Away Day by D.J.Britton

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BBC Radio 4, 24 October 2008

The subject of contemporary management culture seems eminently suitable for comic treatment. Its endless obsession with results; its preoccupation with acronyms, jargon; and above all, its automatic assumption that people have to be ‘managed’ in order to be successful, are all ripe for parody. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant managed it with their television series The Office; as did Brian Dooley in his less well-known series The Smoking Room (2005).


The challenge facing D.J.Britton was to produce a play that could be both funny and yet provide a refreshing take on familiar material. Inspired by contemporary events at Heathrow Airport’s fifth terminal, it concerned a group of airport baggage-handlers forced to go off on an awayday at a Welsh castle in order to improve their management skills and thereby avoid the kind of chaos that ensues one day when the computer system breaks down. The fact that it was probably not their fault, but rather due to their affluent boss’s reluctance to spend money on proper systems, is conveniently forgotten. Once they have completed their ‘training,’ they will become ‘better.’ Britton makes fun of the entire idea by showing that most of the activities on the awayday are spurious, designed not to promote team-work but rather to show how inadequate most of the team-members actually are. He is far more interested in the three main characters. Duckworth (Tim McMullan) is a fundamentally good man who has become corrupted by management culture to such an extent that he cannot think straight. All the major decisions are taken for him by his assistant Dora (Marianne March), a feisty Irish woman who understands how much time has been wasted on this awayday. Duckworth’s PA Rhiannon (Sara Lloyd) is a doe-eyed innocent, secretly in love with Duckworth but unable to disclose her feelings openly.


As the awayday unfolds, the three characters learn something about themselves: Duckworth learns how impractical he is, Dora realizes that she must take over the team in order for it to function properly, while Rhiannon finds out that she is in the wrong job. Self-awareness helps to create a coherent management team, not jargon. Duckworth and Dora become lovers, and assume joint control for the whole baggage-handling operation, while Rhiannon takes a job as a warden at a writers’ retreat, in the hope of developing her creative talents. All ends happily: all three characters throw away their management guides and start to run their lives (and their teams) according to commonsense principles. Away Day might not have been an especially original play, but it did end up by emphasizing a fundamental truth about how people can best work together.


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