If you dropped David Brent from The Office into a dystopian alternate timeline where capital punishment has been reinstated, you might end up with Ian from Executioner Number One. He’s a jobsworth who takes the execution of his role very seriously.
Ian’s ambition to be executioner number one, after his boss dies, is our gateway into a totalitarian UK. A landslide majority in a referendum on reintroducing the death penalty – triggered by the mid-1970s Guildford and Birmingham bombings – has criminalised all dissent.
Toby Whithouse comes from a TV background. He’s the creator of Writers Guild award-winning supernatural drama Being Human, which set apocalypses against the backdrop of a ghostly flat-share, and he excels at approaching big topics from a domestic angle.
This one-man play, written and performed by Whithouse, works on multiple levels. On one hand, it’s about a little man who’s found power, struggling to stay relevant when a rival ‘progressive’ candidate appears. But by sketching Ian’s petty office politics in tellingly funny detail, recognisable from countless workplaces, Whithouse embeds a repressive regime in the day-to-day.
Director Jonathan Lloyd achieves a good balance between the humour and creeping chill of Ian’s worldview. Talking conspiratorially to us against Andrew Purcell’s set – a cabinet-stacked snapshot of Ian’s life, like a beige Mondrian of middle management mediocrity – Whithouse catches Ian’s brittle bluster.
Here, the appeal of authoritarianism is its seductive simplicity. Whithouse makes it horribly easy to imagine with this sharply written, accessible satire. It keeps tightening its noose until laughter becomes a rasp.