Enron scandal on stage

This video is called Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

By Len Phelan in England:


Noel Coward Theatre, London WC2

Monday 01 February 2010

The collapse of US energy giant Enron in 2001 with billions of losses may not at first glance appear to be a godsend to dramaturgy.

But as Cary Churchill proved with Serious Money and Stewart Lee with Jerry Springer: The Musical, big subjects treated with the snap, crackle and pazazz of a show like this are guaranteed to get the bums of ideas-hungry theatre-goers on seats.

The disintegration of the world’s seventh-largest company with billions of debts and the jaw-dropping synergistic corruption which engendered it might seem pretty inconsequential compared with the current global scale of capitalist rapacity.

But in exposing the way in which the gadarene swine of lawyers, accountants and bankers – along with smaller-scale suckers – fell so readily for Enron’s mark-to-model futures scam which brought the whole house of cards tumbling down, this is a pretty sophisticated piece of agitprop by one-to-watch writer Lucy Prebble, whose second play this is.

High-tech staging and a compelling synthesis of music theatre, visual effects and mordant satire make these complex machinations entertainingly and often hilariously explicit.

Stock-market scenes illuminated by figures bleeding from projection screens onto the deranged bear pit of the trading floor, the collapse of Enron staged as a Twin Towers moment, “debt-eating” companies portrayed as ever-ravenous alligators, Lehman Brothers represented as a pair of conjoined twins – the theatrical effects flow thick, fast and tellingly in Rupert Goold‘s inventive production.

Foregrounding these epic moments, the fall from grace of Enron head honchos Jeffrey Skilling (the excellent Samuel West), Ken Lay (Tim Piggott-Smith, ditto) and Andy Faslow (Tom Goodman-Hill) is presented as a kind of ur-Greek tragedy.

Though Lucy Prebble attempts to give this unholy trio some kind of emotional hinterland and the tone darkens considerably in the latter stages as the Enron “Death Star” implodes in less than a month, there’s precious little empathy for chief architect of the collapse Jeffrey Skilling, who pleads that he only wanted to “change the world.”

The consequences of his messianic vision is fleetingly glimpsed when an Enron security guard spells out what unemployment will mean for himself and the other 20,000 sacked employees, some of whom had been brainwashed to invest in the whole fraudulent scam as an opportunity to “invest in yourself.”

In such moments, we were in the presence of an affecting personal tragedy, subsumed though it rapidly is by the relentless drive towards a bathetic conclusion.

All in all, Enron is an unmissable show for anyone with leftish leanings.

But you’ll need to get your skates on. Tickets are selling fast and you may have to beg, borrow or – following the example of the Enron protagonists – steal one.

Runs until May 8. Box office: 0844-482-5140.

Class and justice in America: The Supreme Court and Enron felon Jeffrey Skilling: here. And here.

7 thoughts on “Enron scandal on stage

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