“Enron” by Lucy Prebble

at the Noel Coward Theatre, Wednesday 28th April 2010

It is no surprise that the capitalist critics on Broadway have not enjoyed Lucy Prebble’s superb hit from last year, Enron. Attacking dog eat dog business and proving that we need regulation of the markets is never likely to go down well with those whose sole goal in life is to fulfil the American Dream. Contrary to how many of Broadway’s critics are viewing the play, however, Prebble does not simply attack corporation in the Unites States. She is attacking the entire global system.

The play shows, in striking theatrical terms, the rise and inevitable fall of US corporate giant Enron from the early 1990s to December 2001. Beginning with the decision firmly contested by Amanda Drew’s dry Claudia Row to shift focus of the company to trade, and ending with the arrests and convictions of the three central characters, there is true drama to be found in the narrative. From the moment Tom Goodman-Hill as Andy Fastow explains his theory of transferring debt into smaller black box companies, we immediately see where the problem lies. The world of trade and commerce isn’t even understood by those working within it, but the constant wish to gain more money forces those in high positions to make stupid decisions.

Samuel West as the play’s central character Jeffrey Skilling offers an almost manic performance. Whether intended or not, Skelling is an incredibly Faustian being. He already has great wealth and knowledge when the plays begins but in effect sells in company’s ‘soul’ to the markets in order to enjoy a decade of growth. It is also interesting that Skelling is sentences to twenty-four years in prison, the period of time which Faustus gives of his own life to Mephistopheles. The greed of traders and bankers simply isn’t necessary, and can only ever lead to disaster.

Prebble’s accomplished script is further improved by Rupert Goold’s innovative staging, which uses dance, song and puppetry in order to expose the farce of the system. Sequences set on the stock floor use impeccable choreography to heighten the metaphor that the events shown are simply a performance and aren’t much more than smoke and mirrors. A particularly intriguing and humourous idea sees the Lehman Brothers as an inseparable duo, akin to Monty Python’s three-headed knight. Everyone is played as a slight caricature, and yet we still believe that these people exist in front of us. It is not hard to think that the warped personas are in fact how many tradesmen act.

Praise must also be given for Anthony Ward’s simple design, which takes advantage of video technology and lighting to highlight certain aspects of life in a corporation and further the deception of the bankers. Streams of numbers appear on the back wall and stocks roll past as we realise that even someone who has been working in this industry for their entire life cannot comprehend what it all means.

No doubt the play will be revived in future times of economic uncertainty, for those at the top will never understand that greed cannot drive a business. That said, however, Enron is a play for now. It mirrors our current situation with sufficient savagery but is also a fascinating piece of drama which uses metaphor to show that the world created on stage is in fact closer to reality than the  world itself.

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