The Burton Taylor Studio at the Oxford Playhouse was the ideal home for Dining Al Desko, which is made up of three interleaved dramatic monologues and written by Alastair Curtis.

The intimate space, which was full to the brim with a 50-strong audience for its premiere, injected a sense of claustrophobia and discomfort into the play from the beginning that became increasingly apt.

The opening scene was uncanny. Anyone who’s ever spent any amount of time working in an open plan office could relate.

There’s the one who prides herself on an obsessively neat desk and makes a song and dance about sacrificing her lunch break for the greater good of the firm. Meet Julie (Julia Pilkington), the old-hand receptionist and self-proclaimed “office Buddha”.

There’s the brash one who loudly bulldozes her ill-thought out ideas down the throats of her seniors and quickly, yet clumsily, climbs the career ladder. Enter Trish (Kate Weir), the naive, ambitious social media intern.

Finally, there’s the one who hides behind his mountain of paperwork, intermittently binning a bit of it when he gets overwhelmed: poor Tom (Christopher Page), the overworked company accountant.

In fact, the characters of Dining Al Desko are far more than these comic cliches. Their diverse yet positive outlooks are fragile, and bubbling underneath is a dangerous self-deception that unites all three.

Julie is the first to crack. She is the titular desk-diner. She sees this as “going the extra mile”; a key phase of her delusionary plan to gain promotion and the acknowledgement of her boss, Mark. Sadly, her colleagues, put frankly by Trish, think she’s “en route to... nowhere!”

And so we find ourselves belly-laughing at the frazzled Julie, an egotistical Trish or a hopeless Tom. Yet increasingly, and often suddenly, this tension smothers laughter and plants seeds of unease.

We realise that the reason Julie overvalues herself and her job is because her colleagues overtly and continually undervalue her.

In the same vein, Trish, the social media intern, tries to offset her inexperience with brash statements of intent. In the process of trying to become a big fish, she ends up attracting more attention than she bargained for from the boss, Mark, and the wrong kind at that; the story gives a respectful nod to the #MeToo movement.

Finally, there’s Tom, who seems comfortable with putting his paperwork through the shredder as a way of paying for his family’s coffee machine (literally, to the glee of the audience!) But when £100,000 goes missing from the company’s accounts, the joke’s on him and it’s far from funny.

The stories we tell ourselves are there to protect us and, gory details aside, the ending of Dining Al Desko was not as dark as it might sound.

Every character had been buoyed up by some unfounded sense of purpose and by the closing scene, sat before us, utterly deflated.

Yet though they had become helpless, they had not lost hope. They each held on to something, some thread of belief that they would be okay.

And in such an intimate theatre, after witnessing redundancy, sexual assault and even murder, this is the play’s lasting impression: there’s always hope.

As Tom says, albeit feebly: “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to find out what a rewarding place it can be.”

Happily, the play itself is still on the up, and Tightrope Productions and the full cast have my highest commendations when the show hits the Edinburgh Festival later this summer.