First Night: The Power of Yes, Lyttelton, National Theatre

2.00

Tenacious and lucid, but men in suits show dull side of recession

When its artistic director, Nicholas Hytner, decided last spring that the National Theatre needed to make a spirited response to the global recession, he did what any smart person in his position would have done. He picked up the phone and rang for David Hare. If there's an English dramatist who could be relied upon to offer a clear, combative analysis of this mind-knotting, epoch-making mess, it's the author of Stuff Happens and The Permanent Way.

Pessimists will have spotted a faint potential flaw here. If our pre-eminent political dramatist had been gagging for this important gig, he'd surely have been down the line to Hytner first. They will also have noted that share prices in the project took a tumble this summer with the advent of rogue trader, Lucy Prebble, author of the uber-hit Enron, a play which seems to have cornered the market in flamboyant prescience and in the ability to explain the fiendish con-tricks of creative accountancy with dazzling theatrical immediacy.

So where does leave The Power of Yes? Gazumped, bothered and bewildered? Not quite. But, in truth, it's looking a tad tardy and more than a mite dogged and dutiful, with all due allowance for the difference in genre and despite the succession of (rather listless) digital images that strive to give urgency to Angus Jackson's stubbornly tepid production. Subtitled "a dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis", this piece is not so much a play proper as an artfully arranged dramatisation of the research that could have led to one.

Portrayed by Anthony Calf, the Author-figure (who is a version of Hare) takes to the stage and scribbles endlessly in a notebook, while quizzing a recurring crew of financiers, politicians and journalists. You feel that he must have been trapped for the past year in a bunker, such is the surprise he evinces when the men in suits (who include Adair Turner, the chairman of the Financial Services Authority, and George Soros, a US banker) march forward and bark at him what we largely already know.

Howard Davies, the first chairman of the FSA, keeps dragging in a blackboard on which he has chalked the acronym S-L-U-M-P (for sub-prime, liquidity, unravelling, meltdown, and pumping). It's supposed to suggest a quasi-Shakespearean five-act structure but it merely indicates the stolid, spelt-out-to-a fault manner in which The Power of Yes tells a momentous story that embraces the four days in September 2008 when capitalism came to a grinding halt. There's a great Samuel Beckett title, Imagination Dead Imagine. Subtitled "Capitalism Suspended Speculate", my dream Hare drama on this issue would view the crisis from the single vantage point of that vertiginous week in Washington during which America had to reinvent itself as a socialist country. The author of Stuff Happens, the best play written on the run-up to the Iraq war, might have been born to dramatise the heady deliberations of those days.

Instead, he's given us a sort of Everything You Wanted to Know About the Credit Crunch, But Were Afraid to Ask. It's honourable, lucid, tenacious, and a little dull. You want "securitisation" explained? Banker David Marsh has quite a good imagination for what happens when the originator and the holder of a loan get separated. It's like pain moving round in disguise: "You stub your toe but it's your elbow which hurts." But what we see is the weedy spectacle of businessmen swapping pages from their portfolios, an emblem that does not gain in power by being duplicated digitally overhead.

Even as journalism, the piece lacks dialectical edge. Hare's central contention is that the collapse of the financial system in 2008 makes this recession radically different in kind from its predecessors and that bankers are a priesthood who have a vested interest in warding off legislation by pretending that this is just a bust like any other. But the financiers to whom he talks are, by and large, rueful, reformed characters who eloquently agree. He'd toughen his case, if he had to slug it out with an unreconstructed swinging-dick Darwinian who might argue the financial innovations that were criminal in one era have often passed into respectability in the next.

The Power of Yes underlines the paradoxes of the crisis with characteristic incisiveness – the fact, say, the Communist China with its cheap goods and labour, helped to create the artificially flush conditions in the US that led to the sub-prime fiasco. Due scorn is poured on capitalism's fat cats who came yowling for a socialist bail-out. But sometimes it's through noticing the smaller ironies that the piece scores best. I liked the contribution from the deputy-director of a Citizens Advice Bureau whose job it is to counsel the impoverished on the order in which to pay their bills. You have to settle up your council tax or you face prison. But credit card companies are inclined to pass on the debt from one to another. No change there, then. "You could argue," he points out dryly, "that in the long run the system works in yoir favour".

That has real dramatic life. But when our author-figure starts proclaiming about the death of an idea (that markets are decent and wise) – look, he says, "It's lying dead on the stage," you may feel that it's not the only thing that's lying there in that condition.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition