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The Consultant review at Theatre 503 London

A former management consultant himself, playwright Neil Fleming is well placed to satirise the role of the men behind the men in charge of corporate Britain.

This comedy tells the story of Hugo Shackleton, the chief executive of a company that manufactures medical supplies, who is seduced by a shadowy, wheelchair-bound consultant and his promises to turn around the struggling business.

Fleming certainly has an ear for dialogue and dissects the meaningless jargon of the corporate world – “paradigm shifts” and “metrics embedded in workflow” – with real sharpness and flair . His characters are broadly drawn – there’s something Bond villain-esque in his depiction of James Ross, the titular consultant – but in the context of a comedy this is no real problem.

Where the play does struggle, though, is in its attempts to turn this central relationship into a kind of Faustian pact. When the tone shifts from a neat, satirical dissection of corporate life to a cosmic battle for a man’s soul, it suffers from the same overblown metaphor and inappropriate jargon that it has just been mocking.

Still, it is entertaining and genuinely funny, thanks in no small part to the central pairing of James Wilby and Pip Donaghy as Shackleton and Ross who both give excellent performances. It is also beautifully staged on Agnes Treplin’s set, shifting impressively from a cold corporate office in the first act to French villa in the second.

Production Information

Theatre 503, London, March 23-April 16

Neil Fleming
Geoff Church
Hydrocracker, Theatre 503
James Wilby, Pip Donaghy, Sian Webber, Helen Millar
Running time

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Alistair Smith
Alistair Smith is editor of The Stage. Having joined the publication on staff in 2004, he has also held the roles of reporter, news editor, opinion editor, deputy editor and print editor at The Stage and has written for publications ranging from The Guardian to Hello! Magazine. He is also the author of two major industry reports (the London Theatre Report and the Theatre Workforce Review) and a founder of the My Theatre Matters! campaign.