Noël Coward Theatre, London WC2
Opened 26 January, 2010

Only a few hours before its West End opening, Rupert Goold received the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for best director for his work on Lucy Prebble’s play about the 2001 corporate collapse that pre-echoed the credit crunch as a whole. I saw the production on its première at Chichester last summer, skipped its Royal Court run in the autumn but returned to see how it fares on a conventional proscenium-arch stage rather than the thrust arrangement of Chichester’s Minerva Studio.
It now feels more like a spectacle laid on before us than a romp that invites our complicity in its irreverence. In fact, at times I thought I detected in its use of cast movement and light a lineage back to the staged portraits of Robert Wilson in the 1970s… especially when the cast started singing share prices in a manner that recalled the numerical libretto of Wilson’s collaboration with Philip Glass, Einstein On The Beach. But Enron has always been self-consciously a show in any case. Where David Hare’s The Power Of Yes (still in repertoire at the National Theatre) flatters its audience’s inevitable ignorance by enlisting them on the side of the righteous (and self-righteous) author-surrogate onstage, Goold and Prebble do so by acknowledging that mark-to-market valuation, Special Purpose Vehicle corporate entities and so on are arcane to the layman, that any explanation of them will be simplistic and therefore it ought at least to be fun. When this rootin’-tootin’ version of events portrays the deregulation of electricity in California as a lightsabre-dance routine or CFO Andy Fastow’s debt-eating shadow corporations as Jurassic Park raptors (the term Fastow used for them), we are not expected to buy this as the whole picture, but to accept it as close enough for this theatrical jazz. And it is sometimes surprisingly close: the hand-jive performed by the gung-ho blazers on the trading floor, my companion assured me, consists of authentic signal movements.
Samuel West, that most likeable of actors, proves unexpectedly adept at making himself entirely uncongenial as Jeffrey Skilling, the architect of the corporate fraud, with Tom Goodman-Hill his less self-assured wannabe as Fastow. If Tim Pigott-Smith’s Kenneth Lay is something of a Texan cartoon, he is no more so than the show as a whole, for which the most succinct description remains Alan Greenspan’s wonderful coinage in another context altogether: “irrational exuberance”.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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