28 September 2009

ENRON, Royal Court Theatre, Wednesday 30th September 2009

Synopsis: Based on true events, ENRON goes from a relatively small gas and oil company to one of the most successful companies in the world. Its dramatic expansion and ever-increasing stock price hide the fact that the coffers are empty and that something nasty is lurking in the basement....

Creative Team:
Written by Lucy Prebble
Directed by Rupert Goold
Design: Anthony Ward
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Music and Sound: Adam Cork
Movement: Scott Ambler
Video Design: Jon Driscoll

Samuel West - Jeff Skilling, President of ENRON
Tim Pigott-Smith - Ken Lay, Chair of the ENRON board
Tom Goodman-Hill - AndyFalstow, ENRON Chief Finance Officer
Amanda Drew - Claudia Roe
With: Gillian Budd, Peter Caulfield, Howard Charles, Andrew Corbett, Cleo Demetriou, Amanda Drew, Susannah Fellows, Stephen Fewell, Tom Godwin, Ellie Hopkins, Orion Lee, Eleanor Matsuura, Ashley Rolfe and Trevor White

You get on a plane, you don't understand exactly how it works, but you believe it'll fly. And if you got out of your seat and said "I'm not flying, I don't understand how it works", you'd look crazy. Well, its like that. Except, imagine if the belief that the plane could fly was all that was keeping it up in the air. It'd be fine. If everybody believed. If nobody got scared. As long as people didn't ask stupid questions about what it is that keeps planes in the air"

To Sloon Skwyare, to the Royal Court Theatre, somewhere I’d never been before. Ironically, as this is the theatre where lots of plays about kitchen sinks were first performed and is thus the birthplace of “Theatre for the common man”, the place was heaving with Henrys, Caspians and Jamies – the kind of brayers who have first-hand experience of ENRON-type companies on a daily basis and for whom “kitchen sink” means the place under which Anna, their Taiwanese cleaner (in the country without a work permit, but happy to work like a dog for 17p an hour and eat plate-scrapings, such a find) sleeps during her few off-duty hours.

In fact, Anna probably has more room among the spare toilet rolls and bottles of Fairy Liquid than there is available for your legs in this theatre. I spent nearly three hours crammed into a seat so tiny that my chiropractor has had to cancel his golf on Sunday in order to unbend me. But, dear Reader, such is my devotion to the dwama that I will undergo any trial in order to tell you about the hottest show in town this autumn. Sold out, full house, returns only but don’t get your hopes up, get one of the West End Whingers to donate their ticket because they’re in Jordan and can’t go (no jokes about Peter Andre, please).

Him Indoors had rolled his eyes and muttered “Obsessed” when I expressed an interest in going to see this. Yes, I’ve followed the ENRON story but no, not obsessed – I just take an inordinate delight in seeing a certain kind of person get their comeuppance. Politicians, bankers, corporate fat cats, particular hospital managers – I do like to see a calling card from Nemesis on the silver tray on their hall table. And these particular corporate fat cats had practically cornered all the markets in hubris, so it was a great delight to sit and watch their downfall. And what a downfall. In fact, it wouldn’t be at all out of place to compare this play with Greek Tragedy, so expertly does it depict the rise and fall of those who would equate themselves with the Gods.

If presented as an ordinary play, this would be unbearable to watch. But with Light Sabre-wielding brokers, twisted accountants portrayed as ventriloquists dummies and Jurassic Park raptors stalking the basement (to say nothing of the Lehman Brothers portrayed as Siamese Twins, both inside the same enormous jacket and "the market" personified as the Three Blind Mice) its still unbearable – but in a can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-stage-but-have-to-look-through-your-fingers way. What is essentially a multi-media presentation with a play woven through it becomes immediate, powerful and an utterly compelling lesson on the evils of capitalism, how it devours the morals of those falling under its spell and how it can ruin the lives of innocent people (no, please don't bother leaving pro-capitalist comments because I won't publish them).

Tim Piggott-Smith gave a terrific performance as Ken Lay, Chair of the ENRON board; paternalistic yet creepy, overlaid with all the cigar-waving insincerity and false bonhomie of Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard. Sam West (Member of the "They Who Can Do No Wrong" club) actually managed to make Jeff Skilling a strangely sympathetic character, progressing from uber-geek with comb-over and Joe 90 glasses to sharp-suited, slicked back lizard in a $1500 dollar suit and handmade shoes. There was more than a touch of Hannibal Lecter about his performance towards the end (those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad), particularly in the chilling closing speech in which he expresses his continued belief in (and almost worship of) "the market". Tom Goodman-Hill was completely credible as Andy Falstow, evil architect of ENRON's continued rise and keeper of the raptors in the basement

I think it was the raptors that really made this production for me. City-suited men with head-covering dinosaur masks (complete with creepy red-light eyes), they personified the companies-within-companies that ENRON "fed" with the debts they wanted to keep off their balance sheets, giving those of us in the audience with little or no knowledge of how financial markets work an easy way of understanding the complex procedures involved by turning the abstract ideas involved into something concrete and almost visceral. The play is full of clever ideas like this, which inform the audience without going into tedious detail. Lighting and choreography were excellent, blending seamlessly into the production - and incidentally providing much-needed light relief at times. And it was a masterstroke to have an electronic ticker-tape display showing share prices (with ENRON's highlighted in yellow each time) constantly flickering across the back of the set - as the price edged higher each time, it really became the focus of everybody in the audience's attention (exactly how this had been in real life for the ENRON executives) and I certainly couldn't tear my eyes away each time the display lit up. It was perhaps only right at the very end that the play ran out of steam - as it was put to my by Him Indoors "Once Julius Caesar is dead, the rest is a bit boring and you want to go home". Perhaps if it had ended with the incredibly moving scene in which two of the "ordinary people" ruined by the ENRON crash explain just how their lives had been changed, rather with than a long, rather dull speech by Skilling in which he tries to justify his actions, the evening might not have felt as if it ended with a whimper.
I was only just prevented from marching on Canary Wharf with a flaming torch and a pitchfork on the way home. This is a "must see" - but it might be a good idea to invest in some leg-room.

What the critics said:


http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jameshall/100000989/enron-play-is-gripping-allegory-for-our-times/ - what I particularly like about this review is that it has obviously upset some Capitalist Suit who felt the need to ridicule it in a comment at the end – which is even more entertaining than the review itself and goes to show a) how closely this play has hit home and b)what a blinkered world these people live in.



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