As someone who has worked in the UK most of my post-uni life, I am intrigued by Try Harder, Yusuf Niazi’s playwright debut: What are young people willing to do nowadays in order to get a job? At the point the story starts, Lucy, Sam and Grace are all desperate for money, so desperate that they have put career ambitions already to the sides – they are 19 years old plus and simply need the money to pay bills, rents and university fees. Turning up with no interview or job description, they are given incredibly ridiculous tasks: Moving chairs from one side of the room to another. Attempts to give the execution of these any dignity (moving to the rhythm of Tchaikovsky f.e.) is being shattered by their boss from hell though whose only motivation seems playing them against each other. What unites them and in the end makes them stand up for each other unexpectedly, is their lack of greed: Again, they are giving their best to pay the bills and not to become rich. How can this not be good enough (outside the start-up industry)? No Truman Show spotlight falls from the ceiling, no Squid Game plot is even being hinted – maybe Try Harder’s most powerful strength: Daring to not make excuses on how disillusioning the entry job market can be, even for those with degrees and genuine motivation. And its unapologetically set here in London where many jobs pay even full-time employees pocket money but not enough to earn a living for themselves, let alone a family.
Low-budget theatre is a description used as a compliment for this one hour play, and further proof for its message: Most fellow audience members surely will have taken advantage of the generous discounts available for under 25-year-olds (one still wears her Greggs work uniform, I see several Extinction Rebellion buttons). No scene goes without audience laughter. Consciously, Try Harder differentiates itself from those (still) yearning for the fame and money-hungry upstarts at The Apprentice. Despite its gloomy topic, the very real already current cost-of-living crisis and the fact that social groups drifting more and more apart, Try Harder indeed manages to stay a satirical comedy while taking its protagonists, their insecurities and anxieties serious. The lovely, humorous cast makes the most of the blank space they are given, and oozes genuine companionship. A perfect mid-week treat on what could easily be the most comfortable theatre seats I sat all year, and a reminder after a day in the office not to take anything for granted.
The Omnibus Theatre on the top end of Clapham High Street is a warm, welcoming, uncomplicated and exceptional allure-free venue with a sunny front garden, serving generous portions of Aperol Spritz on the cashless bar – an address to remember, also when being in the area with children (I am intrigued by a picture book with the title Oi Cat being scattered around other in front of the scribble wall). And the line-up for the rest of August at the Omnibus Theatre for those of us skipping the Edinburgh Fringe festival is exciting as well. To everyone involved in tonight’s evening: You are doing something seriously right!
**** out of 5 stars
Try Harder was written and directed by Yusuf Niazi and presented by the Persued By A Dragon Theatre Company. Ran until mid-August at the Omnibus Theatre, tickets £6 to £12.