Thursday, May 13, 2010

Enron at the Noel Coward Theatre

‘Imagine if the belief that a plane could fly was the only thing that was keeping it in the air’.

Lucy Prebble’s play explores what happened in 1991 when an American energy supply corporation, apparently worth billions on paper, crashed with massive debts. Recent financial meltdown in some UK fiancial companies adds topical resonance.

Enron, with co-operation from President Bushes, Snr and George W, made huge profits selling energy in a deregulated market and then, when things began to go wrong, two employees invented cover-up schemes to fool auditors, shareholders and fellow workers. When the fraud came to light, the main victims were the workers, who lost pensions and investments to the tune of $1.32 billion when the company went bankrupt. The two men responsible tried to bail out in advance but were caught and faced hefty jail sentences.

It wasn’t just down to two men, though: ‘nobody who was supposed to say no said no. They all took their share of money from the fraud and put it in their pockets.’

Lucy Prebbles’s witty dialogue conveys the fatal atmosphere of corporate camaraderie while a clever plot shows a smug conspiracy of greed escalating towards disaster.

The triumph of the production is that an essentially boring topic like corporate procedure is made to seem intriguing and even exciting. It’s like ‘Yes, Minister’, transferred to Canary Wharf and jazzed up with music and dancing.

It’s all delivered with panache by a group called Headlong Theatre. The cast has changed from the original Chichester Theatre and Royal Court Theatre production but competently deliver a mix of secret top-level meetings dripping chicanery, surreal encounters and exuberant ensemble scenes.

The play’s big success is Anthony Ward’s design, with its multimedia, multi-level impact and the superbly orchestrated lighting effects by Mark Henderson. Brisk scene run-ons under Rupert Goold’s direction and some clever choreography combine with fantastic escapades where characters scuttle about in giant animal heads. Office clones with laptops are drilled to deliver numbers with a precision that echoes Busby Berkeley musicals or Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 film, ‘Metropolis’, about workers dehumanised by capitalism, all down to the troupe’s choreographer Ewan Wardrop.

So I’d say go, to experience a truly theatrical event, but read the programme first. As well as background to the story, it has a glossary that includes definitions, from the straightforward: ‘insider trading’,’ ‘hedging’ and ‘asset’ to the more esoteric: ‘Kool-Aid’, ‘Black Box’ and ‘SEC’

Enron at the Noel Coward Theatre :

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