Enron, Minerva Theatre, Chichester
Monday 27 July 2009
After what's happened in the past few years, no-one should be surprised if our theatre comes up with a compelling tragedy of modern capitalism: the collapse of Enron, America's seventh largest corporation, going from $70bn (£42.5bn) of building plants and gas and electricity supplies to bankruptcy in just 24 days, is the signature story of the age.
The ridiculous explosion of wealth was based on trading without it, building an empire on shadows. This wonderful new show, directed by Rupert Goold for Chichester, is an update of Caryl Churchill's Serious Money for the post-9/11 generation.
The symbolic implosion of the twin towers followed soon after the collapse of Enron and is built into the play as a powerful metaphor of the price to be paid for blind greed and the logical extension of corporate corruption.
Playwright Lucy Prebble dramatises the obscenity of this in scenes between Samuel West's viciously sleek Enron president, Jeffrey Skilling, a loyal, newly impoverished worker and the security guard whose dreams he's ruined.
The financial and political manoeuvrings are humanised at every turn, as Skilling outwits the brilliant Amanda Drew's sexpot rival for the presidency and bounces off the ingenious criminality of Tom Goodman-Hill's fair-faced financial controller, Andy Fastow.
The city-suited three blind mice of the opening sequence are soon replaced by the voracious armadillos of the debtors' court. These bestial figures indicate the expressionist side of Goold's production, which hangs the acting space with celestial neon-lit pipes and deploys the cast of chloric traders and office workers in the regimented choreography of Scott Ambler. The sensual excitement in trading in the markets is conveyed with real ingenuity.
Enron is both a sharp diagnosis of the state we're in, as well as a new Brechtian epic of the rise and fall of a gangster produced and legitimised by the environment of the day. West builds an appropriately resonant performance and also pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of allowing us to like him.
Tim Pigott-Smith draws a fine portrait of the avuncular Enron owner, Ken Lay, while an outstanding back-up cast includes Susannah Fellowes in various guises and Orion Lee as a sonorous senator leading the enquiry into the whole tragic catastrophe.
Until 29 August (01243 781 312)
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