Simon Block's mordant satire about the telly industry, A Place at the Table, presents us with an all-too-familiar scenario: an artist forced to compromise his principles in order to succeed commercially.
It features Adam (Eddie Marsan), a young paraplegic playwright who has lately had stage success with a romance about a disabled man and a blind woman, and is consequently being wooed by a TV production company.
When he arrives at their swish offices, Adam's initial encounter is with a couple of low ranking employees: gap-year sloane Rachel (Katharine Burford) and mouthy runner Sammy (James Lance). The latter, who has ambitions to become a writer himself, forewarns him that a rough ride lies ahead with their hard-nosed script editor.'The talent you have, Sarah will **** up the arse so hard it'll make you scream,' he announces gleefully. And sure enough when Adam finally meets Sarah (Joanne Pearce), he's hit with the daft proposal to turn his tender drama into a laugh-a-minute sitcom about spastics.
For all the achingly funny industry observations, Block's play functions partly as a comment on the treatment of disabled people in society. From Sarah's rhetoric about TV offering the wheelchair-bound a way into the mainstream, to Rachel not helping Adam with his wheelchair lest he read it as a patronising gesture.
However, the overriding thrust of the play is that principles cost money and young writers are invariably skint. So although Adam exits horrified at the end of act one, he's back at the start of act two, armed with a rough draft of the proposed series.
Under Julie Ann Robinson's direction, Marsan offers us a revelatory performance as the bespectacled (and at times incredibly foul-mouthed) dramatist, balancing pathos with a superb sense of comic timing. Ms Pearce is delightfully awful in her portrayal of the jaded Sarah, especially when applying nicotine patches and yelling her mantra, 'Mortgage, mortgage!' against the backdrop of designer Bruce Macadie's blandly appointed meeting room.
In the final analysis, Block's viewpoint is a deeply cynical one: A Place at the Table shows TV to be a corrupting business that welcomes talent, only to chew it up and and spit it out. Adam, initially full of optimism, ends the play agentless, emasculated of his opinions and with his values fast disappearing down the tube. Making the leap from wheelchair to walking sticks, he's left tottering, literally as well as figuratively.