All Work No Play is visibly a work in progress: it runs for just 30 minutes, is a little light on storyline, and could certainly do with tightening here and there. But it's an entertaining, diverting way to spend half an hour, and a promising Fringe debut for solo performer Alexander Grieve. Drawing on elements of clowning with a dash of physical theatre, Grieve evokes a monotonous office and a burgeoning romance – and throws in some witty meta-theatrics too.
The workplace Grieve creates for us is well-conceived: recognisable and realistic, yet very slightly surreal. Grieve taps away at an old-school typewriter, feeding it sheet after sheet of densely-printed paper, while a ticking metronome emphasises both pressure of time and the length of the working day. His life has a pattern: in the morning, we see him comically struggling to knot his tie; later, he relaxes with a drink; later still, he's stuck in the office, burning the midnight oil.
Despite the title, there is some play (or at least some nookie) between our hero a colleague. This is a nicely-realised, tender scene: the lover is represented by a jacket on a hat-stand, which gradually becomes one with Grieve's own body. It wasn't as clear as it could have been, though, just who this character represented. At first I thought it was his boss, but perhaps it's simply a workmate. The ambiguity matters, because it affects your perception of what happens next; a little more work to set the context would be helpful here.
Grieve is confident on stage, unafraid to reach out to his audience, and he lends his character a kind of vulnerable intensity which drew me quickly into his world. In a performance which relies on posture and physicality, he's good at embodying urgency and fretfulness – but other emotions, such as shyness and joy, could safely be written larger. In the same way, props like his paper gramophone deserve to be handled with more of a flourish; there are creative ideas here which would shine more brightly with a little further signposting.
There's creative physical comedy too, though a few of the jokes are more time-consuming than their pay-off merits. It's funny to see Grieve clamber into the audience to adjust a stage light, but the humour soon dissipates as he laboriously clambers back again. Generally, in fact, the show would benefit from more crispness and precision – though I'm sure the performance will naturally tighten with each subsequent run.
The inclusion of a song in the middle felt strange to me – it sits oddly in what's a generally wordless show – but perhaps that's just my personal taste at work. Overall then, All Work No Play isn't the finished product, but there's more than enough here to interest and entertain. There's obvious potential too; I hope I'll have the chance to see a fuller version at some future Fringe.