Writer: Nicholas Pierpan
Director: Matthew Dunster
Reviewer: Natalie Barker
The Public Reviews Rating:
In Nicholas Pierpan’s play the financial crisis is explored from a very human perspective. Starting at the beginning with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, old friends Jack and Edward have to weather the coming storm and they approach it in very different ways revealing a skewed morality and values bent out of shape by greed and fear.
Edward and Jack aren’t your typical bankers: Jack is a medic who quit when he saw how Edward was making a killing at the bank and Edward worked his way up from a comprehensive school in Croydon to Cambridge, and has a massive chip on his shoulder to prove it. Distanced from the toff stereotype, perhaps we can sympathise with these boys-on-the-make. They’ve seen an opportunity to earn serious money and they’re taking it not least because it allows them to provide for their young families. But as Edward misquotes later in the play, ‘there’s something spoiled in the state of Denmark’, there is a tragic flaw in the banking system and its corruption will taint everyone involved with it.
The two men cope very differently with the crisis. After losing his job at the top of the play, Edward accepts a role at the Financial Regulations Authority (a fictional stand-in for the FSA) prompting the funniest line in the play from his new colleague, Chris, ‘this guy’s got a third-rate degree from a first-rate university – he’ll make a perfect civil servant’. But as Edward seems to find his calling in the public sector, he finds that old habits die habits and when his friend Jack moves into his firing line, his sharkish gaze spies an opportunity.
The shape of the play is satisfying; Pierpan has crafted a story with shape and substance. Both men are likeable and despicable in equal measure. Their wives, Linda and Fen, are equally dubious. Fen plays at fitting in with the Fulham set, throwing a tantrum when they have to sell the house that she has ‘personalised’. And Linda strives to be like the hedge funders’ wives who she emulates but loathes. Marianne Oldham captures the prickliness false chumminess of Linda perfectly and Kellie Bright deserves a mention as Edward’s long-suffering wife Fen. Robert Gwilym as Sir Roger was less convincing as was Elexi Walker’s hard-headed Kim Lopez; both just your stereotypical ball-breakers. There was also a palpable lack of confidence with the fast-paced script. Almost everyone tripped over their lines on at least one occasion. Alecky Blythe as self-satisfied PA Emma was possibly the only exception but her talent lay in smug looks rather than snappy dialogue. The simple set designed by Alison McDowell was convincingly an office, a coffee shop, a flashly decorated house and a football pitch.
There is some very well-handled exposition in this play which explains some of the technicalities of the banking industry to a lay audience. However there were a few instances when it became heavy-handed. Overall the play was neat, thought-provoking and funny when it needed to be. The characters are mostly well-drawn but Matthew Dunster’s direction put up barriers between them. When Edward told Fen about losing his job, Fen reacted to the audience with her back turned to her husband which felt unrealistic. Often there were only two characters on stage and they stood at opposite ends of a long platform facing the audience. If this was a strategy to explore the de-humanising nature of the banking industry it didn’t work, rather it made a play about people rather than the impersonal banking machine feel artificial and that’s not what Pierpan seemed to be aiming for.