London Zoo

London Zoo
Reviewer's Rating

The time is c2000, the scene the top floor of a print media company where board members are plotting the takeover of a smaller, more successful rival.

At the top of this are three men: aggressively ambitious Christian, played by Harris Vaughan; the bullying American CEO Alex played by Dan Saski and senior executive Sunil played by Anirban Roy as an effortlessly superior, polo-playing Indian.  His time-honoured media maxims such as ‘people who need newspapers don’t want variety, they want consistency’ ring hollow in the world of print where the market is rapidly diminishing.

Not all board members are equal.  Arabella, punchily played by Natalie Lauren, is a solid industry insider who has reached the glass ceiling – only to find there is another glass ceiling above it.  The three superior men discuss how after they have got rid of her they can fulfil a ‘quota’ of having women on the board by appointing female non-executive directors, with no real power.

The fifth character around the table is Charles, a gentle person devoted to the industry, in a moving performance by Simon Furniss.  He is the accountant, repeatedly asked to re-juggle the figures till they give the answer his seniors desire.

Into this nest of business folk steps Kelvin, an African businessman with a successful company played with dignity by Odimegwu Okoye.  He is being asked to make redundancies before the takeover after which, the plotters intend, he will be sacked.  The success, or even the quality, of the product is immaterial in the takeover which is all about the figures which are, as we have ascertained, faked.

This corporate drama requires a deal of exposition as characters explain things to each other, like the relationship of advertising to circulation, which people in their position would not say in real life.

There are clearly defined characters, their roles emphasised by their clothes: Charles, Sunil and Kelvin as top dogs with three-piece suits, silk pocket handkerchiefs and ties to match.  Arabella is in a smart if dull skirt and jacket; Charles is in a two-piece and is significantly more dishevelled, as befits his role as sacrificial victim in the takeover war.

There are some well-aimed darts at the corporate mindset here such as the eliding of business with human goals so numbers are ‘sex on a spreadsheet’; and compliance with equality or any other legislative control is mocked as ‘girlie’.  The play also approaches some key issues: of women via Arabella’s dilemma; of racism with the interplay between an African and an Indian boss; of integrity with the accountant’s regret.  We get the impression of the inner workings of self-deception such as when Charles insists to Arabella that ‘there is no boys’ club’ after we have watched a scene in his own exclusive gentlemen’s club which he has specifically referred to as a bastion of ambitious men.

Several times I felt on familiar territory, bringing to mind comparisons with David Hare and Howard Brenton’s Pravda and, more recently, Jesse Armstrong’s TV series Succession.  Farine Clarke’s play sits between these two time-wise, when the print industry was facing, but not coming to terms with, the threat to its existence from the internet.  We know we are watching big beasts fighting it out for pieces of a doomed empire.  They think they are the rulers of the world because they can do a successful business deal.

Overall, however, there were too many limp moments, not enough at stake in the first hour and insufficient dramatic tension for me.


Playwright: Farine Clarke

Director: Farine Clarke

Cast:  Simon Furniss, Natalie Lauren, Odimegwu Okoye, Anirban Roy, Dan Saski, Harris Vaughan