Money making the world go . . . stop

Enron

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

**** 

The love of money' it is said. ‘is the root of all evil' . Perhaps Jeffrey Skilling, CEO of  one of America's biggest ever financial corporations, Enron, should have listened. 

In 16 years, Enron's assets grew from $10 billion  to $70 billion dollars, lining the pockets of the fat cats who ran it and fleecing the workers on the floor as well as the shareholders who invested their hopes and their cash.  Its collapse took just 24 days – a fall from grace of the highest order.

Rupert Goold's fast moving production of Lucy Prebbles  second full length play ,  arrives in Birmingham hot on the heels of  a well-received West End run. Its transfer to Broadway earlier this year was less successful , lasting just over a week.  A mauling from the New York Times and a failure to receive a Tony award nomination could not have helped.  No such negativity, this side of the pond- and rightly so.

As a piece of theatre, it is, just like Skilling's  description of Enron, highly ‘innovative'.   The tale is relatively straightforward – it's the way it's told that grabs the attention.  A fast moving mix of straight drama, polished dance routines, musical theatre style songs and a soundtrack that switches  from Guns and Roses to Dolly Parton, drives the play along at pace and with impressive dynamism.

Set wise, it's simple.  Small wooden blocks are carried on and off by the actors and serve a variety of uses from gym treadmills to makeshift podiums. But that's fine.

WELL DESIGNED LIGHTING

It's not about the set, it's about the story and how it's portrayed.   Through it all the action is supported by a visual feast of archive video footage and well designed lighting that serves to complement the action rather than simply pad it out.

To be picky, there was at times some distortion on the audio which made it hard to understand.  No doubt that will be tweaked for the rest of the run.

Symbolism features heavily throughout the play..  Ever present in the bowels of  Enron's  evil underworld, are the hungry ‘Raptors' – reptile headed ‘suits' who swallow up the huge debts that Enron passed off as ‘assets'.

The infamous Leehman brothers are portrayed as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee type figures who are unable to think as ‘one'.  Lawyers at the trial wear blindfolds, turning , as it were, a blind eye to the proceedings.  This is not a play told in a naturalistic style (although there is some bitingly powerful dialogue within it ) but when the subject of the play is so distorted and unreal it seems appropriate to approach it that way.

STRONG PERFORMANCES

A play can stand and fall by its casting and this is faultless. There are strong performances all round. Corey Johnson, as Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, is outstanding.  Every aspect of Skilling's greed, mania, obsession and immorality is played out with measured force by Johnson  and by the end of the play, as he stood deposed but not defeated in his orange prison uniform, it was hard to take your eyes off him.

Clive Francis , playing the Founder and Chairman of Enron, Ken Lay , plays arrogance to perfection. Mention too, must be made of Sara Stewart who plays Claudia Roe, the power dressing exec with an allure she knows exactly how to use.  Paul Chahidi, as the brilliantly tainted Andy Fastow, Enron's Financial Officer who finds a way to ‘ hide' the losses, almost steals the show.  But this is talented and multi–skilled cast and there is no weak link.

A morality tale?   Corporate Satire?  A multimedia spectacle?   Enron is all of those things. If theatre is to continue to develop new audiences, it needs to evolve and reflect the time we live in. This ticks the box and is bang on the money.   To 28-09-10.

Tom Roberts 

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