Randomness, uncertainty, absurdity, happiness, songs and Joy - Indian Ink Theatre Company

Randomness, uncertainty, absurdity, happiness, songs and Joy

Tessa Rao in a yellow pant suit hugs Catherine Yates tight who looks uncomfortable in a cleaners outfitBy: Cate Prestidge (Theatreview)

The latest show from award winning theatre company Indian Ink has an excellent hook: invite members of a community choir to be part of the on-stage action but only give them the songs to rehearse and some basic on-stage directions.

It’s clever and serves multiple purposes. On the one hand, it helps drive the narrative of Dirty Work, which explores relatable themes about the value of work and life on the office treadmill as well as well as deeper questions about class and privilege.

On the other, what a way to pack a theatre!

Some of the audience around us are obviously thrilled to see family members on stage, applauding wildly at the semi-improvised bits where people’s real names are used and whooping and cheering after the big numbers. It is a lot of fun being in the audience.

What unfolds is an hour and a half of performance that has a clear direction but also moments of randomness and uncertainty. There’s a fair smattering of overacting and breaking the fourth wall from keen choristers singing out to the audience, and a couple of moments of meandering that could be intentional, or possibly not?

But fear not, this is something the writers and performers are entirely comfortable with. In fact the ‘workers’ not quite knowing what they’re doing is pitched cleverly as being synonymous with much of everyday working life.

As always with Indian Ink there is huge depth in the research behind the show with references to the endless toil of Sisyphus and the absurdity of work, as well as the happiness contained within it.Actor Catherine Yates stands wearing sunglasses and a scarf while holding a coke bottle and grinning towards the audience

There are three leads: Joy the cleaner (Catherine Yates), Neil the middle manager (Justin Rogers) and ambitious and competent Zara (Tessa Rao). The commanding and mellifluous voice of company owner VJ Kumari (Jacob Rajan) beams in via zoom, both a disrupting device and a thematic support.

The rest of the office is made up of members of Mosaic, an open access community choir based in Cambridge. Onstage they’re in their booths, keeping busy and of course singing the eight pieces they’ve been rehearsing, sans context, over the past few months. They’re cued in by Indian Ink Musical Director Josh Clark.

While the choir of workers doesn’t quite know what they’re doing, someone who does is Joy, our office cleaner. Direct, purposeful and pragmatic, she moves about the cubicles dealing with the daily mess, picking up after people and singing, hoping to bank just a little more minimum wage before rent day.

Yates is excellent as Joy and as her day unexpectedly collides with the business of the office, her character unfolds and her blunt observations are a wonderful foil to the flustering around her. Joy is also the vehicle for a subtle character mask, a feature of Indian Ink – in this case some prominent teeth that, along with her cleaning unform, set her apart.

Justin Rogers plays Neil, a high energy middle manager, surprised by an unexpected event and then tasked with an urgent demand from the boss. The script is delicious, full of marvellous, meaningless corporate buzz words. Neil is 100% across the bandwidth and maximising synergy, looping in and circling back as he leaps about the office hyping up the team and trying to manage his feelings.

Actor Justin Rogers in a brown jumper and tan pants stands smiling to the left while raising his armsI love the physicality of Rogers and there are some marvellous commedia touches as he unbalances gently on one foot, lifting and lowering his leg, reaching across and pulling back. Actions which seem at a glance to be rather purposeful but which are also quite meaningless. Neil doesn’t know what he’s doing either – brilliant!

Tessa Rao is excellent as Zara. Sporting a bright corporate suit, she is highly competent, problem solving and reassuring, but with hints of being more fragile than she makes out. Rao is dynamic on stage and the interplay between Zara and Neil is fun as they vacillate between emotional states. These changes in attitude are not always consistent for the characters but are heightened for the purposes of plot and theme, and serve to drive home a wider point.


The show was written as a tribute to cleaners everywhere, people doing the ‘dirty work’ that must be done. Highly recommended.