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Mike Bartlett’s short, sharp splinter of a play was first staged at the Sheffield Crucible Studio in 2013, and then visited New York. Now remounted, with a single change in the cast, it crackles with the brittle brutality of a perfect gem.

Set in an office, the story focuses on three members of a sales team: the confident Tony, the ice-cool Isobel and the awkward Thomas. While they wait to meet their boss, Carter, they know that he will sack one of them. It’s a bit like David Mamet meets The Apprentice.

Focusing on the interaction between the three employees, Bartlett shows how Tony and Isobel gang up to bully Thomas, who – it gradually becomes apparent – is one of life’s sad losers. The play’s tight, punchy text depends on creating complicity in the audience, making us enjoy Thomas’ humiliation even while it makes us sick.

To bring out the adversarial temper of the work, director Clare Lizzimore and designer Soutra Gilmour have created a boxing ring in which the contestants metaphorically fight it out. What begins as a piece of workplace bullying slowly grows into an indictment of the whole capitalist system, its self-justifying brutal values and its language.

This is brilliantly conceived and directed, with superbly well-judged performances by Sam Troughton as the hangdog Thomas, who starts off nervy and ends up broken; Adam James as the mendacious Tony, and Eleanor Matsuura as Isobel. New cast member Neil Stuke is the hard boss Carter. This is a thrillingly convincing and powerfully satisfying piece of new writing.

  • Maria Studio, Young Vic, London
  • January 16-February 14, PN January 15
  • Author: Mike Bartlett
  • Director: Clare Lizzimore
  • Design: Soutra Gilmour set, Peter Mumford lighting, Christopher Shutt sound
  • Technical: Amy Ball/Lotte Hines casting, Jonathan O’Boyle associate director, Marius Ronning production manager, Heather Doole stage manager
  • Producer: Supporting Wall/Young Vic
  • Cast: Adam James, Eleanor Matsuura, Neil Stuke, Sam Troughton
  • Running time: 55mins

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The Stage
The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.