No, it’s not about Elon Musk (and there are certainly many questions about his alleged brilliance). Brilliant Jerks doesn’t tackle the lone founder genius but instead looks at three distinct stories within a technology disruptor; the founder, a programmer and a driver. The company isn’t called Uber but it is really Uber…
Despite the premise, the story is not about technology, and while there are small references to coding and APIs that those who get will get, the topic is human nature; finding a place and an identity in the world. Each of the characters is brilliant, and each is a jerk, but for the most part a jerk that we can understand and relate to, even just a little. The pacing is fast and director Katie-Ann McDonough keeps everything going with the speed of a disruptive technology startup.
Mia (Kiran Sonia Sawar) is a driver picking up fares in Glasgow, hearing the stories, the late-night drunkenness and the sadly inevitable come-ons to a female driver. Sean (Sean Delaney) is a coder who didn’t apply for a position with the company but somehow ended up there anyways. He’s good at this job but more importantly, he fits into the laddish ‘bro’ culture and so when it comes to promotions and money, he leapfrogs over Amy (also Sawar). Sean admits Amy is better at her job but he is still good at his so deserves the extra perks – right? He goes along to get along, unaware of just how much a part of the problem he has become. Tyler (Shubham Saraf) is the company founder, whose Uberesque idea struck him late one night in Paris as he tried to hail a taxi. Dealing with the success, then growth and expansion, leads him to more challenges.
All of the cast step into multiple roles, playing parts in each character’s story, and they do this with aplomb. Notably strong work with accents and body language from all three alongside sympathetic lighting (Rachel Sampley) let the audience easily keep up with each change of character, while the sound from Annie May Fletcher moves us from car to nightclub to office with ease. Hazel Low’s set is a simple circular desk in the shape of the company’s logo (having more than a passing familiarity with Uber’s logo). With three stools, this works as a car, as office space and for the cast to walk and talk directly to the audience.
Joseph Charlton’s script moves along at pace and is full of wonderful turns of phrase, showing a real skill for satire and comedy. All three of the cast’s delivery is strong, but the deadpan from Saraf throughout is excellent, with a particular highlight being when Tyler feels he has to name the river that Paris is built on. There is a lot of comedy from start to finish, with several laughs that grow as lines, sinking into the audience, and the cast is excellent at judging an extra pause to allow these ripples of laughter to finish.
The comedy does overshadow a little, leaving a feeling that perhaps we’ve seen this story before and that perhaps Brilliant Jerks does not have much new to say. It does however bring a lot of laughs and makes for a hugely entertaining night out in London, with the Tube, mainline trains and all the buses you could want – no need to whip out your phone and order a taxi to get home.
Written by Joseph Charlton
Directed by Katie-Ann McDonough
Set and Costume Design by Hazel Low
Sound Design by Annie May Fletcher
Lighting Design by Rachel Sampley
Brilliant Jerks plays at Southwark Playhouse until 25 March. Further information and tickets can be found here.