Review: Call Girls (Lauren Harvey and Kelly Hodge)

Content warnings: Call Girls contains coarse language, and parental guidance is recommended for audiences under 15.

Lauren Harvey and Kelly Hodge have premiered their wry and relatable workplace comedy Call Girls at Big Fork Theatre as part of the inaugural Fringe Brisbane programme.

Written, produced, and performed by Harvey and Hodge, and drawing on their own experiences of working in call centres, Call Girls follows two twenty-something work wives as they navigate their thankless jobs at the customer service call centre for the Department of Roads. Alexis and Ella seem to be polar opposites – Ella (Hodge) is a perfectionist, and meticulously organised, while Alexis (Harvey) is able to go with the flow…when she feels like it. The two women are held together, like many workplace friendships, by shared experiences and a deep-seated resentment for their jobs and their bosses. Both women are searching for something more from their professional lives than redirecting people’s complaints about potholes, but this might mean upsetting the balance of their personal relationship with each other.

Harvey and Hodge had excellent onstage rapport and the characters they crafted were relatable and recognisable, played to full comedic effect but with depth and dimension beyond the humour. Through their conversations with one another, and with customers, the audience glimpses Alexis and Ella’s inner lives, as well as their relationships outside the workplace. Both characters had well-defined arcs that played out over the hour-long performance.

Overlapping and repeated dialogue emphasised the monotonous nature of the job, and lengthier exchanges conjured a queue of phone customers that ranged from awful to awkward. Harvey and Hodge remained in character as Ella and Alexis throughout, swapping banter and gossip between calls, but the one-sided phone conversations populated their world with a wider variety of characters. Call Girls also cleverly satirised office annoyances like the Zoom meeting culture that has evolved over the past few years, difficult bosses, unnecessary meetings, and constant, irrelevant changes to the department name.

The limited stage space was used effectively, with two workstations reflecting the individual personality of each character. Two doors, at opposite ends of the stage, provided continuity by suggesting a larger setting, and simple lighting changes clearly marked scene transitions as well as the few moments in the show when the actors were embodying different characters. Beneath posters for COVID safety and RUOK day, and a laminated Employee of The Month award, surrounded by underwatered office plants, Hodge and Harvey played out the day-to-day office dramas of overbearing bosses, unreliable co-workers, and customer “emergencies”.

There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but Call Girls was also a well-balanced work about being a good friend, following your ambitions beyond your comfort zone, and prioritising the pursuits (and people) that are important to you.

Call Girls will play at Big Fork Theatre, Fortitude Valley, from 15 – 30 October 2022.

For ticketing and further information, visit the Fringe Brisbane website

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