Jenna is a ‘people pleaser’, someone who thinks that being ‘nice’ isn’t a bad thing. However, at her workplace, her ‘colleagues’ take a different view of things. Sounds familiar? Written and performed by Laura Shoebottom, Blue Tights, Red Knickers And An ’S’ On Her Vest examines the multitude of pressures people (and women especially) face in the workplace.
Expected to be all things to all people, Jenna would literally have to be Superman/girl to do all that’s expected of her (hence the play’s title). It’s not the hard work Jenna finds gruelling, though there is a lot of it in her vocation. It’s the general unprofessionalism of staff, where her boss and colleagues (more by being selfish and obtuse, than conscious design) make her life hell. But because she doesn’t want to ‘rock the boat’, she keeps quiet.
Still, keeping quiet about such thing is unhealthy, which is why Jenna’s mother agrees to pay for counseling sessions. By Jenna’s admission, she hasn’t made much ‘progress’ in terms of not being overwhelmed by the behaviour of people, but she does feel ‘off’ when she doesn’t have a session for ages. Her touchstone, however, is David. Best friends since forever, Jenna’s always been able to chat with him about anything and he’s always been able to make her feel better about things. But his departure for a year leaves a big hole in her life and circumstances at work deteriorate from bad to worse.
Shoebottom’s Jenna is candid with a dry sense of humour. Anyone who has worked in a modern office environment will recognise immediately the sorts of characters she references, the habitual office politics and – despite routine staff assessments – the unmeritocratic advancement of work-shy members of staff. Buzzwords from Jenna such as ‘team building’ will induce laughter – and cringing – in equal measure, while the play reminds us of incidents where we let our hair down (with disastrous results) which nobody forgets.
Some people will no doubt ask why Jenna doesn’t talk to others about what’s happening at work. Mental health is central to Blue Tights’ narrative and if one is experiencing depression (which Jenna has as a result of her workplace) it’s not something one can drop in conversation matter-of-factly. There’s a big difference between have a bad day and having a shit life. Also, the women in Jenna’s office are complicit in the cycle of bad behaviour, so there’s no one there she can confide in. And with David gone for the foreseeable future, uncertain days lie ahead for Jenna.
Blue Tights is funny, with well-observed comments, but its greatest strengh is its emotional honesty and its overall message regarding how much latitude we give other people to affect how we feel and how kind we are (or not) to ourselves.
© Michael Davis 2018
Blue Tights, Red Knickers And An ’S’ On Her Vest runs at Bread & Roses Theatre until 14th July.