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Work Makes You Free review at Vaults, London – ‘promising and timely’

The cast of Work Makes You Free at Vault Festival, London The cast of Work Makes You Free at Vault Festival, London

Work plays a huge role in most of our lives. As a society, we assign different values to different types of work and we too often ask: “what do you do?” as if it were synonymous with “who are you?”

Michael Ross’ timely play Work Makes You Free explores the way people think about work. It consists of four monologues revolving around the subject of work. Adam (Nicholas Stafford) is a career politician, Kirsty (Miranda Evans) works in a job centre though she dreams of being a musician, Willow (Laura Pieters) is a would-be theatremaker struggling to make ends meet, and Jane (Emily Bates) is a businesswoman with little time for people like Willow. Of the four, Stafford’s Adam feels the most realised as a character.

There’s humour in Ross’ writing – particularly when Adam unintentionally evokes the Holocaust while giving a speech (hence the title) – and he covers an awful lot of ground in a short space of time, from the stigma surrounding unemployment to the division between the work people do out as passion and out of necessity, and the expectation, particularly in the arts, that to get anywhere at all one must first work for free.

But the play feels a little formulaic and tonally lopsided in its current form, with a number of narrative swerves towards the end. And, after a bustling beginning depicting the characters’ morning commute, James McKendrick’s production never quite alights on a visual style of its own.

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Promising and timely new writing about work and the values we attach to it