The Trials and Tribulations of Hospitality – Milk On The Side: A Barista Musical (Review)

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Words: Evie Hylands (she/her)

Many of us have found ourselves looking for a part-time job in hospitality alongside university, where you are overworked, underpaid, and made to feel miserable by middle-aged women in leggings ordering extra hot lattes.The trials and tribulations of falling victim to the trappings of hospitality are not uncommon, which was a key feature of Milk On The Side: A Barista Musical, part of the 2024 Glasgow Comedy Festival. Notably, it was written by fellow University of Glasgow student Clare Louise Roberts and directed by Chris Honey.

A showcase taking place in Tennents Bar certainly made for an interesting Sunday afternoon. It was clear that a lot of effort was put into the production by Roberts and Honey. The main character, Amy, was bright, bubbly and a very talented artist and singer. Her dialogue foregrounded the play and she seemed to be more engaged with the audience than Callum, a surly character who was stuck in the monotony of hospitality. 

The show was set in a café, where Amy and Callum were both fed up with working. Roberts and Honey utilised the downstairs space in Tennents well, arranging the tables to replicate the bustling atmosphere of a café. The audience were even seated in a café-like style, with the performers weaving in and out of the tables to make it a much more interactive experience. Audience engagement was a central aspect of their performance and a useful aid to mimic the customer-worker dynamic. The relatable and ongoing jokes helped to structure their performance and ensured consistent engagement with the audience. The show followed a series of very relatable dilemmas of working in hospitality, and for someone who has spent the bulk of her working life doing so, it was absolutely spot on. 

Amy, our protagonist, seemed to be having an issue with the lack of stability in her life. The abyss of uncertainty that her degree had provided left her trapped in this liminal phase of her life, where she was unsure if she should continue to pursue her dreams, or as she put it, ‘become a corporate girlie’. This is a dilemma I’m sure many students (me included) are often faced with when entering the daunting world of work. Although the plot often seemed a little loosely structured and lacked some depth, Roberts and Honey provided a funny, light-hearted and relatable insight into this all-too-common issue for people obtaining degrees with no idea where they want to go in the future. 

The show zoned in on and mocked the new reality of Instagram brunch culture, focusing on how customers are judged based on their highly complex coffee order or glorified avocado toast, something my colleagues and I used to do often. Roberts and Honey included several ironic comments about people who claim to care about the environment whilst in reality knowing nothing about it, consuming products that increase their carbon footprint rather than reducing it as they so desperately want. This added an insightful aspect to the otherwise comedically fuelled show. 

Throughout the performance, the audience were very enthusiastic and showed no hesitation when participating. This created a very heartfelt and close dynamic, breaking down the fourth wall. Callum as a character felt slightly absent; however, this did allow for spotlighting Amy as the protagonist. Still, I would have personally liked to see more contributions from him. Callum was planning on leaving the café to join a startup, an opportunity that had just landed in his lap and put a strain on his relationship with the job-hungry Amy. I would have also preferred to see this being developed in the play, as I feel this could have provided a bit more bulk to the plotline that was missing at times. Overall, I do think this was a bespoke and inventive performance that utilised the space well, making the audience feel cosy, engaged and enthusiastic about the performance as a whole. I will forever live in the comfort that my experience of yummy mummies and their oat milk flat whites was not a unique one.


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