Zombies are in-vogue right now in the entertainment industry. Just think of the Walking Dead, World War Z, and the numerous zombie scare mazes popping up all over the country. So a play about Zombies is inevitable. Except, despite its marketing, Brains isn’t really about zombies at all. Instead, it’s a refreshing look at how certain members of the population would react to a zombie outbreak: to make money selling medical supplies. The play focuses around a small office at the pharmaceutical company MediBite, a booming business making profits selling medical supplies to the infected. But it’s when Stuart, the “science geek guy” at MediBite, finds a possible cure for the disease that the office starts showing its true colours and the line between business and morality is blurred.
Writer and director Cameron Szerdy does well to write a nice mix of characters who occupy the office and quickly establish the hierarchy, creating a pressure-cooker environment which explodes in the final scene, aided immensely by the space at Theatre N16, a cosy performance space above The Bedford pub where the audience are seated on three sides, in some cases so close that the actors almost toppled onto us at one stage. With a little more development, I could see this plot doing well as a mini-series, perhaps due to its location in an office.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, there are plenty of funny moments, including cocaine-snorting manager Harry (Aidan Parsons) taking his CEO Ursusla’s (Stephanie Overington) phrase “show me your balls” a bit too seriously, and ‘fuck off’ Jeff’s (Jack Dent) various puns adding some lightheartedness to defuse some of the tension. The jokes are, however, sometimes lost in delivery and could do with an extra few moments to land, though that may be first-night nerves.
The actors confidently maintain the pace and not have any moments of inaction. Aine Nettleton‘s Tina, the company’s new teen intern, is excellently whiny and sarcastic, fitting right into this toxic workplace, and Stuart’s (Tom Spencer) sickness which develops quietly and unnoticed by the other characters, is understated and not too overplayed. The role of Ursula, played by Stephanie Overington, is a role which I was worried would be reduced to that of sultry boss due to her being costumed in a black pencil skirt and a low-cut red top. Instead, she is confident and the ultimate power boss – a woman sure of how she wishes to run the company and able to manipulate everyone who works for her, and not just by seduction. That doesn’t mean she’s the most moral person, though…
The ambiguous ending is great, though it feels slightly cliched having zombie groans from the dark, but that’s just my own personal taste.
Brains is a show which although comedic is a great commentary of the health care industry being a business rather than one which cares about if people get better, giving audience members food for thought. It’s punchy, swear-y, and full of character tropes we love to hate.
Brians was produced by Thick & Thin Theatre, a young company based in London who enjoy creating funny fast-paced theatre tinged with irony.
Brains runs at Theatre N16 from 11th-14th January, with tickets available here.
**I was given a press ticket for this show, but all thoughts and opinions are my own**