"Oh, look, Paul, people are making an effort," coos lovely Mary from Accounts. Mary had made quite an effort herself: 59 if she's a day and in wall-to-wall sequins. She beams approvingly at the Rudolph antlers and the Santa hats that the co-operative punters have come wearing in readiness for the fun-filled fray of Office Party.
Mary knows that I'm "Paul" because I've been given a name tag and an echelon for the evening. I'm one of the Executives, and soon Chip, the bullish American CEO, is sweeping me and my fellow execs to a boardroom on the other side of the Barbican where he lines us up against the wall and treats us to about 10 viewings of the company's toxically saccharine new promotional video and to some tactically undermining man-to-man personal chat. "Still depressed, Paul?" he enquires. "Not since my gender reassignment," I reply beatifically. Without missing a beat, the performer, who is as quick as Chip is thick, assumes a look of frighteningly fake concern: "Remind me, Paul, from what sex to what sex would that be?"
How would one explain to a Martian the hilarious phenomenon of Office Party? It's as though we are collectively trying to exorcise the spirit of every appalling office party we've ever (dis)graced by volunteering for a fictive one.
I don't want to give too much away about the disco, or the quality cabaret acts, or the party games, but, expertly combining the skills of actors with the talents of improv artistes, the winning performers preserve the show's wobbly ontological balance. And the "audience"? Oh, we were simply marvellous as we let out our inner David Brent.
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