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).

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
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.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past