Office politics is put under the microscope in new play Subs

The new play by Purdy wins over audiences at the Cock Tavern theatre, in Kilburn

Subs, by R J Purdey

Cock Tavern Theatre

Directed by Hamish MacDougall

4 stars

“It’s the first rule of subbing: never take anyone’s word for anything. Check, check and check again.”

R J Purdey’s play, Subs, takes a microscopic look at life on the sub-editors’ desk of the fictional magazine Gentlemen Prefer... Sub-editors have the responsibility of checking the grammar and accuracy of all the articles in any magazine or newspaper. And they have a reputation for being a strange breed (a result of spending too long thinking about semi-colons).

Most Read

Derek, one of life’s losers, is the chief-sub. With a depressed wife, two children and empty hopes of a promotion, it is no wonder he takes it out on his deputy. Finch, the deputy sub, is obnoxious, lazy and terrified of women: so when he learns a woman will be joining the team he is more than a little flustered.

Hamish MacDougall’s production is fast-paced, well staged and captures the politics and in-fighting of an office. When Finch is asked to switch places with the junior sub-editor he wails ‘But the seating line is symbolic. It’s the hierarchy made flesh and furniture.’

Michael Cusick is an irrepressible Finch and, amazingly, manages to both alienate and endear himself to the audience. He may be borderline offensive and chauvinist but Cusick once or twice lets the mask of lads’ banter slip to reveal a lonely, unfulfilled character.

Cusick does rather dominate the production – and his ranting tends to overwhelm in the Tavern’s small space – but Steve Hay as Derek has a good turn as the hopeless boss and Finch’s sparring partner.

But Purdey takes their bickering beyond the realms of the realistic: the arguments are so extreme that neither Finch nor Derek would last five minutes in a real office. MacDougall’s direction occasionally allows the dialogue to run away with itself, meaning that some of the funniest lines are missed by the audience and pace is favoured over timing.

Naomi Waring as the bright young thing, Anna, doesn’t have much of a role, but her scenes with Finch inject some pace and wit into the second half. Junior sub James, played by Max Krupski, is similarly underwritten.

But designer Jemima Carter-Lewis deserves a nod for her super-detailed set: she minutely recreates an office, right down to the desk clutter and retro Christmas decorations.

The production gets off to a slow start but warms up in the second half. It is an enjoyable evening of banter, in-fighting and politics – well worth a trip if you’ve not already had a day of that at the office.