Lyttelton Theatre, London SE1

Opened 6 October, 2009


How on earth can you make theatre out of financial arcana, asks one figure early in David Hare’s new work. Well, see the Royal Court or Shunt, both of whom currently have vibrant productions about great corporate collapses playing in London. Hare, on the other hand, opts to follow the same strategy as in his investigative/journalistic play about Britain’s railways, The Permanent Way: he interviews people and then puts versions of them onstage to testify. However, director Angus Jackson here does not respond as nearly as well to the problem of how to animate such a piece. In the 110 uninterrupted minutes of The Power Of Yes, people enter and exit, they talk, sometimes someone sits down and once or twice even writes something on a blackboard (“Well, that was a lesson,” said someone behind me in the foyer afterwards, though I don’t think he meant it so literally), but as far as I could see only two things actually happen. At one point someone gets on a bicycle and pedals offstage, and at another someone else throws into the air a handful of glitter pulled from a financial folder. Oh, there are captions and projected graphics, but in terms of basic activity, Hellzapoppin' it ain’t.
Note, too, that I call it a “work” or a “piece”: the first line, uttered by Anthony Calf as “the Author”, is “This isn’t a play.” No argument here. In fact, I don’t even think the subtitle A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis is honest. It seems to me rather that Hare seeks to maintain but direct the audience’s incomprehension. After listening to testimony from actors representing the likes of Adair Turner, Howard Davies, Jon Cruddas MP, BBC economics editor Paul Mason and a host of City figures (many of whom, it is noted, work or have worked for this paper), we are, like the judge in the old joke, none the wiser but at least better informed. Hare uses his own supposed ignorance of financial matters as an excuse to provide a fragmented picture where the bankers are to blame... no, the regulators... no, the legislators... no, everyone... no, no-one... no... hang on... whilst all the time implicitly endorsing the values of a moderate, responsible social market. It is no surprise that the last word goes to George Soros, the former hedge-fund manager with a social conscience. The cast is full of actors who wear suits well, including Simon Williams, Paul Freeman and Malcolm Sinclair, and they all (17 men and three women) walk and talk articulately. But for either theatre or understanding, better go elsewhere.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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