Theatre in Wales

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Serious New Company Makes Its Debut

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Serious Money - Waking Exploits , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , May 6, 2011
The Best of Touring Theatre by Serious Money - Waking Exploits “There’s ugly greedy and sexy greedy, you dope” says Bethan Morgan’s PR supremo to Robert Harper’s corporate raider “At the moment, you’re ugly which is no hope.” That is the difference. The wrecking crew of 2008 have not got beyond ugly-greedy. Now with their super-injunctions that forbid mentioning they were even once b*nkers that ugliness isn’t fading fast.

In truth the excesses of the eighties were always a cause for mixed reception. The breaking of the stock exchange cartel did remove at a stroke an easeful life for a generation of dim Etonians. Young East Enders really were peddling fruit and veg on stalls in Whitechapel High Street one year and on the LIFFE trading floor the next.

From the perspective of these sour, debt-burdened times it is unimaginable but investment bankers were made heroes in a popular television series “Capital City”. One episode even featured a gawky quant who devised something smart to help poor Sudan out with its debt.

“Relevance” always seems a key concern for agitated theatre-makers. A new Macbeth in Liverpool was fretting about it in a radio interview this week. There is the occasional line like “Being in debt is the best way of being rich” but Caryl Churchill’s text is now as filled with historic reference as is the scene from Thomas Shadwell’s 1692 play that precedes it.

Arbitrageur Marylou Baines- startlingly re-imagined by director Mathilde Lopez as an asthmatic, arthritic, drawling powerhouse- is “second only to Boesky.” Who Boesky? It does not matter. Caryl Churchill’s play is lifted out of its 1987 setting by its mix of moral passion, vaulting language and unstinting theatricality.

Neil Davies’ design of a circle of grass, twenty foot in diameter, has puzzled early reviewers. It is a metaphor, and an imaginative one at that. City operatives have always spilled out of their towers at weekends. The play’s third scene is a hunt in which the cast of eight become headstrong, snorting horses. There is not a Georgian rectory within three hundred miles of London that is not now the domain of the moneymen.

“I analogise it to sex,” said a founder of the Carlyle Group, a private equity colossus, at a conference in 2009. “You realise there were certain things you shouldn’t do, but the urge is there, and you can’t resist.” Mathilde Lopez and her cast capture the sheer energy and eros of how it feels to be winners. From the outside it may not look much of a game to be in in the first place but it sure feels great on the inside. When tin-magnate-cum-cocaine-baroness Jacinta Condor appears, Catriona James slithers on stage with the sensuousness of a jaguar from the Peruvian jungle.

Caryl Churchill’s reputation just grows. “More versatile than Pinter”, says Robert Brustein, “more intellectual than Stoppard”. The last work of hers to appear on the Aberystwyth stage was “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire”, not the easiest of plays to sit through. “Serious Money” is utterly rooted in its time. There is not a Kazakh or Ukrainian to be seen, no Indians, no Qataris. Presciently Jacinta and Zac- a rangy, febrile Tom Mumford- choose Shanghai for their honeymoon. “Good business to be done there”- too right.

There is a nice little joke in the high-velocity ending. After losing his company to a Missouri chewing gum operation the culture-bereft Corman gets not just a peerage but to be Chair of the National Theatre as well. Although, after the revelations this year of the infiltration of academia and the art world by murderous money, maybe it’s not such a joke after all.

“Serious Money” leaps out of the straitjacket of its time by its moral fervour, its high propulsion narrative, its lack of condescension or favours to anyone. Sule Rimi’s Nigel Ajibala, ostensibly a cocoa man, is portrayed as out and out rascal. A decade or so on and he would be masterminding those 419 email scams. There cannot be a more scabrous line on the submission of self to corporation than Zac’s “I don’t mind bending over and greasing my ass- but I sure ain’t using my own vaseline.”

However zesty a script a writer delivers, it is a company that makes it. Waking Exploits make it into a swaggering, extrovert production. Fine voice work throughout includes Tony Leader’s New Yorker banker Merrison and Adam Redmore’s lubricious Jake.

“Serious Money” is a serious event for theatre in Wales. That some of the company are present by dint of the establishment of the National Theatre of Wales is a feather in the cap, even if accidental, for that institution. Phil Williams is choreographer. Michael Salmon is associate producer. Iain Goosey is producer.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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