A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Theatre 503 and Hydrocracker present



James Wilby in The Consultant at Theatre503. Photo by Matthew Andrews.

by Neil Fleming

Directed by Geoff Church

Theatre 503

23 March - 16 April 2011


“What do you want?” The Consultant, by Neil Fleming, is a droll and thought provoking exploration of this fundamental question, led by charismatic Consultant, James Brown (Pip Donaghy). Brown opens the play by directing this inquiry at the audience, who embark on an exploration of this concern and the scope of its application and consequences in both business and life. Hapless CEO of a floundering business, Hugo Shackleton is a “tall, peace loving man” who is on the receiving end of James Brown and his assistant Nicola’s (Helen Millar) harsh advice. His wife, Oxbridge graduate Claire Shakleton (Sian Webber), meanwhile, is a more bookish and outwardly emotional character, a point of comparison for the rest of the cast from her first turbulent entrance on stage. Interrelations between all four characters in The Consultant underpin the modern comic drama. Audience engagement is pivotal in this production, providing a challenging environment and at times a transferal of the self-consciousness that abounds on the stage.

The Consultant is pre-occupied with language in every sense. Clichés of business language are mocked and challenged, and bare facts and truths emerge over the course of the play, as the most powerful and desirable utterances. James Brown is the ringmaster of the language circus in The Consultant. He is sharp, droll and, ostensibly, incredibly self-possessed. He conspicuously quotes masters of language and oration throughout the acts; Shakespeare and Julius Caesar are examples of those invoked for the dual role of inspiring and validating James’ teachings. Pip Donaghy’s excellent portrayal of James Brown as a manipulative tyrant is convincing and intriguing throughout.  Language is the substance of the facades that all the characters in The Consultant use for creation, manipulation and protection. Hugo Shackleton insists his wife, or “Mooney”, as he boyishly refers to her, looks for the implicit as well as the explicit in what he says. It seems that this advice is meant for the audience too.

Owing to expert lighting and sound management by Howard Hudson and Nick Parking respectively, scene changes are smooth and coherent and the entire production is atmospherically flawless. Act one takes place in glossy, high-spec London office surroundings while act two retreats to the more relaxed setting of a luxurious French villa. The transition in location is somewhat mirrored by a transition in the action of the play. In France, inhibitions are relaxed and passions allowed run to greater heights. Secrets are revealed and emotions flow unchecked. Liberation from the boardroom allows liberation from those corporate codes that seem to restrict, even its most outlandish punters. However, what happens when a student outdoes his master and when, seemingly inevitably boundaries between business and private lives are blurred?

The Consultant is almost tragicomic in its treatment of these situations and the script is a testament to Neil Flemings’ considered approach and experience of the environment so well rendered in the play. The Consultant is an all round accomplished production and Theatre 503 is a fantastic venue in which to house such an engaging work.




Box office: 020 7978 7040

Theatre503 at The Latchmere
503 Battersea Park Road
London SW11 3BW

Tues - Sat 7.45pm. £14/£9 concessions - Sun 5pm

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