On a miserable foggy weekday morning, stuck in a freezing metro while travelling apathetically to work and reading the latest news on a freshly bought one-pound journal, a yawning commuter notices a glove. Who left it there? Whilst scrolling through websites on the Internet, maybe even when checking this same review, a quiz pops up promising to reveal an individual’s inner tropical fruit – are you a sexy papaya or a cool coconut? Both the solitary glove and the juicy test capture your attention, they distract you. That is what The Department does best. A clandestine organisation that operates discreetly, seeding objects all over the place which bored people will eventually notice and will then water creatively with their minds. The abandoned glove will incite people to build a story, diverging their thoughts from their tedious everyday matters.
The show takes inspiration from the Portuguese play The Great Book of Tiny Details and definitely gives a diverse twist to the audience’s evening. Lockhart, Freya and Paladin brainstorm on a daily basis in their secret office, intertwining imaginative stories by positioning objects somewhere around the city. Daphne, a freshly-graduated young lady, joins the team and has an extremely animated first day at the office. In fact, the characters are immersed in the investigation of the mysterious disappearance of a journalist that may put at serious risk the secrecy of the same department. To make sense of the cryptic case, the employees try to re-enact the sequences of events that lead to the sudden vanishing of the radio broadcaster.
The Department of Distractions is with no doubt a very innovative play, with an intricate plot and unusual characters. The actors are admirable – as a spectator, it is brilliant to be able to feel their enjoyment, passion and dedication. The sobriety of the characters’ costumes contributes significantly to the sense of secrecy that hovers around the meticulously tidy office, in contrast with their frighteningly creative yet – at times – somewhat creepy brains. It is a clandestine organisation, after all.
Stacey Sampson, who plays new employee Daphne, impersonates to absolute perfection an excited and juvenile young lady with a pinkish hairstyle. Especially at the beginning of the show, she introduces herself to the public and to her new colleagues with a hearty big smile, as if she is proudly showing her dentist how well she’d been brushing her teeth since her last appointment – and the joyfulness of her smile is very much needed. In fact, although the acting is remarkable and the plot is fascinatingly different from any other show performed on a theatre stage, it occasionally stumbles in moments of dullness and is quite challenging to follow. The script, though, astutely features a few exclamatory adjectives – usually pronounced by Freya, The Department’s intriguingly intransigent boss (or at least, that is the impression) – which help to colour the constant dialogues between the characters and save the spectators from inevitably switching off.
The Department of Distraction is a play that surely deserves to be watched and enjoyed. Different, provocative and thoughtful. The next time I notice a woolly hat sitting sadly on a bench in the middle of a park, I’ll know that the office is still secretly in action… but don’t tell anyone! 3/5
Review written by Oliver Assogna.
The Department of Distractions is currently showing until Saturday 10th February 2018 at the Northern Stage Theatre. For more information on the production, visit here…