THEATRE / All shirk and low pay: Paul Taylor on a new comedy by Tim Firth at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

A recent play at the Royal Court presented us with the concept of 'McWork', which was what one of the characters felt he was futilely engaged in as a fast-food flogger in a McDonald's outlet. Through the handy device of a reverent Tolpuddle martyr, the drama made a not entirely successful contrast between work then and now. In the early 19th century, Hammett's Apprentice implied, employers may have exploited labour, but at least there was the chance to acquire the dignity and purpose of a craft: equivalent youngsters today find themselves educated for jobs that don't exist and are then obliged to rot themselves on soulless, unskilled toil that is heading nowhere.

The End of the Food Chain, a new comedy by Tim Firth, also homes in on the world of dead-end labour. In comparison with the experience of the young men who work the nocturnal 'animal shift' in the huge food distribution warehouse where the play is set, you'd have thought a career in McDonald's would seem like a glistening window of opportunity. In fact, thanks to the subversive humour and ludic energy of their ring leader, Bruce (excellent Stephen Tompkinson), the place is turned into the 'Narnia of Stockport', the grotto of the never-ending dinner break.

Instead of grinding through some dark night of the soul, the men are first discovered locked in a blindfold-duel with frozen rainbow trout. Smartie tiddly-winks and shove-tuna are also on the menu, though frozen sprout-tag has just resulted in a hospitalisation (arm broken in six places owing to the ricochet effect), and has been discontinued as likely to incite management reprisals. What with Bruce darting around doing cod-commentaries (asking us to thrill to the 'angular jutting action' of one of the trout-wielders), and with demonstrations of flan-base discus technique and how to suck up a nectarine with a motor horn, it's clear that the town of Glossop may have to wait a little while before it gets its two units of fudge. The audience, too, will have to exercise a comparable patience waiting for this highly entertaining, almost over-wittingly scripted romp to turn into a play.

It does so with the arrival of Debbie (Michelle Butterfly). She's a girl who, at school, played the anarchic clown much after Bruce's fashion; here she is about to become the Wendy who will tell Stockport's Peter Pan to grow up and get real. The play takes an intriguingly double view of Bruce. It partly admires the imaginative verve with which he presides over his never- never land alternative to the fretful, never-satisfied world of self-improvement and getting on. But towards the end, as Debbie leaves for the management induction course he has secretly turned down, and as the all-male status quo reconvenes, you begin to see the sad side of him - the eternal class wag, trapped in his comic catchphrases and surrounded by inadequate, parasitic hangers-on.

It will be clear that this comedy, vividly acted and taken at a terrific lick in Connal Orton's production, does not attempt to place its two simultaneous struggles (to be promoted within the gang and to be promoted out of it) in any broader political context - unlike the best work-play of recent times, Stephen Jeffreys' A Going Concern, which cleverly glossed the Oedipal dissentions in a family firm of billiard-table builders in terms of the new affluence and nascent liberalism of the early Sixties.

Here you may feel that the pungently characterised workforce is explored too exclusively in psychological terms. But the ruse by which Firth achieves this - having them act out parts, cast against type, in a murder mystery-cum- Raiders of the Lost Twix fantasy - is frequently hilarious as, under the guise of a game, they needle one another for real. We should be glad that Firth, an extraordinarily productive 29- year-old talent, has none of his hero's qualms about the success ethic.

To 22 Jan (0723 370541).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?