Wish List

God life can be a depressing old thing can't it? When, through no fault of your own, you find yourself struggling to just exist from one long unfulfilling day to the next – knowing that struggle just leads you to more of the same emptiness. When the only high moments are far from cause for celebration – getting another day's work on your zero hours contract, finding an old KitKat in your coat pocket, singing along to a Meatloaf classic. This is the all too common existence – and some of the highlights – experienced by Dean and Tamsin, the brother and sister at the centre of Wish List, Kathrine Soper's award-winning but terribly dreary (and far from unusual) play now at the Jerwood Upstairs.

What could be an affecting statement about life for many today is more of a whisper of concerns that sadly lacks the impact to truly hit you.

Living together in what seems no more than a box-sized flat (at least the kitchen and bathroom we see) – boxes are a theme here, constantly appearing on stage and hanging above us as a rather clear metaphor for being stuck – the teenage siblings are treading water to try and achieve the mundane. Tamsin (Erin Doherty) is about to start a new zero hour job in a warehouse packing boxes, where her only way to secure another day of such tedium is to strictly follow the endless rules set to achieve the prescribed targets (from the 'one best way' of packing, to avoiding toilet breaks for coming across as being inefficient).

Meanwhile, younger Dean (Joseph Quinn) is what some may call 'on the spectrum', with a form of OCD that makes it difficult for him to leave the house, eat or meet strangers – and spends most of his time in the bathroom, studiously gelling his hair. Both actors along with Aleksander Mikic as the factory supervisor (known as 'The Lead') and Shaquille Ali-Yebuah as factory co-worker Luke – just doing the job until he can pursue his real calling – give very underplayed performances, only occasionally showing any emotion as though they've just accepted their lot and have to get from one day to the next with little dreams of anything more than that.

Ostensibly there are some modern political issues on show here. The low-paid, demotivating job that has to be fought-for with rewards that don't match the effort required to get them and which, if really 'lucky' may one day lead to a permanent role in box packing for Tamsin (and all the attached life-enrichment that comes with it), whilst hardly paying enough to buy more than the most basic of food. The benefits system and changes to the ESA which lead Dean to be declared fit for work and his JSA stopped because he didn't want to give the wrong impression (and was fixated by his interviewer's styled hair).

But these aren't issues that are dealt with or explored in any depth – they're just there. This is just life and you sense they don't really have the energy to fight any of it – as they say, nothing is actually about them, they're just numbers in a list: statistics. And so everything just meanders along in a rather disjointed, downbeat and mildly depressing manner that leaves you more disaffected than impassioned.

There's little actually wrong here. The performances are very still and measured, the set blurs the lines between the factory and the flat, sliding on and off and combining props so that the workstations in the former become the tables in the latter as though nothing in their world is any different. And there are moments where the characters' happiness is saddening to us as it highlights the reality of the things that get us through the day – just having 15 minutes to sit down, finding a spare nightlight or cigarette seem enough to make them feel alive.

It's just that it's all so dull and soul-destroying with little emotion, passion or anger. It just is. They just are. And we just watch – which makes it an all the more depressing hour and a half. The problem is that their acceptance of their situation is contagious and so we walk out on to the opposing world of the Chelsea streets feeling we have closed their flat door behind us and don't need or want to remember or think about it any more. What could be an affecting statement about life for many today is more of a whisper of concerns that sadly lacks the impact to truly hit you.

Reviews by Simon Ximenez

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The Blurb

Tamsin packs boxes in a warehouse, on the clock, with a zero-hour contract. Her brother Dean is housebound. Working to obsessive-compulsive rituals of his own.

“I dreamt about this last night. I dreamt that I was packing boxes in boxes in boxes.”

When Dean is declared fit for work and his benefits are cut, Tamsin must fight to get the support she and her brother so desperately need.

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