Five Tanks, running at the Hackney Empire is a work best experienced under the influence. This one-act play by Lab Ky Mo takes a look at the oh-so-mundane world of a London call centre, but imbibes it with such hilarious inanity in the face of disaster that one can’t help but laugh for the wrong reasons throughout.
It’s not just the plot (or lack thereof) that’s funny - we’re treated to a peanut gallery of characters from “I’m not racist” micromanager Nick, desperate to land a bonus and quit, to talentless actress Branwen and unshakeably bummed Dougal who, having narrowly escaped being bombed on a London bus, comes to work regardless out of apathy. Our zero-heroes spend the day on the phones calling everybody but their clients, taking smoke breaks, and complaining about how much they hate going to work. In other words, the same conversations everybody has at the office.
Where Five Tanks truly shines is in its deliciously poor dialogue, such as when supervisor Rehana explains her ritual of breaking the Ramadan fast each night with six packets of crisps and three cans of Red Bull consumed in a specific order (could anybody not high on pot have written that?) Throughout the play we hear of workplace squabbles and scattered back stories familiar to anybody who’s temped their way through low end office jobs: Ex-soldier Erno longs to sail to Australia to see his estranged daughter after a messy divorce, Branwen has an audition and mutilates Mel Gibson’s speech from Braveheart for material, and so on.
There’s supposed to be some satire and sarcasm regarding Muslim-Westerner relations in Five Tanks (Nick uses Reana as a token when discriminating against new employee Saeed), as well as an emotional consideration of the important things in life (family, happiness), but the play lacks the depth for proper thematic exploration. Instead, we see the truth: people care about their snacks and bills, and world events pass them by. It should be meaningful, but instead it’s as mentally nutritious as a bag of crisps. Five Tanks is entertaining, but entirely in the sense of watching a disaster unfold.
Where: Hackney Empire
When: Until November 10, T-Sa 7:30 PM
Cost: £12 General Admission
Concessions: £9 General Admission
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £9 - this is B-movie bad, and if you enjoy camp, schlock, and the finer points of flops, this is the play for you.
RZ Other Notes: There are no comments on the cast in this review as the RZ refuses to buy programmes and the Hackney Empire website doesn’t have a cast list.
Regarding the content of the show, the RZ had a grin on his face the entire time, as he gleefully took in the stupidity onstage. The mainstream critics trashed Five Tanks, perhaps rightly so, but it was too much of a hoot to see how bad things could get to not love it. If you drink (the RZ doesn’t), have a few pints, some alcopops, or a bottle of wine first and enjoy!