FOR the premiere production of Mike Bartlett’s searing dissection of the real world behind The Apprentice, the audience enter what feels like a sporting arena to sit on metallic chairs or stand behind shiny barriers under bright lighting with an overture of We Will Rock You and other stadium anthems.
Designer Soutra Gilmour has placed the action within a bare space like a boxing ring with the first two rows of the audience standing close up on all four sides. The sport to which Bartlett alludes, however, is the bullfight because this is a contest where the outcome is inevitable.
Three office workers are waiting to hear which one of them is going to be made redundant. Essentially two of them gang up on the third to humiliate and destroy him.
As Thomas, Sam Troughton cuts a truly tragic figure with fear and confusion evident in his eyes and is no match for Adam Jones’s supercilious swaggering Adam and Eleanor Matsuura’s icy Isabel, prowling the ring like some poisonous insect.
Thomas’s tragedy is not so much that he is weak but that he just doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand what it takes to get on with people in order to survive. We all recognise the type which Isabel says in a chilling speech that it may be a human instinct to pick on.
Towards the end Adrian Lukis enters the fray as the brusque boss Carter whose lofty indifference to anything but the bottom line is almost as shocking.
The dialogue is as deliciously witty as it is cruel, and Clare Lizzimore’s production never misses a beat, although right at the end you feel Bartlett, like his bullies, doesn’t know when enough is enough.