Where Steve Thompson's Damages at the Bush combines the curious thrill of tabloid journalism with a penetrating examination of personal and professional ethics, Roger W Kirby's Burleigh Grimes aims to do more or less the same to Wall Street traders. Its failure is due to a series of misfires, none crippling in itself but together leaving the show quite unsteady on its feet. (And that's apart from the crashed lighting computer which delayed the press night performance.)
Kirby (by day, a litigation lawyer, currently pitted against Conrad Black in the American courts) tries to fit too much into his script, in terms of styles and genres. The play opens and closes with awkward Balinese dance episodes, for no discernible reason... especially given that a live rock trio performs incidental music throughout. I think this is intended to convey the rush of pulling off a sharp deal, but the band end up sounding like a high-school reunion combo, tight but restrained by the nature of the event. Nicolai Hart Hansen's set design, with its tiling of Plexiglas floor panels, implicitly compares the trading pit to a 1970s disco dancefloor, but likewise to no real end.
The title character has developed the ultimate low-risk approach to stock trading: he works on insider tip-offs or, better still, plants his own rumours in the media to manipulate the market. His name is also significant: the original Burleigh Grimes was the last baseball pitcher allowed to tamper with the aerodynamics of the ball to make it more unpredictable in flight. There's a fair bit of energetic jargon chatter, which Kirby successfully animates without tipping over into blatant whoops-exposition. At times, though, Grimes' new recruit George seems implausibly innocent: does anyone at all need to have explained to them how important rumour is in market trading, let alone the scion of an old big-money family?
George pursues his on-off relationship with media newbie Grace, while her boss Bigley and Grimes try to play each other and... the aim is for a high David Mamet-style plot complex, with everyone trying to get one over on everyone else, and only the most unexpected ones succeeding. And it ought to be exciting, but somehow in Steven Little's production we never really come to care either about any characters or their environment. The result is craftsmanlike, but admirable only in an oddly dispassionate way.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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