ROARING TRADE Park Theatre , N4

MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO SOUR 

The setting is excellent . Terrible flashing screens of numbers, alerts, currencies; sometimes becoming a glass window onto a London scene made of banknotes and FT headlines, or at one memorable moment a park where a £ 20 butterfly floats past. As you sit down there is an equally horrible barking, jabbering unease of voices. This is a bond trading room, evoked in design by Grant Hicks, Alex Marshall, Chris Drohan and Douglas O”Connell’s video.

And – as we all now know rather too well, from Capital City on ‘90s telly to Enron to The Power of Yes and William Nicholson’s Crash! – they’re pretty horrible. Aggressive, ambitious, neurotically bound up in their fantasy world of real money, crazy bonuses and cruel or sexual banter fuelling the dark human sacrifice demanded by high-tech capitalism.

So this play – first aired a few years ago and now directed by Alan Cohen – always risked being a “Meh, so what’s new?”. Even though Steve Thompson , who wrote Damages, researched it and its people with a kind of compassionate horror, and introduces enough up-to-date references (Syria, Volkswagen) to make it modern. But in the event it is gripping because of the quality and depth in the performances. Nick Moran is Donny the working-class sharp lad trader, unforgivably jeered at as “scullery boy” by Olly, known as “Spoon” for his silver-spoon posh-Cambridge background, though not until Donny has treated him pretty horribly for most of the play. The cockney confidence of the one and the entitled, nervy arrogance of the other are beautifully done. Lesley Harcourt is the tough glamorous Jess, who will use both her steel-trap mind and her top button to win clients and make millions; there is perhaps not quite enough to see beneath her surface glitter and nastiness, or not until the final minutes. Michael McKelly is interesting as the battered, discontented older trader PJ who is leaving to have a life, and alone in the trading-room tries to start conversations about the outside world – global warming, spreadable butter, Tony Hancock, anything but deals.
Family lives are used to underline the arid horribleness of their long working days. PJ has a wife (Melanie Gutteridge) who is furious at the idea of his leaving, being wedded to the lifestyle: he protests that they have had three new lounge suites since they moved to the 7-bed house and he’s never sat on any of them, too tired; “trouble with being flash – she gets used to the stash and you’re stuck”. Donny has a teenage son Sean, and their interaction is one of the most poignantly depressing bits of the play.
So you’re with them all, all the way, and indeed pretty depressed, and there is an unfolding dramatic plot moment in the last half-hour (it’s 1 hr 45 including interval, which is about right). But the only conclusion is that it’s an awful way to live, and that you’re stuffed even if you try to leave. But they’re real, such people, and out there looking after everyone’s money. It would have been good to have more sense of that.
box office 0207 870 6876 to 24 oct
rating three

3 Meece Rating

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