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Monday, 16 August 2010

Theatre - Enron - Noel Coward

Star rating – 9/10

There is always the danger when you see a play that has been running for some time to critical acclaim and popular acclamation, that it can’t possibly live up to all the hype. Enron is such a play (at least this side of the Atlantic – of which more later), but I am pleased to report after catching it at the end of its London run before going out to the ’provinces’, as Londoners are so fond of calling the rest of the nation, that it is no disappointment – not by a long way.

The subject matter is potentially not the most obviously suited to a successful stage play, being as it is about the rise of the giant US energy company, and its spectacular fall and the subsequent biggest corporate criminal trial in history. But the way the story is told in this very clever play by Lucy Prebble, and the sophisticated use of light, sound, and stage, mean that it is a feast for the eyes, and a very fast moving and entertaining evening.

The story starts with an office affair between the chic and slightly ruthless Claudia Roe, played by Sara Stewart, and fellow employee Jeffrey Skilling, Corey Johnson. He tells her he is leaving his wife – she says they will not sleep together again – so the usual office politics then. In this case he just happens to leap frog her to a stellar career as the Chief Executive of the company. He devises an accounting wheeze called ‘mark to market’, whereby the company can declare potential rather than actual profits, and enlists the help of Andy Fastow as his finance supremo, who can make profits appear out of nowhere, and hide losses in a shadow, not to mention shadowy, sister company. And for a while Enron is a corporate success story that is the envy of the western world, that is until the illegal practices are uncovered and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

The special effects really add to the power of the story, especially the raptors, monsters lurking in the basement to symbolise the buried bad debt, with their insatiable greed for more money. The upward, then rapid downward, movement of Enron shares is highlighted with ticker tape displays and a looming figure over the stage.

But it is easy to see why the transfer to Broadway was not a success. In fact, I cannot see how anyone would have thought the Americans would love their collective noses being rubbed in it by this story of greed and organisational deception. Their national anthem is mocked; there is the infamous clip of President Clinton denying sexual relations with ‘that woman’; and coming so soon after more corporate greed has been exposed so publicly, with such catastrophic effects on the world economy (aka the credit crunch), it is hardly surprising that Enron bombed recently in New York.

But don’t let that put you off seeing it for a minute. It is clever, witty, moral and thought provoking. One of the main thoughts that has been occurring to me since I saw it, is the difference in outcome for Jeffrey Skilling, who got 25 years in prison for his crimes, and the bankers and friends who nearly caused the collapse of the world economy, yet who are now, some 3 year later, reaping bumper bonuses again. Same old, same old then….

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