Playwrights make drama out of global financial crisis

The credit crunch is reinvigorating British theatre, with a series of new plays that tackle the recession
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The Independent Culture

If there's a crisis, one can be sure there is always someone prepared to turn it into a drama, and increasingly it is playwrights who are ready to do so. The curtain is set to rise on a number of plays that tackle the global recession and entertain audiences with grim tales of greed, bankruptcy and bankers high on power, drugs and money. Critics believe the resulting action promises to be some of the best drama seen in the UK for a while.

Leading the pack is David Hare's The Power of Yes, commissioned by the National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner, which premieres later this month. It seeks to give an account of how the banks went bust and only the rich were bailed out.

"It's not so much a play as a jaw-dropping account of how capitalism was replaced by a 'socialism' that bailed out the rich alone," the National Theatre says. The Royal Shakespeare Company is also weighing in with a Denis Kelly play called The Gods Weep about the vicissitudes of bankers, which opens early next year.

Other credit crunch plays include a revival of Caryl Churchill's Serious Money, written during the last financial meltdown in 1987, which played at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in May; and Lucy Prebble's Enron, about the collapse of the US power company which will appear later this month at the Royal Court Theatre.

The recession has also inspired a generation of stage writers too young to remember a financial downturn. Ella Hickson's play Precious Little Talent, which made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe last month, was written for today's bright young graduates who are now jobless with no prospects in sight. "My generation grew up thinking that everything was going to be OK so long as we could go shopping a lot," she said. "This was the first time we were going to be really disappointed by the world."

One of the first productions to react to the crisis was a series of plays performed together as Everything Must Go! at London's Soho Theatre. Lisa Goldman, artistic director, explained that events were moving so fast that they needed tackling at a similar speed and the theatre was the perfect place. "In Everything Must Go! there was a certain amount of fear, anger and confusion about the recession. The theatre can give an imaginative voice to that in the way that journalism can't."

Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and former director of the National Theatre, agreed that theatre is well-suited to respond to the crunch. "Theatre is fast on its feet, quicker than film," he said.

The BBC has also got in on the act. The Last Days of Lehman Brothers, written by Craig Warner and starring James Bolam, will be broadcast on Wednesday. It tells the story of how Wall Street's biggest investment bankers met to discuss the bank's plight and the attempts to organise a rescue.