Interactive theatre isn't easy to pull off - anyone who's spent an excruciating afternoon of role play in a staff development session will know that. Stampcollective's Moralgorithm (at Marylebone Gardens until March 23) tackles the "The Office" problem head on - by setting their performance within the office from hell. And we're the new recruits!
After a bit of bullying from the Anne Robinsonish General Manager and some mollycoddling from her sidekick, whom we suspect (correctly) might be an ally, we're put into teams (natch) and ushered into an open plan space with desks on its periphery. Each one is staffed by a nervous, neurotic, strangely distant member of staff who must induct us into their area of expertise, all the while being implored through a loudspeaker to "improve productivity" and "protect our Triple A Credit Rating". Soon they're summoned to be re-programmed and these edgy women turn into something between Austin Powers' fembots and Kraftwerk's Man Machine-era Musikarbeiters.
After a bit of audience participation - nothing too threatening - we rotate round and the process repeats until, well, that would be telling, but we're all safe and sound at the end of the hour and I think the fembots were too.
Moralgorithm is a satire on workplaces and a consumer society that holds out the prospect of escape (the prize for the winning team is an eternal holiday) but actually just feeds our own words and ideas back to us with unseen middlemen skimming off the profits: hardly an original thought, but the originality here comes more in concept and execution that in message.
So - does it work? Though the cast may settle more into their roles (I was at the first night of the run) and deal better with what comes back from the audience, they are always going to look less like manic go-getters, brainwashed by the false Gods of capitalism and more like recent graduates of drama school. The brief time we are with them does not suffice for us to lose that impression, for all the glassy-eyed, post-reprogramming robot moves. The inhuman monsters just seemed too nice, too polite and too much in need a white wine spritzer and a bit of a chat.
At just 60 minutes' duration, I was rather looking forward to a second half in which the bleak consequences of our dalliance with the fembots was brought home - but, instead, we were turned out into Marylebone High Street with its designer shops and delis. But maybe that denouement is the right one after all.