MONEY

Tucked away, around the back of a warehouse by London Bridge, lies an unsuspecting entrance to a true masterpiece in theatrical art.

Ludovic recounts all

Forget the pretension of ordinary theatres, forget the rows of red upholstery, forget the dimly lit, cramped conditions that separate auditorium and stage.  This is different.

From the moment you walk in, past some tables and chairs, through the haze that hangs in the air, immediately you feel much closer to where the action is going to take place.

The presence of three faux ‘riot police’ around an imposing three-storey monolith of industrial machinery sets a surreal precedent, suggesting ‘Money’ is not going to be any ordinary adaptation of Emile Zola’s 19th Century novel, ‘L’Argent.’ 

Both works use financial melt-down as a means to explore the human emotions that drive our civilisation.  However, unlike the novel, this play is not tied to any particular era or location and makes scant reference to finance.  Emotions too often wrapped up in contexts are triumphantly brought to the fore here in a wonderful inter-play of perspectives and desires. 

Lights dim, then flicker, water starts dripping, the machinery becomes agitated, the play begins.  A meagre man, naked save for a loin cloth, stares back at the audience from his cage.  He moves, bemused, trying to work out what we’re doing there.  We do the same. 

Still unsure of what or who he is, the audience is beckoned to move into a waiting room.  The lights fail and we’re steeped into darkness. The loss of one sense heightens the others. Our vulnerability is exploited; cogs turn faster and louder, whipping up wind as they approach.  An electric spark illuminates the room for a split second, reinforcing our doom….

But as quickly as terror descended, it dissipates, and we’re told to take our seats once more.

By virtue of being spoken to in the same way as the actors speak to each other, the audience is ever more reeled in.  Yet at no point does the play really depend on our participation.  This rapport enables the audience to make the most out of their closeness to the actors, to scrutinize their behaviour.  Human traits like hesitation and lack of conviction apparent in one character for example, are allowed to be appreciated as if one were people-watching; but to the very finest of detail.  Such an intimate set up requires an impeccable cast.  And the acting rises to the occasion; proving every bit as equal in class to the play’s excellent juxtaposition. 

Saccard, played by Nigel Barrett, the main character, is a confident entrepreneur.  He starts with nothing but ambition.  Rejection after rejection, the play begins to focus on refusal.  One man’s refusal is another man’s affront; but what are the boundaries of acceptability?  When the rules of a game become blurred with no certain end, the outcome gets messy.

Saccard nevertheless gets a lucky break and soon sees profits rolling in.  The audience are members of his enterprise and are made to feel part of his success.  In toasting to our newfound wealth with a glass of champagne, we are led to reflect on the causes of inequalities in society.  It should not be the fault of our drive, as Saccard proclaims, but rather the lack of everyone else’s.  The rejection that Saccard had to endure himself is belittled.  The whole episode is marked by an ironic spout of exuberance, reminiscent of a playground or perhaps a stock-exchange. 

No-one knows how Saccard’s scheme really works.  Concerns over the transparency of his enterprise soon manifest themselves in a crashing stock market.  A rousing speech in which Saccard propounds the wholesome values upon which the enterprise was founded halts the downward spiral of our stocks – but only momentarily – as suspicions remain as to what really lies beneath his grand oratory skills.  The means to his ends never revealed, the market resumes Saccard’s ultimate descent into ruin. 

Elements of the play, such as the role of the caged man seen at the start, are abstract and open to interpretation.  However, the strength of Saccard’s character, manages to imbue an over-riding neo-realism to the play – rooted in the action and reaction of the everyday.  Saccard’s character is itself cleverly developed to be as ordinary as any next man in the street.

The brilliantly innovative use of space and stage design is an integral part of the production.  Never have I seen a play unfold on so many spatial levels; above, below, to the right and to the left.  The use of perspectives is indeed pulled off with fantastic aplomb.    Combined with sound and lighting, it makes for an extravagantly encompassing sensory experience.

More could have been done to combine changes in visual perspective with new insights into the characters themselves.  It’s a trick that was missed but it is the only reproach.

 Overall the stage design sets the play on a pedestal, head and shoulders above the rest of Theatreland.  The pedestal provides the perfect platform for the cast to deliver a mesmerising performance.  Saccard in particular stands out and insofar as his character could have been anyone in the audience, it’s not just a story about Saccard, but a story about all of us.

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