Fear, Bush Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

You don’t tend to find all that many investment bankers who turn into the Voice of Conscience in contemporary stage drama. So it’s disarming when a filthy rich young financier is elevated to that status posthumously in Fear, a play written and directed by the BAFTA-winning film-maker Dominic Savage.

This theatrical debut is stronger on insidiously unsettling atmosphere than on persuasiveness of message. Courtesy of takis’s fine design, the Bush has been converted into a sleek domestic temple of moneyed, minimalist luxury that is nonetheless pervaded with a sense of insecurity. In alternating scenes, we are introduced to Gerald and Amanda (Rupert Evans and Louise Delamere), an alpha-male investment banker and his pregnant wife and to Jason and Kieran (Jason Maza and Aymen Hamdouchi) a couple of unemployed, gangsta-rapping street criminals who feed their drug habit through violent robbery.

In the aftermath of the riots last summer, there were those who argued sloppily that one could hardly blame the looters, given the bad example bankers had set in trashing the economy. Savage laudably wants to argue that there’s never an excuse for abdicating personal responsibility. But he goes about dramatising this in an odd and tendentious manner. The married couple’s edgy breakfast rituals with Blackberry and FT and talk of £12 million windfalls and baby’s future are sardonically counterpointed with the equivalent materialism of the ne’er-do-wells who get a buzz from seeing their prey as no more than inventories of expensive status-symbols.

The values of both groups are being called into question. But then Gerald, who has been murdered in a London street by the deranged Kieran, returns as the ghostly projection of the latter’s growing remorse and treats him to a lecture on how “We’re the same really, you and me. We both want money.” The difference, he goes on to spell out, is that Kieran is a feckless pain in the arse who thinks the world owes him a living, whereas Gerald had enterprise. The bizarre strategy of expressing Kieran’s own worst fears about himself through the mouth of a white fat-cat financier alerts you to other ways in which Fear skews its presentation of inequality. Supposing Kieran had tried his utmost and still failed to crawl out from the bottom of the heap. Supposing Gerald were not belatedly revealed to be chairman of a charitable venture for deprived youth. A powerful production, but a feeble play.

To 14 July (www.bushtheatre.co.uk; 020 8743 5050)