Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: No Place To Go, Gate Theatre

Review: No Place To Go, Gate Theatre

Published in the Telegraph, 20.11.2013

You could call it The Recession Sessions. No Place To Go, an import from New York as part of the Gate Theatre’s These American Lives season, is a concept album of a cabaret that lets one unemployed ex-corporate slave sing his bleeding heart out.

Imagine Willy Loman fronting a four-piece house band and you have some idea of Ethan Lipton and his Orchestra. Until recently, Lipton – “old-time songwriter, emerging playwright” – had supported his family with a part-time job in publishing. That is, until the company he worked for - his company – upped sticks and relocated. To Mars.

His reward for more than a decade’s service? Either transfer costs or a farewell handshake. “Permanent part-timers” don’t get severance pay and there are no extra incentives for the 150 million mile move to Mars.

If Lipton’s at a dead end (one Country and Western number posits boomeranging back in with his parents), so is America’s cost-cutting, profit-preserving, race-to-the-bottom philosophy. Fat trimming has already stripped basic workers’ perks like pensions and health insurances. Next up are the workers themselves.

Lipton dishes this up as a chameleonic cabaret. The set-list hops from a funky James Brown number preaching the benefits of self-incorporation to a gravelly Santana-style roar about an encroaching storm. The best of them are infectiously toe-tapping, though slower songs border on hangdog self-pity. Lipton’s patter is a particularly New York kind of droll – sour grapes on wry – but he has a lethargic likeability, even if the show’s pacing can become woozy.

The show’s smartest move is to acknowledge complicity. While every dog has its day, every man also has his price – Lipton included. This isn’t airy-fairy anti-capitalism, just a call for decency and respect. Honest work gives a person purpose and a place in the world. The trappings of office life – post-work drinks and conference room sandwiches – are detailed with affection.

However, Lipton’s attempts to echo executive self-interest by ‘neglecting’ his bandmates are strained. He pours irony on the format’s inequity without actually solving it. It’s still Lipton’s show. His is the only name on the posters.

What does for No Place To Go, however, is that it offers neither hope nor anger. This should be a clarion call, howled at the moon, or else it needs to find some silver lining. Lipton’s just as stumped as the rest of us, but that makes for a resigned shrug of a show. The trouble is he makes his point about callous capitalism in the first song and, from there, he’s got nowhere else to go.

Photograph: Heather Phelps

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