and we get to see her spirit take flight. Even if the ‘confetti’ that falls from the ceiling slightly tragically harks back to her working environment.
Erin Doherty, as Soper’s central character, is astounding. Affording Tamsin as much dignity as the writer, I found her performance superior and more astute even to those of the NT’s LOVE. The direction is non-fussy and (again) respectful, letting the characters’ relative incarceration and stoical spirits speak for themselves, and the set design is smart and sinister in the gradual blurring of Tamsin’s two worlds.
The fact Wish List never made me come close to crying (unlike LOVE or Beyond Caring) is to its merit. Our protagonist doesn’t have time for tears, she’s a practical person out of necessity, and anyone else crying for her won’t help anything either. She’s trying to make ends meet but being let down by the system, and it can’t go on like this forever. As an audience member, you leave with action, as opposed to mere pity, on your mind. For it’s actions that are needed to help the Tamsin’s of our world, who’ve fallen through the cracks but have so much potential.