The Public Servant explores the ups and downs of working for the federal government, particularly as an enthusiastic young graduate of this country’s public administration and policy programs.
Should you see it?
The Public Servant is the perfect play for Ottawa as so many of our citizens will understand first hand the struggles of dealing with bureaucracy when simply trying to do their job. It’s a play that’s easily relatable to government workers and funny to anyone who’s familiar with what goes on in this town. But, as the show’s ending makes clear, the laughs mask a deep-felt and growing sense of unease, disappointment, and frustration from civil servants at all levels.
The play begins with a patriotic speech from a bright-eyed recent graduate, Madge (played by Haley McGee) who is ready to make a difference and help change Canada for the better. Her first days on the job as a public servant are full of excitement: she gets her security badge, conquers the labyrinth of cubicles, buys a new wardrobe, makes friends at lunch, learns to cope with demanding ADMs, and unwinds at the infamous 5 à 7 events.
Over time however Madge comes to understand that her new position isn’t everything she hoped for. She’s initially patient with the precise formatting required of documents, the massaging of language, the never-ending review process, and last minute project cancellations but when she’s asked to omit important information from her report, she comes to seriously question the integrity of the public service. When faced with cutbacks, we see a new Madge: one who is all too eager to give up on her dreams of improving this country and who easily decides to leave her job.
The Public Servant is presented as a series of scenes and lacks a strong narrative. The heart of the show is in the emotional arch Madge goes through as she learns the truth about being a civil servant. McGee does a fantastic job portraying Madge as an innocent, likeable, and friendly character. But for me, Amy Rutherford stole the show with her numerous and varied characters, each more funny than the last.
The big problem I had with this show is that it lost momentum. The beginning was full of hilarity but as Madge settled into a day-to-day routine, the show became boring. The ending in particular bothered me as it portrayed the current situation as utterly hopeless and depressing. I’ve worked in the government and loved my job so it would have been nice to show that there are exceptions to the gloomy, bleak, and desperate end Madge comes to.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Did the creators of this show succeed in portraying the reality of working for the federal government or did the show rely on tired cliches? Did you laugh, cry, or both? Are you, or someone you know, a public servant? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below