Nestled in the smaller studio space of the already bijou Southwark Playhouse is an intimate and familiar office setting. It's Saxon Court, a recruitment agency that's struggling in the recession, and things are just about to get worse at the Christmas party.
New writing is to be encouraged at every stage, so kudos to Made by Brick for mounting this, playwright Daniel Anderson's professional debut. On the face of it we have some regular office characters, and in this respect it's hard to compete with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's take on the office mainstays - the blonde receptionist, the comedian, the new boy, the bullying boss. But what's different here is the psychological damage that these people are suffering internally.
It will come as no surprise that the OTT displays of bravado are just masking the real feelings beneath the surface, be they insecurities around looks, confidence or unrequited love. At the most superficial level you can judge the characters by their risqué banter, but it's all about trying to fit in, to find a place in the ecosystem and to hold on to your job when the bottom has just fallen out of the market (and that's not the the only bottom you'll see).
Debra Baker is on top form as the formidable Donna. She rules the roost and can fire whoever she wants. Whether she's bullying or intimidating her subordinates, or trying to tread water as her business spirals down the plug hole, she's the alpha female, with just the occasional splash of the milk of human kindness coming through.
Adam Brown is also of note as Mervyn, accepting his role as one of life's victims - whether being ordered to clean up vomit or stick his arm down the loo. His ongoing references to his estranged stepchild are nicely nuanced as he too desperately tries to hold onto the thing that mattered most to him. Elsewhere, Alice Franklin's Tash hides behind her chest implants, John Pickard's louche Joey has trouble at home and Scott Hazell's Noel desperately wants to amount to something, while clearly bring a square peg in a round hole. As for Sophie Ellerby's Nat - well, she has a secret of her own.
The comedy turns to drama in the blink of an eye, and it's telling that while some audience members were hooting at the office party hijinks, others were being appalled at the extremity of the humiliation. We all know these people, we even work with them. Heck, we ARE these people, though we're loathe to admit it. Andersen's crucible is a festive melting pot of The Office, Mike Leigh and Glengarry Glen Ross. It's raw, unsettling and holds a mirror to our darker selves. A welcome alternative to the panto, you just might not want to play 'Pass the balloon' again in a hurry.