Ania Magliano-Wright and Ruby Keane are the comic duo behind the Corpus Playroom show Team Building Conference Company

It is difficult to imagine a premise for a comedy hour more mundane than a workshop on interpersonal office skills. The ennui of the office environment is frequently exploited for comic potential in shorter sketches or character comedy vignettes. But in championing a show entirely about the office, the office, and nothing but the office (aside from teamwork, naturally), Together™ (Ania Magliano-Wright and Ruby Keane) set themselves on the bizarrely ambitious path of extracting a considerable amount of comic material from the most tepid of milieus. Combining this with a gender-swapped poke at bumbling masculinity, magnificent wigs, and an extensive and very enjoyable publicity campaign, the fact that Team Building Conference (Attendance Compulsory For All Employees) was happening in the first place was a major hilarity that Magliano-Wright and Keane milked over social media to its full potential. Their act was more or less an established meme before they took to the stage; the question was whether or not this would translate into an engaging performance in a more extended capacity.

It certainly started auspiciously. The duo introduced themselves to the stage through an innovatively dysfunctional use of the god-mic and swiftly endeared themselves in a lively opening that framed the show with an appropriately direct level of audience engagement. This proved to be a key aspect of the show: this was not an evening for those averse to liberal audience participation, but Keane and Magliano-Wright’s readiness to address their conference attendees directly, both in their seats and in a series of interactive ‘minigames’ led to some of the show’s most ridiculous (and entertaining) moments. The show was bookended by the team freestyling with aggressive joviality on the Playroom doors, and their interactive slant was a welcome component throughout the show.

Good use was also made of multimedia and technical elements, including the same effective use of amateur videography as the publicity videos, the inevitable PowerPoint presentation (featuring all manner of clunky slide transitions). At one point, an unexpectedly chiaroscuro lighting state (courtesy of Ruth ‘from HQ’ Harvey) served to accentuate Keane in a moment of profound recollection, making for a refreshing aesthetic departure. These various elements were well-implemented and gave the comedians the space to steer the show through alternative means alongside their interaction, showcasing a smart sense of structuring and segue.

However, certain aspects of the production were always going to have obstructive potential, and did indeed play out as such. The show’s chief flaw was predicated by its wry resilience in keeping to the parameters of the eponymous team-building conference throughout the entirety of its running time. I admired the duo’s dedication to the premise, but throughout the show it slowly transitioned from an entertaining novelty to a necessary gimmick. The comic potential of pedantry and incompetence, the two most prominent comic assets in the writing, is prone to swift exhaustion. While ‘Email Etiquette’ and ‘Fonts: Friends and Foes’, the two mid-way sections that most expanded on these qualities, were both highly amusing, the show seemed to lose momentum thereafter, as though the bottom of the proverbial pedantic barrel had been struck. The innovative range of in-character mispronunciations and typos that filled the spaces where most comedy shows would have required a witty flourish were still charming, but they had lost much of their novelty by this point.

The show’s other major pitfall came in the construction of the characters themselves. Keane and Magliano-Wright have impressive on-stage chemistry, but their chosen personalities did not seem like the most expressive vehicle for this. At times I felt as though the only obvious disparity between ‘Larry’ (Magliano-Wright) and ‘Marko’ (Keane) was the former’s romantic misfortunes. These were explored in a through line that allowed for a refreshingly different level of interrelation, captured in the image of Keane’s gormless grin emanating across the stage, unreciprocated by Magliano’s convincingly dejected downcast gaze. Besides this, however, the duo came across less as a double act and more as two sides of the same coin. While the homogeneity of their characters certainly has comic value, I feel that more individually streamlined character development would prove very fruitful here.

For all it didn’t always eschew the tedium of its own premise, there was something thoroughly good-natured and self-aware about the performance that went some way towards smoothing over these tensions. Keane and Magliano’s impressively corpse-free portrayals were underpinned by an insinuation of their own awareness as to the ridiculousness of their concept and performance. Possibly the greatest risk they faced from the onset was that this would manifest as an in-joke or shared indulgence, but their comic manner and attunement to the crowd was easily sufficient to generate an inclusive atmosphere. From an audience perspective, it was consistently evident that the duo were having a great deal of fun bringing a creation decisively of their own to life, but at any given point I felt invited into sharing this experience; at times it was more entertaining than others, but it was never exclusive. If this is the chief criterion for the show’s success as a concept (which I suspect it may have been) then it certainly hit the mark.

Before stepping into the Playroom, I was sceptical of whether or not there were sixty minutes of solid comedic material that could be drawn from such prosaic characters and premise. Having seen the show, I retain this scepticism but won’t pretend it wasn’t anything other than a good laugh watching Keane and Magliano-Wright giving it their best stab.

Team Building Conference is on in the Corpus Playroom until 17 February

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