Enron, Minerva, Chichester,
Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare's Globe, London
The Black Album, NT Cottlesloe, London
Avarice, hubris – and a Faustian tale for our times
Sunday 26 July 2009
The trading floor is drenched in rainbows of light, like a cathedral sunlit through stained glass windows. Here, though, the congregated throng – in their business suits and traders' blazers – are bathed in the glow of market statistics. Gazing up at multicoloured digital display boards, their fevered bidding turns into a babbling polyphonic hymn, euphoric over commodity prices.
This is Enron, a barbed modern morality play (or immorality play?) by the fast-rising dramatist Lucy Prebble. Boldly combining research and poetic licence, it envisages what went on behind closed doors at the titular US energy corporation in the 1990s – eventually leading to the 2001 scandal, when the company's massive accountancy fraud was exposed.
Keenly awaited, Enron proves to be a slick, ironic and exhilaratingly assured drama. It echoes Caryl Churchill's City satire Serious Money (1987), and reverberates with the almighty financial mess we're in today. Hotshot Rupert Goold directs (for his company Headlong, Chichester Festival and the Royal Court).
Samuel West excels himself in his portrayal of Jeffrey Skilling, the Ivy League ideas man who takes control as CEO. We see West transform from a nerdy visionary – initially advocating clean energy – into a money-obsessed, desperately unethical exec. Promoted by Tim Pigott-Smith's Ken Lay, a surreptitiously wily chairman, West's Skilling is hailed as a share-boosting golden boy. But he is simultaneously conniving with his chief financial officer – Tom Goodman-Hill's febrile Andrew Fastow – to conceal mounting debts.
What Prebble and Goold interestingly highlight is how dangerously inventive these guys were, playing games with virtual earnings, creating almost Pirandellian confusions between the real and the illusory – all based on crazy hubristic optimism.
It's hard to entirely comprehend their shenanigans, and the shifts into surrealism occasionally feel heavy-handed: not least a trio of investors as the three blind mice, in rodent masks. In the main, though, the blend of experimental wackiness and classic narrative structures is smart. Ultimately, you realise West's jail-bound Skelling is a Faust for our era: an over-reacher destroyed by avarice, and never quite able to repent.
In Troilus and Cressida, young love is tarred with allusions to prostitution, even if no money is exchanged. Shakespeare's Trojan War saga is an unsettlingly jaundiced – not to mention pox-ridden – anti-romance. Cressida's matchmaking, sleazy uncle, Pandarus, predicts his name will become a synonym for pimp. Meanwhile, his niece – torn from her sweetheart, Troilus, in a hostage-swapping deal – soon relinquishes her oath of fidelity. Indeed, the Ancient World's panorama of legendary warriors and ladies-to-die-for is seen as a parade of vanity, folly and seediness by Thersites, the scabrous hanger-on who commentates from the sidelines.
Troy looks peculiarly shabby in this disappointing new Globe production, with the stage seemingly draped in dust sheets. I spend some time wondering when the decorators are going to arrive. Also why, amid a Grecian army sporting horned helmets and breastplates, do Achilles' Myrmidons join the fray in shorts and espadrilles? OK, they're fighting on the beaches, but have they no protective gear?
Matthew Dunster's direction essentially produces Troilus and Cressida Light – without being very funny. Matthew Kelly's Pandarus has a sanitised showbiz manner, at best mildly camp. Paul Hunter's Thersites looks more skanky, with pustules. However, he is merely clowning around with his Quasimodo-like hobble, and is never excoriating. Ben Bishop's porky slob of a Paris is more memorable. Paul Stocker's Troilus manages one or two flashes of youthful fire, and Laura Pyper's gamine Cressida is pert, but the Globe's rough-and-ready style only really enlivens the Greeks' lengthy debates. Instead of stately rhetoric in praise of hierarchical degree, Jamie Ballard's Ulysses testily interrupts his elder, John Stahl's Nestor. That, at least, is refreshingly vigorous.
Alas, the NT has an embarrassing flop on its hands with The Black Album, a clunking adaptation by Hanif Kureishi of his early semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. This is co-produced by the touring troupe, Tara Arts. Set in London in 1989, the story focuses on a British-Asian student, Jonathan Bonnici's gangly Shahid, who finds himself torn between decadent druggie liberalism – having an affair with his teacher – and a group of young fundamentalist Muslims. They are particularly incensed by racism and go on to support the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.
Kureishi's original book was vibrant and its anxieties – which now seem prescient – ought to engage. But there's no hope of that when the dialogue is excruciatingly wooden, the cast are flailing, and Jatinder Verma's direction is leaden. Absolutely dismal.
'Enron' (01243-781312) to 29 Aug, then at the Royal Court Downstairs, London (020-7565 5000) 17 Sep to 31 Oct; 'Troilus and Cressida' (0844 579 1940) to 20 Sep; 'The Black Album' (020-7452 3000) to 3 Oct, then touring to 23 Nov
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