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Brilliant Jerks by Joseph Charlton at Southwark Playhouse

Tyler’s (Shubham Saraf) story, broadly speaking, is one that’s been done before: the chief executive of a young, innovative and rapidly growing company who is eventually forced out by his board of directors, the very same people who supported and funded his ventures, because he may have been the right fit to lead a trendy startup but not a large corporation. Some founders of pioneering companies like Tyler’s know when to let go, sell up and use their entrepreneurial skills to develop something else. Not him.

Brilliant Jerks at Southwark Playhouse © Nick Rutter (@nickrutterarts).
Brilliant Jerks at Southwark Playhouse © Nick Rutter (@nickrutterarts).

Having built his firm from the ground up, the mere suggestion from Jarrod (Sean Delaney), the company’s co-founder, that another executive should be brought on board to help share the burden, is dismissed. But his response that bringing in outsiders would mean he would “lose control” fails to hold water when there’s talk elsewhere of a growing number of employees (that is, outsiders that have been brought in). And then he lets rip in a board meeting, yelling at the top of his lungs in a desperate attempt to elicit sympathy. It fails, because while few have done when he has done (which is what his point was – he’s better than everyone else), I wouldn’t want to be in a position to boast about being in “an eight-way conference call across six time zones, firing three different people [at once]”.

Sean (also Delaney – everyone plays multiple characters in this relatively briskly-paced production), a coder and programmer, plays ball with the company’s blokey-bloke environment, even as he understands where his colleague Amy (Kiran Sonia Sawar) is coming from when there is blatant discrimination against women in terms of pay rates, perks and – well, everything. Caught between a rock and a hard place as team leader Craig (also Saraf) is breezily dismissive, Sean’s story is a compelling one, even if it covers some well-worn tracks in exploring the dangers of mixing the personal with the professional.

None of that, mind you, is nearly as engrossing as Mia’s (also Sawar) narrative. A driver registered with Tyler’s ride-hailing app company, she works in Glasgow and the surrounding region. A far cry from the shenanigans in Las Vegas (and, indeed, elsewhere) that the company’s executives indulge in, there are details about the kinds of various passengers she picks up and the conversations that arise, from the mundane to the profound to the utterly bizarre. Part of me would want a show just about Mia’s job and the people she meets. But frustrating as it was to have her story repeatedly sidelined by talks about, for instance, executives visiting a brothel (no pants down demonstrations, fortunately, or unfortunately), and an ‘initial public offering’, the different perspectives taken together provide a rounded picture of the company as a whole.

A large, curved table dominates the set (Hazel Low), and it never goes anywhere. It’s down to Rachel Sampley’s lighting design to distinguish between, say, a nightclub and a car. Plenty of direct addresses to the audience help to maintain engagement with a highly detailed set of storylines, eliciting a broad range of emotional responses along the way. The cast do an excellent job when it comes to various accents as well as the miscellaneous characters they play between them. The irony wasn’t lost on me as I walked to catch a Tube home afterwards rather than whipping my phone out and hailing a ride. A speedy journey that navigates various corporate potholes with confidence, the show’s ninety-minute running time felt considerably less than that, reaching its destination faster than expected.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Tap a button. Get a ride.

In 2008, an entrepreneur leaves a tech conference in Paris. As he stands on the street, unable to hail a cab, an idea lands with the falling snow: tap a button, get a ride.

Ten years later, Mia drives nights in Manchester, Sean is recruited as the brightest new programmer and Tyler moves onto yet another new future.

This is the story of one brilliant idea. And the impact on the lives of many.

From award-winning writer Joseph Charlton (ANNA X, Industry), this fast, touching and scandal-driven show is based on the creation of a multi-billion-dollar app, which you might even use to get home afterwards…

RJG Productions & Be Forward Productions present in association with Holly White
Brilliant Jerks
by Joseph Charlton
1 – 25 MAR 2023

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