‘Empty in Angel’, I soon discovered, is courier talk for “I am in (Angel) and I currently have no goods to collect or deliver”. An original play by James Woolf, Empty in Angel looks at the fight to improve workers’ rights in the so-called ‘gig economy’ and the common struggles faced by its community.
Our narrator and protagonist is ‘Watsy’ (‘cos she’s from Watford. She has a friend called ‘Brighton’. She moans a lot) who is ably portrayed by the very energetic Darcy Willison. Alongside the central role, Willison takes on all bit-parts in this hour long one-(wo)man show and slips between characters with ease. She also manages to pull off a couple of pretty impressive raps and some genuinely moving monologues that at one point put a bit of a lump in my throat. Holding an audiences’ attention solo, delivering a sometimes lyrically challenging script AND occasionally having to jump on a stationary bike at the same time is no easy role, but Willison’s performance is a tour de force and she makes it look effortless.
One of these monologues concerns the true and tragic story of a courier who died after failing to attend medical appointments – in part, his widow said at the time, through fear of repercussions of missing his delivery targets. This shone a media spotlight on the franchise/zero-hours contract practices of delivery companies, the like of which we’ve seen in other sectors. It is also the event which inspires Empty in Angel, with Watsy representing the disenfranchised couriers and literally rallying the troops. She explains early on that while she loves her job, she only gets paid for what she delivers; not the dead hours returning from drops, not waiting around for people to find parcels – and no holiday pay, sick pay or lunch hour – nada.
It’s a complicated legal position that is well explained for the layman in around 60 minutes, delivered in an entertaining and engaging fashion. The opening montage of biking through London roads reminds us that working as a bicycle courier in our great city is not for the faint of heart and pictures from actual protests and of – presumably – real couriers remind us that this isn’t just a performance; this is a reality for many people. It was thought provoking enough for me to tip my UberEats driver this afternoon and simple yet effective as a piece of theatre. You can see it at the Etcetera Theatre on 29th and 30th October and then at the Old Red Lion between 17th – 20th November. https://emptyinangel.com/performance-dates
Reviewed by: Zoё Meeres
Reviewed: 10th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★