Awk The Clown rushes onto the stage, and collapses - literally - behind an office desk. He’s late for work, it seems; he has a report to write, page after page of soul-destroying tedium, a harsh-ticking metronome reminding him of the deadline ahead. There should be more to life than this. There is more to life than this. And over the course of fifty speechless but playful minutes, Awk will do his very best to find it.
Awk - real name Alexander Grieve - is a touchingly vulnerable creation, his face painted in an expression hanging somewhere between sadness and hope. He’s a sociable soul, and spirited with his audience: you might be climbed over, have a paper plane thrown at you, or asked to hold part of the set. This isn’t a show to watch in stony-faced silence; if you offer a reaction to Awk’s engaging mischief, he’ll pay you back with more.
There’s a certain surrealistic logic to the world he inhabits, and a disciplined consistency which - over time - draws you into the plot. Repeated motifs, such as the metronome and a looping fragment of music, slowly become welcome old friends; a recurring joke involving a Blue-Peter-style “one he made earlier” graduated over the course of the show from mild chuckles to laugh-out-loud guffaws. His workplace starts out sparse and tidy, but grows joyfully chaotic as props emerge from drawers and cases. Along the way, we witness the grimness of burning the midnight oil, and the triumph that comes when a job at last is done.
But this isn’t an altogether happy show. Awk is lonely, stuck at his desk; you sense he’s been lonely for a while. It lends his urge to play an edge of desperate poignancy, which builds to a genuinely moving scene where he conjures for himself the comfort and solace he cannot find elsewhere. At one point he breaks his silence, to sing us a single, seemingly jaunty song… but I stopped jigging along with it when I tuned in to what the lyrics actually say.
All Work, No Play is a piece to settle into; it’s relaxed, though not slow, and strikes a bittersweet balance between pathos and play. Awk is a character with big, transparent emotions, and watching him draws out some of the joy and sorrow that dwells within us all. If you love Awk - and you will love Awk - then in the end, you’re giving yourself permission to love your own fragility too.