Review of ENRON at the Royal Court Theatre
The last projected image you see in Lucy Prebble’s timely new play Enron is a large graph showing characteristic peaks and valleys.
‘All our creations are here,’ says the failed company’s CEO. ‘There’s greed, there’s Fear, Joy, Faith, Hope… and the greatest of these is Money.’
‘Money’ is the last word in the play, and it’s also the first item on Prebble’s agenda. Money is what her play is all about – money, the love of it, and the lengths to which the financial world’s movers and shakers will go to acquire it. It’s hardly a shattering observation and it says nothing about greed that hasn’t been said in countless novels, films and plays before.
But apart from its timeliness, what makes Enron so exciting is director Rupert Goold’s and designer Anthony Ward’s bracingly theatrical approach to the material.
In telling the now familiar story of how, in 15 years, Enron, a Texas-based energy company, grew from nothing to become America’s 7th largest company, employing 21,000 people in 40 countries, and how, through creative accounting, debt concealment and fraudulent dealings, they became the architects of the corporate world’s biggest scandal to date, the show’s creative team have made a theatrical killing.
Initially I was worried that their powerhouse production was in danger of overwhelming Prebble’s text through overkill. The first half, in which you gradually get to know the main players, blurred some of the narrative issues through an excess of stage business and visual affects. At times it almost appeared that Goold had lost confidence in the text and was impelled to gussy up the exposition in case the audience grew bored with its boardroom politics.
But as the performances sharpened, and the almost Greek tragedy-like inevitability began to unfurl, the staging melded seamlessly with the text to create a rare kind of stage magic.
Mark Henderson’s lighting, dominated by a series of mobile neon tubes that changed colour to reflect mood, and a backdrop of video images against a moving electric strip of fluctuating share prices, made quite sure that the occasional dead spots in the text passed more or less unnoticed.
Particularly effective was a great set-piece in which Star War-type laser rods were inventively used to create a series of stunning images.
The three executives who featured most prominently in Enron’s collapse in 2001 were Ken Lay, Enron’s chairman (Tim Piggott-Smith), Jeffrey Skilling, the company’s charismatic chief executive (Samuel West), and Andrew Fastow, its chief financial officer (Tom Goodman- Hill) who, (in this version of the story, at any rate) single-handedly was responsible for devising the scandal that ultimately ruined the company as well as the lives of most of its employees. On the distaff side, the play features a woman called Claudia Roe (Amanda Drew) ‘the fourteenth most powerful woman in the world’ who was also Skilling’s occasional sexual bit on the side and an unsuccesful contender for his job.
All deliver strong, convincing performances (as does the rest of the cast), the single most riveting scene being the one in which the ambitious Fastow convinces a worried Skilling that Enron can be saved by the illegal creation of a ‘shadow company’ to support its falling stock.
Not surprisingly, Enron’s run at the Royal Court is completely sold out. The good news is that it’s transferring to the Noel Coward Theatre on 16 January next year. Book now.
CLIVE HIRSCHHORN. Courtesy of This Is London.