Crying into Bins could quite easily be subtitled ‘Lia Burge‘s Confessions of a Hospitality Worker’. She shares her all too true tales of years working in pubs, restaurants, cafes and the fancier (on the face of things) domain of functions. Well, except for the Margaret Thatcher one which proves there is a limit to what she would do for money! If you’ve ever worked in any form of customer service, it’s not at all surprising to hear of some of the despair and rudeness that she has witnessed. Her various tales all entertain in their differing ways and there are moments of shocked laughter at the absurdity of the extreme stories she shares. Yet it is all totally believable, especially when she briefly breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge an acquaintance in the front row with “She knows, she was there”.
Burge moves through a host of storytelling styles; straight monologue, spoken word poetry and, with the assistance of a microphone, even stand-up comedy. And whilst mixing up the styles can help a show from becoming monotonous, it can also risk becoming too disjointed with so much flipping from one to the other. Sadly, that is what happens with Crying into Bins; it feels fragmented as the delivery changes too often and too suddenly. This then feeds into another problem that needs addressing to make this a more fulfilling show, as the changing styles disrupt the story arc. We move quickly from place to place in her hospitality career without ever having a real chance to settle into any one of them. Yes, it is a lovely analogy for working in hospitality with the possibilities of a different workplace or function every night, but stronger cohesion between all the parts would greatly help. Whilst a linear storyline isn’t vital, a show still needs a strong thread to hold everything together properly.
That thread should fix us where we already start and finish, with Burge sitting in her bin surrounded by sprouts. The staging is cleverly done: the set is bare except for an unhealthy number of sprouts strewn around her, and yet we feel like we’re in that bin with her. The effect is aided by wonderful humour from the sound and lighting combining to represent the bin lid being opened and more food waste being dropped into the bin around her. That image needs to become a stronger presence and the real focus for the rest of the show to work around.
The production sparkles best when Burge delivers her spoken word performance, an area she clearly feels most comfortable with. Words roll beautifully from her tongue and become more powerful for it. As she spits out “better paid job” over and over in her attack on people telling her she and everyone else working in low paid employment should seek such a thing, Burge feels more alive than at any other time. The show could – perhaps should– be built more around these moments. And her brief interlude into hilarious performance dance to represent the monotony and repetition of her jobs is another highlight that could easily form part of a stronger, more focused show.
Crying into Bins in its present form is a series of short, often amusing, sometimes shocking, tales that do work well as things stand. It’s certainly a show many of us will be able to relate to. But to move on it needs to work on that focus and find a way to more strongly bind all the different elements together.
Written by: Lia Burge
Sound Design by: Simon Rogers
Lighting Design by: Peter Small
Crying Into Bins plays as part of VAULT Festival 2023 until 18 February. Further information and tickets can be found here.