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The Here and This and Now review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘tar-dark, twisted comedy’

Simon Darwen, Andy Rush and Becci Gemmell in The Here and This and Now at Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Simon Darwen, Andy Rush and Becci Gemmell in The Here and This and Now at Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Every moment of former fashion journalist Glenn Waldron’s taut little play is a tease.

The biggest and the smallest ideas – from the overuse of antibiotics to the absurdities of office politics – jostle for dominance, and it’s only in the final moments, as the play moves from silly observational humour to world-threatening grimness, that it makes its complexity clear.

In the first half of The Here and This and Now three sales reps for a pharmaceutical firm practise sales pitches with their awful manager on an awful away day. Bob Bailey’s set creates the most soulless office space, from faded pale walls to stackable vinyl-covered chairs. The reps rehearse their patter and technique – “captivate, associate, detonate, kill” they chant in manic transitions between scenes – to sell ineffective drugs for jumped-up prices.

Then Waldron stretches out those themes like some huge piece of elastic, making the play and its meaning reach across decades. That’s where it turns into a tar-dark and twisted comedy involving torture, cryogenics and PowerPoint presentations.

In two vastly different parts, one the most banal setting imaginable, one the most intense and extreme, Waldron looks at the idea of accumulation: how nothing is significant individually, but en masse things have an impact.

That second half is completely carried by the extraordinary Becci Gemmell who, in the course of ten minutes, turns a side-splittingly funny performance into something devastating, brimful of desperation.

There’s the same anxiety about society, capitalism and a strong sci-fi kick as Black Mirror here. But this is better, bigger, despite its fringe scale, and with much more to say.

Part of a double bill of plays from Theatre Royal Plymouth, and simply and gently directed by its artistic director Simon Stokes, the play is further proof of the strength of that vital venue.

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Brilliantly taut black comedy with a fantastic performance from Becci Gemmell