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Review: Ants, Etcetera Theatre

I quit my job last month. Since then, I’ve lived a life blissfully free of meetings, Zoom calls and targets. That is, until I went to see ANTS at the Etcetera Theatre last night. Junk Theatre have taken all the clichés of the corporate world, every last piece of jargon, and crammed them all into one KPI-busting, synergy-creating, hellscape of a meeting. Three employees from different departments of a faceless, unnamed company have been given one night to prepare a presentation for ‘upper management’. The topic: How can the company maximise profits over the next year? The play is…

Summary

Rating

Good

ANTS presents the peak of corporate cliché in a hilarious and energetic piece of theatre, but some of its weightier, more moving, punches fail to land.

User Rating: 3.87 ( 3 votes)

I quit my job last month. Since then, I’ve lived a life blissfully free of meetings, Zoom calls and targets. That is, until I went to see ANTS at the Etcetera Theatre last night. Junk Theatre have taken all the clichés of the corporate world, every last piece of jargon, and crammed them all into one KPI-busting, synergy-creating, hellscape of a meeting. Three employees from different departments of a faceless, unnamed company have been given one night to prepare a presentation for ‘upper management’. The topic: How can the company maximise profits over the next year?

The play is strongest when it bubbles up into the absurd, shining a light on how ridiculous corporate double-speak is – how we can say so much yet still say absolutely nothing. There are moments of the first half that really get this right. When Ant THREE (Olivia Moon) gushes an enthusiastic, albeit meaningless, speech directly to the audience it’s hilarious – it feels as though the writer George Manson is looking out form the script and winking at us. I would have preferred more moments where the naturalism of the play was broken like this. Otherwise, there is a risk that the audience are just watching a boring meeting.

If the play bubbles up occasionally in the first half, the second starts at a rolling boil. The set is now plastered with the team’s absolutely ludicrous, fever-dream thoughts on how to maximise profits. The whiteboard is now exploding with ‘ideas’ such as ‘unlimited unpaid internships’, ‘The Iron Curtain’, and ‘The Obamas’. A world map has been hung up and annotated, circling Brazil with dollar signs, a large arrow from Japan to Australia wonders ‘Jump?’, and a hopeful post-it note suggests ‘Uber 4 bees’. Ant ONE (played frenetically by Anna van Miert) launches into a practice presentation, setting out her four-part strategy for world domination as ant TWO (brilliantly comic Joel David) emphatically flips a flipchart urging management to ‘SQUEEZE THE SPONGE’. It’s properly excellent comedy and the zenith of the play. And it has to be good because the interval – jarringly – is 30 minutes in, presumably to allow the set to be dressed for this scene. I couldn’t help but feel that audience energy had been wasted by this; a montage and some music would have been more effective.

Exhausted by the night’s effort, and realising how hopeless the task is, the play shifts in tone. The characters drop their professional façades as they wonder aloud whether work is worth it and grapple with a lack of fulfilment in their vapid jobs. In turn each ant reveals the pressures which keep them in work: mortgages, parents in care, family to support. Some of these moments are genuinely touching (TWO describing his mum’s Sunday dinner stands out) but some feel a little contrived, shoe-horned in late on to add meaning.

In the end I felt as though the play hadn’t quite decided whether it was an absurdist critique of ‘professional’ behaviour, or a genuine tragicomedy of how unfulfilling modern work can be. Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly entertaining return to work. For my part, as each character walked off – cutting ties with the corporate world – it made me want to quit all over again.

Written by: George Manson
Directed by: Tom Mitchell
Produced by: Ella Kennedy for Junk Theatre

ANTS plays at Etcetera Theatre until 15 July. Further information and bookings can be found here.

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About Matt Aldridge

Matt's love for theatre started with with his first role as a Harley Davidson-riding granny at the age of 9. Since then he has played the beating heart of a Jabberwocky at the Edinburgh fringe, directed a Rhinoceros (puppet) in a West-end venue, and bloodied several audience members (with a production of Titus Andronicus). Away from theatre he is training to be a patent attorney and to mix an excellent French martini.