Entering the theatre, I take a seat in Bob’s Bistro. A waitress hands me a plastic menu and advises me, “Don’t order anything, it’s all shit”. Thus we are welcomed into Piss and Bile (thankfully not on the menu), a play following two women (Beth Wilson and Daniella Finch) in their early twenties, both drifting through life, seemingly anchored only to each other, their unfulfilling jobs and a severe case of existential dread.
It tackles themes many will relate to. Once we enter the working world, once we leave home, university, and that protected, familiar space – how will we cope? What are we meant to say? Or wear? And – wait – where are the good jobs? Wilson and Finch adeptly inhabit this world and own the large space with a languid ease and strong story telling.
The piece plays cleverly with the tension between the mask of customer service and internal frustration, drawing on Brecht’s aphorism “the service industry is a fickle beast”, imagining what would happen if we actually said what we really wanted to say. We are told that as a waitress, “sometimes we have inside thoughts which are different from our outside words”. This is mined for real humour as a series of impossible patrons (played amusingly by Ted Marriot) are eviscerated in the waitress’ minds, but politely offered coffee in the real world.
The humour of the piece is one of its real strengths – it’s absolute jokes. Wilson and Finch (also the writers) wield their acerbic wit with rich success, bringing to life our attention-sapping phones, lampoon fragile masculinity and even take a shot at Elon Musk. The highlight is the time we spend with a podcaster who thinks they have something really important to say (you know the type) and proceeds to spout vapid but totally hilarious rubbish. On the way we nod to plenty of current affairs without the social commentary being too on the nose – it’s entertaining.
The central storyline follows the two women applying for the same job – the same escape from Bob’s Bistro. The characters are sympathetic and there are some really moving moments as we watch them struggle together, grow apart, fight and find their commonality again.
To be honest, I wish the play had focused more tightly on this storyline. As much as I enjoyed the humour, the writing was perhaps guilty of trying to do too much. The number of scenes and skits packed in at times led to a stilted rhythm. Despite this, I still found myself invested in Wilson and Finch’s performances; I just couldn’t help feeling that a more pared back script would give a punchier, more impactful evening. It’s a piece that certainly knows itself, but perhaps is trying to say too much, in too many different ways. Then again, isn’t that exactly what your early twenties can feel like: a torrent of different, conflicting thoughts full of addendums and footnotes as you try to define yourself?
Piss and Bile is a thoroughly enjoyable play. It tackles so much and does so with amazing humour. As a theatre company, it’s clear Five Pigeons Pecking a Bin Bag are capable of producing brave work and are definitely one to watch. Come for the humour, stay to be moved – but don’t order the coffee.
Written by: Beth Wilson and Daniella Finch
Directed by: Beth Bowden
Produced by: Five Pigeons Pecking a Bin Bag
Piss and Bile plays at The Space until 26 March. Further information and bookings here.