Kate Wassell went along and reviews it for Lippy...
ANTS has a slow burn beginning, introducing three stock characters one by one, all following vague instructions from the head office of their company. What soon emerges is an absurd and hilarious descent into panic, confusion and existential chaos. Glowing with originality, ANTS was immersive to the point of total escapism, yet gave striking commentary on the faceless cruelty of modern capitalism.
Ant ONE, played by Anna Van Miert, is anxious, jittery, desperate to please. We see them flitting through piles of information as the audience take their seats in the Library’s Lending Room. As the lights go down, a second ant enters: boisterous, eloquent; they put on a big show but really, they’re as unsure as anybody else. Olivia Moon’s expressions are as hilarious as their lines from the script; she bounces with ease off Van Miert’s tense character. Joel David’s character is on the other end of the spectrum, or so it seems, happy to breeze by as long as they’re getting paid. Three characters, all so different at the play’s beginning, soon realise that they have more in common than they realise.
We find out numerous details — whether tedious or heart-breaking — about these characters, but never their names. They mean nothing in the wider scope of corporate business. Even their genders are trivial: Pearson, a recently fired colleague who ironically shares a name with a media company, is only ever referred to as ‘they’. Even when we learn the intricacies of the ants lives, it’s clear that they could be performed by actors of any gender. It’s not just an issue of a business disregarding its employees: throughout the play, in varying degrees of hilarity, the characters come to realise that they don’t what the hell it is they’re doing there. You know how in ‘Friends’, no one except Chandler knows what he does for a living? Well, it’s like that, except the ants don’t even know what they do themselves. Stock phrases like ‘raw numerical data’ and ‘maximising profits’ are thrown about to the point of parody, and by the end of the first act the trio have gotten nowhere.
I didn’t realise until the interval that the play was written by a student — and really, that’s a testament to George Manson’s watertight script and Tom Mitchell’s first-rate direction. The three characters occupy such a tiny space: just one desk, three chairs and a couple of whiteboards for the entire show, but the play’s perfect pacing means it never feels monotonous. The littered set design by the start of the second act, in comparison to its minimalist set-up in the first, is a stroke of genius: the nonsense post-it note phrases and plastered-up maps is the perfect backdrop to what is essentially a company mass malfunction.
Though there was barely a minute that didn’t make the audience laugh in some way, ANTS also struck delicately and cleverly on what makes us human. The more we learn about the characters the more we realise their complexities (who knew the layabout accounts man majored in philosophy?) and in an especially tender moment, we see the same third ant talk ant one out of a panic attack by discussing what they prefer on their roast dinner.
An entirely student driven project, ANTS is short-of-breath funny, heart-warming and (as I heard someone say in the toilets after the show) a script worthy being taken beyond student stages.
Words by Kate Wassell
Photo credit: Claudia Fenoglio