After its success with 2013’s Responsible Other, Made By Brick returns with another original piece, this time in collaboration with playwright Daniel Anderson. Saxon Court is a satirical insight into the lives of London’s lowly office workers.
Its 2011 and the credit crunch is crushing the UK economy, which means bad business for the Saxon Court recruitment agency. The staff is being squeezed financially, stretched emotionally and suffocated by the stench of their broken bathroom as they prepare for the office Christmas party. The boss, Donna (Debra Baker), desperately tries to hold things together before the inevitable unravelling during the tensest party game I’ve ever witnessed.
By using traverse staging director Melanie Spencer places the drama within a corridor of office space that is framed by the voyeuristic eyes of the audience. Within this void designer Tom Paris has created a greyscale office that is as accurate in its corporate detailing as it is repulsive in its blandness. The cast handle the staging with finesse, playing to and connecting with various points in the auditorium.
Much of Anderson’s dialogue is drawn verbatim from encounters with office staff which taints this twisted seasonal satire with the bitter taste of reality. None of the characters are really likeable; their conversations are potted with graphic sexual references, lewd gestures and a continual stream of sexist, racist and homophobic jokes all in the name of ‘banter’. John Pickard is downright repulsive as souped-up wannabe alpha Joey, particularly when preying on the stereotypical bimbo receptionist, Tash (Alice Franklin). Barker’s comic timing is razor sharp as she impetuously leads the company with Thatcher-esque fierceness, complete with bouffant bob. Sophie Ellerby aptly balances the petulance of young Nat with her promising potential, in a stark contrast to the bemused ignorance of the company’s ingénue Noel (Scott Hazell). With his Frank Spencer-like awkwardness, poor ‘ugly’ Mervyn (Adam Brown) is probably the closest we get to a truly sympathetic character; unfortunately his earnestness tends to borderline on creepy.
At times I came to worry whether we’re laughing at caricatures or the real people who inspired them – and didn’t find myself particularly at ease with either. These are desperate people and you can understand their motivations, even if their actions seem repugnant. There is no great villain in this small business – which makes the banal tragedy of the everyday all the more pitiful.
Saxon Court is as miserable as an EastEnders Christmas special, where misanthropic gloom feeds on any morsel of festive cheer that dares to exist in this dreary vision of London. There’s marginally less murder and divorce than you’d typically find in Walford, but the characters are just as vicious and the humour is twice as dark.
Saxon Court is playing at The Little, Southwark Playhouse until 13 December. For tickets and more information, see the Southwark Playhouse website. Photo by Richard Lakos.