Clapham Fringe 2022 - Piss & Bile review: A (Pun-ny) Tale of a Barista’s Worst Nightmare
*** 3 STARS
Reality meeting fantasy is one of my favourite themes in theatre. I think for the most part it's because that's how I tend to live my life, one foot in reality the other very much so firmly rooted in fantasy. Piss and Bile (yes, that's the title!) is this, just on stage. Imagine those really weird thoughts ("inside thoughts") you have during your mundane working hours in your unbearably mind-numbing customer facing job, made slightly more bearable working alongside an old school friend, is suddenly amplified by the prospect of escaping this and regaining some parts of your life again. Piss and Bile, produced and directed by emerging theatre company Five Pigeons Pecking a Bin Bag, is an example of this. Unnamed Woman 1 (played by Beth Wilson) and Woman 2 (played by Daniella Finch) are friends from university who find themselves both working as the world's worst baristas in the same coffee shop. These women are the personification of zero f*cks given. Woman 1 graduated and is hankering to leave the coffee shop in pursuit of some stability in her world and woman 2 dropped out in her first year at university and appears to just be content with going with the flow. But each character desires something more and their loyalty is tested when they both apply for the same position working in an office. Whilst the two baristas battle it out for the top employment spot, they are confronted with the fact that their waking reality is more than just one annoying Deliveroo ping after another. Piss and Bile begs the question: surely there's more to life than this?
Funny and entertaining, if any fellow 28 year old millennials (like myself) are familiar with Adult Swim and T4's Freshly Squeezed, that quirky, slightly wacky show design is very similar to how Piss and Bile present's itself. Like an experimental horror story but make it an utterly depressing, bleak wasteland. It's almost as if the decay of humanity is being presented to us in the form of two underpaid baristas who have some impressive hand eye coordination and are one mocha away from a nervous breakdown.
So, the concept I enjoy - a coming of post - university - age tale we've seen before but it's presented to the audience in a very lucid dream (or nightmare) format. I appreciate this and the experimentalism is impressive. There were, however, a few anecdotes within the play that I felt didn't work; interjected throughout Piss and Bile are brief clips of a semi motivational, semi deprecating podcast led by the delightfully pompous James Robert John (played by Ted Marriott). It felt random but not in a quirky way, it just didn't seem to fit in with the realm of the story. The idea of being consumed by those types of anti-empathetic, hyper masculine podcasts that are steeped in misogyny, classism and incel-ish attitudes is a thing, but it's not a thing that feels applicable here. It was mildly amusing but more than anything, just felt annoying. I wanted to see more of Woman 1 and Woman 2 battling out there early 20s in the horrific service industry!
The stage design and soundtrack choices were ten/ten however. Whoever came up with a rendition of the Deliveroo "ding" deserves a pay raise! Wilson and Finch are incredibly convincing in their roles, if they had no prior service industry experience I would be surprised because they capture the deadpan dreary dustbowl that is hospitality with great vigour. I really hope this play is developed further, an impressive debut at the Bread & Roses Theatre, and a reminder to tip your baristas!
Cast and creative team:
Woman 1: Beth Wilson
Woman 2: Daniella Finch
James Robert John/ Customer: Ted Marriott
Sound design: Ted Marriott
Lighting design: Beth Wilson
Technician: Lilith Hippely
Produced & Directed - Five Pigeons Pecking a Bin Bag Theatre Company