Written by Tim Firth
Directed by Connal Orton
Produced by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
- December 1993
- The action takes place
in the Kale Moor Grocery Distribution Depot.
to the "animal shift" at Kale Moor grocery distribution
depot. Under the imaginative guidance of Bruce "The Gamesmaster",
work here is an endless round of food sports (sprout tag, Smartie-and-flan-base
tiddlywinks, frozen fish swordfighting - [pictured above]...), sarcasm and juvinile
humour, much enjoyed by the all-male night-shift workers. But
a major change is due, for their new colleague is not a born
games player but is - even worse - a woman, who can see
through the childish antics of the men to the insecurities, and
weaknesses beneath. At first, relations are reasonably civilized,
but the gloves come off when the cerebral challenge of murder-mystery
role-playing is presented to the team .... and there are surprises
in store for all of them..
First performed at the Stephen
- Bruce - Stephen Tompkinson
- Ewan - Mark Benton
- Dids - David MacCreedy
- Robbo - Alan Stocks
- Criag - Paul McCrink
- Debbie - Michelle Butterly
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.
8 January 1994 – Paul Taylor - The Independent
End Of The Food Chain, Bingley Little Theatre
End Of the Food Chain is another cracking comedy from Tim Firth, and it is amply done justice by Bingley Little Theatre.
The action centres around the antics in a supermarket warehouse as the lads on the night shift seek to amuse themselves – until they’re thrown off balance with the addition of a young woman to the team.
The play opened with an energetic start coupled with an imaginative, innovative set.
Unlike some comedies which tend to wane during the final scenes, this remained a funny play.
Under Mervyn Button’s direction, a strong cast delivered a fun evening for all. To pick out one individual would be unfair as each character complemented another, thanks to comic timing and dead pan humour.
Performers Peter Whitley, Liz Hall, Tim Steere, Haydn Cavanagh, Bruce Sturrock and David Ayres should be congratulated.
6 April 2012 - Damien Holmes - Telegraph & Argus
- The play is available in print
- SAMUEL FRENCH: ISBN 0-573-01755-7
Scripts, CDs and DVDs of Tim Firth's work are available.