A high point: Libby Thornton, Sam David and Toby White in a short video lampooning workplace sexismNicola Irvine with permission for Varsity

Girl Torque, Nicola Irvine’s autobiographical look at the treatment of women in engineering, has a vacuum where punchlines should be. From stilted deliveries, misguided direction, and jokes that were just short of being actual jokes, the sketch show was floundering from its first (of far too many) fourth wall breaks.

The show’s high point was its opening: an HR video starring Libby Thornton, Sam David and Toby White, outlining how to talk to women in the workplace. “You don’t have to mean it,” the video told its male viewers, “you just have to say it!” From passive-aggressive to downright skin-crawling, the film adeptly skewered how some workplaces disguise sexism, rather than tackling the root of the problem. But Irvine didn’t seem to know that she was onto a good thing. Instead of interspersing more videos throughout the show, the audience had to deal with a weak running gag about naming departments after Harry Potter characters.

“Finding the jokes in Girl Torque shouldn’t be rocket science.”

The plot begins as four would-be apprentices are interviewed by Geoffrey, an upper class twit of a manager, played well past the point of cliché by Christian Longstaff. Instead of asking the candidates about engineering, Geoffrey quizzes them on the latin names of animals. So… What? I kept waiting for some kind of twist, or quip, or anything more than teeth-grindingly awkward flirtation between Geoffrey and the company’s receptionist. The show continues in this vein, never quite deciding if it’s a straight-up autobiography or comedy. Every time the dialogue teeters precariously on the edge of a joke, the script and cast are quick to stop it falling into the absurdism it sorely needs. Finding the jokes in Girl Torque shouldn’t be rocket science.

What Girl Torque certainly isn’t is a sketch show. It’s more a cross-section of one engineering firm. The infrastructure is there. But Irvine misses the mark. There’s not quite enough story for it to be a drama, no isolated skits that could have made it into a sketch show, and too little laughter from its audience to call it a comedy. Irvine’s writing and Ellie Sizer’s direction were reminiscent of the tone of The Office and The IT Crowd, with the humour of neither. Constant Fleabag-esque fourth-wall breaking appeals to the audience were unfunny and actually stood in the way of dialogue.

The lacklustre script isn’t aided by a strange mix of performances. Sizer hasn’t managed to get the best out of the cast. Jasper Kwok and Ewan Woods are convincingly kooky, but quiet. Longstaff, Margaret Saunderson, and Anastasia Maciver try valiantly to inject some energy into the production. But Girl Torque is already on fumes, and their performances end up looking laboured.

“The infrastructure is there, but Irvine misses the mark”

Ariel Hebditch is commendable as Irvine’s younger self, head-shaking at a parade of cartoonish management types. But Girl Torque doesn’t do itself any favours by having our window into the engineering industry be so timid. It may be accurate, and understandable given the sexist workplace on show. But a central character whose defining trait is how quiet they are failed to keep my attention.

I found myself having to concentrate to work out what was meant to be a joke or not. Lines that could have wrestled a laugh from the audience – “he’d trip over a wireless controller”, or a layabout IT employee claiming “we’re a bit swamped at the moment” – barely registered. Equally, weak jokes are played again and again. The scene about how to correctly “handle a load” (we get it, it’s a dick joke) was so excruciatingly long, I felt like I was being hit around the head with a spanner.


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The foundations of Girl Torque are solid. Heenal Shah’s lighting design captured the dingy feel of PMS Now’s offices, while Bryher Smith’s set design nailed their higgelty-piggelty organisation. Projected backdrops aided the separation between departments: the management team’s wall was covered in head-scratching flowcharts and a few scattered post-it notes; the IT Department was decked out in werewolf posters. Computer whizzes are pop culture nerds too, get it? It’s nothing The Big Bang Theory hasn’t done before, but by this point, the audience was desperate for something to laugh at.

Girl Torque offers a strong premise, a talented cast and a lot of potential lambasting. But its commentary on sexism in the workplace is limited to a recreation of that same sexism, and nothing more. It’s trying to be a sitcom, sketch show, and drama all at once. It just didn’t get down to the nuts and bolts of what’s actually funny.

Girl Torque is being performed at the ADC Theatre from Wednesday the 17th to Saturday the 20th of May