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Left My Desk

Olivia Hirst
Lost Watch
New Diorama Theatre

Rianna Dearden (left) as Becca with her social work colleagues (Adam Langstaff, Jennifer Daley, Rachel Hosker and Jamie Samuel) Credit: Scott Rylander
Jamie Samuel and Rianna Dearden as Becca and her husband Credit: Scott Rylander
The company Credit: Scott Rylander

This is a play based on research by charity Front Line, which recruits and trains social workers, and testimonies from social workers themselves. It presents a vivid picture of what it is like to be someone working in social services in today’s society, a time of staff shortages and restricted budgets.

It you have ever been a social worker or had to call on the aid of social services, you will recognize what an accurate picture it presents. If you haven’t, then see this and you will come away with an understanding of some of their problems and admiration for their dedication.

There isn’t a cliff-hanger plot full of drama to keep you on the edge of your seats but it is not a dry documentary. There is an element of cliché in having as its central character a woman who spends her life dealing with disadvantaged children and people who batter their babies but longs for a child of her own, but these feel like real people. They are men and women you can care about and Lucy Wray’s direction is fast shifting from council office to car, hospital or home and movingly theatrical, expressing ideas and emotions in physical form not just verbally.

Rianna Dearden (co-founder of the company with writer Olivia Hirst) plays caseworker Becca whom we see both at work and as her private self. Jamie Samuel is her young husband, wonderfully exuberant at the news she is pregnant, sensitive to the strain she is under. Jennifer Daley plays the leader of her care group, calm and supportive of them all, Rachel Hosker and Jamie team colleagues and Adam Langstaff the policeman attached to the group.

All but Rianna double as clients, staff and others encountered: Rachel, for instance, a youngster who has done a runner or a woman addicted to sniffing, Adam a man who didn’t even know he was a father becoming responsible for a damaged child’s care.

The simple design of three desks and three moveable glass panels and sometimes six bare fluorescent overhead lights is atmospherically supplemented by Hector Murray’s lighting and a sound design by Fergus Waldron that subtly adds in traffic or a clock ticking.

You can’t help but find Left My Desk moving but there is also much here that’s funny in this brief one-acter. It provides a vivid and accurate picture of the strain put on these people but it also captures their warmth and generates joy at the same time. You may come out with your political attitudes sharpened but you won’t be depressed, despite what it tells you.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton