A man in a grey suit and a bike helmet walks alone onto the stage, awkwardly balancing a takeaway coffee and a briefcase. Centre-stage sits one of five swinging chairs; on it rests a whiteboard, scrawled with the word ‘contaminated’.
These striking opening minutes of the Lunch Hour – writer Chris Aronsten’s follow-up to Human Resources – foreshadow much of what follows. We’re introduced to the shadowy central figure of Martin (Gerry Sont), boss of the box office call centre and jilted ex-playwright. We see the words 'schnitzel game' appear on an LCD screen above the actors’ heads – a clue as to how these office workers get through the day. And we get the overall sense of an environment is which all is not right.
The five employees – an idealistic young couple (Briallen Clarke and Sonny Vrebac), a troubled single woman (Angela Bauer), a scheming gay guy (Shaun Rennie) and a “disgruntled lesbian” (Branden Christine) soon join Martin on the stage, taking their seats on the chairs. Flaunting the uneasy power dynamic, they call their boss 'Daddy'.
The potential for stagnancy in the one-room setting is averted throughout the first act with inventive, ebullient staging – including a wacky fight scene - and some well-played audio-visual gags around a malfunctioning photocopier. Helpfully, the characters have in-built ants in their pants. They’re not glued to their chairs meeting their daily targets; instead, they’re focussed on co-writing a cash-prize-winning play that will be the ticket out of their jobs. Unbeknownst to them, Martin has the exact same idea.
The fast pace of the script, the tight choreography and the visual flair are The Lunch Hour’s best assets. But in terms of the comedy, Aronson lays on the clichés rather thickly. With a surprising absurdist finale, the story wraps up satisfactorily enough. But in the end it is neither sufficiently anarchic nor insightful to leave a lasting impression.