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Edinburgh Fringe 2023


Junk Theatre

Genre: Comedic, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Space on the Mile


Low Down

Three employees try to make sense of an impossible corporate brief


Corporate-speak, a form of Orwellian buzzword language only really employed within the confines of large organisations, has been around for decades. Blue-sky thinking, straw man, paradigm, mission statement, KPIs – Key Performance Indicators, if you were wondering. And if you’re still wondering, well… What manner of entity might have spawned such a culture ? We’re about to gain an insight.

We enter the, sold out, Space venue to see a woman (ONE, played by Anna van Miert) surrounded by notes and folders. There is a white-board, marker pen and three beanbags. She is diligently engrossed in whatever task has befallen her. Muzak versions of My Cherie Amour and Misty are piped through from some unknown source. Now a second woman (THREE, played by Olivia Moon) joins her in the room and, dressed subtly more suited to a corporate environment, it appears that her status is higher, albeit possessing a nervous energy. She has been assigned to the same task as ONE, which we now learn is “how can the company maximise its profits in the next year ?” The disconcertingly vague task has been set just hours ago and is obviously an impossibility ; this is the sort of strategic conundrum to be grappled with at board level, irrespective of the skills and experience of the staff tasked. A man (TWO, played by Joel David) enters, the final component on the team, but a different personality again (“preparation clouds my head”). It becomes clear that THREE and TWO have done scant work on this question and are rather hoping that ONE has some answers. She, however, has done little more than skim-read material and make notes.

They must present their findings imminently and fear that their jobs will be at risk if the results are unsatisfactory, the company evidently being ruthless. The stakes are high for them all, as we learn in turns the fragility of their domestic situations. As the deadline nears, bickering follows, especially between THREE and TWO, ONE being a mediator by nature. They become increasingly frantic and desperate, until ONE has a panic attack. TWO, hitherto resembling a less bright candidate on The Apprentice, surprises the others by adeptly helping her recover. They look at him with different eyes.

What becomes clear over the course of their time together is that none of them perform any useful function within the company. This incident brings into focus the futility of their employment, the banality of their efforts being reflected by the earlier muzak. Moreover, they do not even seem to know what the company does, they are cogs in very large wheel, or worker ants. They seem to be left to reflect existentially and ponder life choices.

ANTS is smartly written, laying bare the often absurd bubble of the corporate environment. The acting is consistent, while the direction (Tom Mitchell) moves the performance with perfect pace and the characters’ journey arc discernible. It is a hugely enjoyable 50 minutes, usually very funny, a personal highlight being TWO’s eureka moment of “Peru !”, but if there is a missing layer, it lies in the feeling of uncertainty as to the lasting message of the show. The comment on short-term thinking rarely being beneficial is well made – consider environmentalism or political expediency. I suspect that the talented Junk Theatre will prove more than capable of developing this sparkling play further.