Ants

If you’ve ever been a corporate cog, this is the show for you. When the pandemic brought in a new, mainstream culture of remote working, many former office workers gave up their exhausting and expensive commutes, kept their pyjama bottoms on, and decided to never darken their office doors again. So what does a production like Ants, set in a traditional office environment with besuited staff, have to say about work life in 2023? Well, in a week where even video conference software Zoom is ordering employees to get back to the office, it seems that there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Will give you the authentic heebie-jeebies of the workplace

Three workers are given the terrifying task of answering the question: “How can the company maximise its profits over the next year?” There’s a boorish bloke from Accounts (Joel David), someone seemingly snooty from somewhere in the depths of the HR department (Olivia Moon), and a colleague from the research team (Anna van Miert). What are they researching, selling, supporting? Even they’re not sure. And as long as they keep ticking the right boxes, and ‘maximising the profits’ – does it even matter?

If you’re looking for a break from the rat race, this show might hit a little too close to home. Writer George H. Manson has cleverly captured the nuances of the profit-driven commercial world, with everything from gargled jargon to shiny but effectively contentless presentations. It might not be completely fresh territory to tear apart – after all, here have been plenty of office-based satires over the years. However, Ants succeeds in embracing the chaos of colleagues forced to work together. Director Tom Mitchell controls the pace of the performance well – starting off slowly before allow it to bubble over into bedlam. There are plenty of laughs throughout, but perhaps funniest were the vignettes presenting their most disastrous ideas as they became ever more desperate.

Manson has chosen not to clearly name the characters, bestowing them the kind of blank identity that could just as easily be a payroll number on a spreadsheet, but that doesn’t mean that they’re impersonal. Although seemingly stereotypical at first, throughout the play we get glimpses of their lives outside of their pressed shirts and two-pieces, which challenge our initial impressions.

The script is littered with strong language, which may have been more effective if contained within the mania as the evening unfolds – this would have allowed for more distinction between the polite barriers between co-workers, and the bonds that form later.

The meaningless of work within a large organisation is ripe for satire, but it would have been more striking to include more modern business foibles for picking apart. Having beanbags instead of chairs in the meeting room was a clear nod in this direction, but this theme could have been taken much further.

Ants will give you the authentic heebie-jeebies of the workplace – thankfully it’s a comedy, because if you didn’t laugh you’d cry.

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Performances

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The Blurb

'How can the company maximise its profits over the next year?' This is the brief. Three low-level workers have one night to put together a presentation for management. As evening turns to the early hours, polite debate descends into panic, confusion and existential chaos. Fresh from successful runs in Leeds and London, Ants is an absurdist take on the banal evil of the modern corporate world. As the influence of faceless mega-corporations grows across the world, the play looks to ask what effect such an environment ends up having on the individuals working there.

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