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Ants Review: A Hilarious, Scathing Critique on Modern Workplace Culture

Review by: Nadia Ribot-Smith

Office Drama gets taken to a new level in ‘Ants’. A brand-new original production by Junk Theatre Company. I was lucky enough to see their first performance at the Lending Room, Leeds for what was a hilarious night full of character-driven, off-kilter social commentary.

Amongst office chairs, gleaming whiteboards and stacks of mounted paper, a young woman, One (Anna Van Miert) scribbles furiously upon her desk. Shoulders hunched and brow furrowed, we linger just a moment. As the lights dim, Two (Olivia Moon) enters on stage. The contrast is stark. Two is poised, well-spoken and well-dressed. The archetypal image of the modern-day Girlboss she exudes a capable, assured calm. Soon after, Three (Joel David) enters, arms swinging and voice mocking. Together, each member seemingly embodies a particular incarnation of the corporate drone.

All photos by Claudia Fenoglio

The play follows these three employees in the 16 hours before they’re due to present their strategy for maximising company profits. However, as they begin to deliberate over the impenetrably vague brief, the tension rises slowly and naturally, as the world they know seemingly crumbles before their eyes.

‘Ants’ is a hilarious, yet scathing critique of the on the modern-day work environment, giving insight into the inner workings of the faceless mega corporations that have become part our everyday. Thanks to fantastic performances, the plays strength is how effectively it succeeds in conveying the sheer absurdity of the corporate structure. In one scene, Three attempts to explain what his job involves, with increasing revelation as to its banality. His progressively more emotional explanations as he assesses and reassesses the difference between accounting departments had the audience in stitches.

The dialogue zips quickly by, punchy and engaging, but the capable actors never rely on its rhythm to carry them forward nor the meanings of the words to be lost in the rapid back and forth. Their performances lay the groundwork for the utterly hilarious, post-interval opening scenes. The two stunningly executed, show-defining monologues were barely audible over the laughter of the audience, and included a criticism of big business, so through and so comprehensive in its expression that I was left still pondering it in the days after the performance.

But, throughout the play, it is George Manson’s voice who shines through. As well as benefitting from a near impeccable structure, it is a testament to his complex, and richly layered script that he manages to balance the many comedic moments with moments depicting the characters true emotional turmoil.

Whilst highlighting themes of gender, class, and privilege, he steers clear of outward moralising and the urgency of his message never loses focus. Whilst the characters may be flawed, but it is the pervasive nature of capitalism that forms the basis of the shows conflict. As we watch them navigate these forces and struggle to find their place within a brutal corporate structure, it is each of their emotional journeys that form by far the most interesting arc of the play.

Overall, ‘Ants’ is a thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking piece of work and a clear testament to the thought and care put into its production at every level. Junk Theatre Company has succeeded in providing a fresh, dynamic take on modern workplace culture in a final product that is equally as hilarious as it is powerful.

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