The Cafe

Theatre, Fringe
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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The Cafe

The proprietors of the Coffee Works Project, the Islington café hosting this acid vision of the cost (in every sense) of running an independent business in austerity Britain, could be forgiven for shifting uneasily in their seats as they watch it.

Hot-headed ex-student Joe (Jolyon Westhorpe), waiter and wannabe Marxist revolutionary, has had enough of the penny-pinching ways of his boss, Marcus (a scathing Paul Lincoln). But can he persuade his fellow café workers – a single father, a Pole, a Turk and an Oxford grad – to rise up against the system?

Ben Aitken’s script is as sharp as a tack, with a strong vein of absurdity, such as when Marcus insists on ever thinner slices of courgette to save money. The minimum-wage world of a small high-street café is an effective fly trap for a whole range of socio-economic anxieties and hypocrisies.

But as the site-specific play sets out to skewer everything from 24-hour multinational commercialism to going organic, the characters struggle to be more than ciphers. In spite of the talented cast, the show often feels dramatically static – archetypes arranged around a real-life chopping board.

Nonetheless, this is a perceptive and, at times, thought-provoking hour, with some zinging lines. It’ll be interesting to see what Aitken does next. Tom Wicker


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