STAGE REVIEW: The Department of Distractions @ Northern Stage (05.02.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The Department of Distractions runs at Northern Stage, Newcastle until Saturday 10th February

Somewhere between Orwell’s 1984, the work of Chris Marker and Richard Ayoade’s The Double exists The Department of Distractions, the new play from Sheffield based theatre company Third Angel in collaboration with Northern Stage.

At the heart of The Department of Distractions is a fantastic premise; a ‘clandestine organisation’ that specialise in misleading Joe and Jane Public from the truth in their everyday lives. Ever sit down to compose that important email but get distracted by a web story about how pineapple cures anxiety? That’s the Department. Ever try to read the news on your phone but have your eye-line pulled away by a single glove dropped on the pavement, then you try to focus again but you can’t help wondering who the glove belonged to? The Department at their best. We’ve all been there; and that familiarity of procrastination is what makes the hook of the play so appealing. There’s something relatable and personal about the premise and that’s why I found The Department of Distractions so endearing.

Unfortunately, the structure of the play prevents it from truly landing. I wholeheartedly encourage people to go see the work – it’s fresh, different and provocative – but it’s not quite there yet in tone or script. The story concerns a day in the life of the Department, where four employees including new girl Daphne try to conclude an open disappearance story that threatens the secrecy of their business. Told mainly through long, static monologues which jump between the employees working and the employees portraying subjects in their ‘narrative’, it’s tough going to fully comprehend and lacks a self-awareness that would resonate with anyone who has ever worked in an office. The set is interesting, and the use of projection is excellent, but the space is limiting.

Thematically; surveillance, state secrets and mass procrastination are topical and compelling subjects, and there’s definitely something great in the premise, but it feels as though the artists have yet to identify the best story within. Part photo-roman, part audio-drama, The Department of Distractions has all the makings of a great play, it just needs to find a little focus.

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