If Samuel Beckett, John Osborne and the scriptwriter of The Office were to somehow achieve a three-way union, then Subs would be their love-child. In R. J. Purdey’s tragi-comedy the scruffy, slightly desperate world of a subbing office is given a pithy airing that takes in the repetitive monotony of life, dreams gone grey and paths not taken.
Deep within the confines of men’s magazine Gentlemen Prefer… three guys sit in a dusty office checking spelling, correcting punctuation and writing headlines. Chief sub-editor Derek dreams of escape through promotion, while his deputy, Finch, has retreated into a world of internet porn and nihilism. Third wheel James – well, he’s keeping his thoughts to himself. Then one day a young, glamorous woman arrives on the team, and everything changes.
Freelancer Ana isn’t living inside the box and openly sees subbing as a stepping-stone to better things. Her attitude challenges Finch to have a re-look at himself. Meanwhile Derek is torn between ambition and responsibility, with his work regularly punctuated by phone calls to a demanding family. It’s all a bit chaotic, but James isn’t ruffled…
Purdey’s script is pithy and accurate, and it’s helped by Hamish MacDougall’s direction and four extremely strong actors. There’s no doubt that Michael Cusick as Finch gets the best lines; ‘subbing, it’s like a traditional occupation somehow, like mining, or slavery…’, but Euan Macnaughton as Derek is a excellent straight contrast, bringing a disturbing pathos to his slightly pompous middle aged man’s dignity. There is subtlety, too in the characters of Ana and James (Naomi Waring and Vincent Jerome) who inject a combination of suave glamour and youthful nonchalance which makes them utterly believable. A good, tight cast that makes for a very watchable play.
The staging is realistic – desks, naff office decorations, the lot, and this messiness works well in the context of the performances. Everything is ranged across the small stage which makes for an interesting fourth wall in the audience, who are literally placed in the direction of ‘the rest of the magazine’ – beyond the subbing office. Every cliché is thrown at us - Do they know it’s Christmas booms out during the party scene, Derek staggers around with his shirt askew, but with its dishevelled embarrassment it’s all perilously close to the real world. I laughed with the rest of the audience and felt faintly chilled at the end – this is a definite must see.
Reviewed by Alex Thornton 29/07/10