A CAUTIONARY TALE OF TRADE AND TERROR
It is the modern terror that stalks our interconnected world. You’re shut in a stone cell, alone and far from home, and in a chaotic increasingly lawless land, rife with political and tribal rivalries. So your captors themselves are unpredictable: captives in their turn of ideologies, corrupt government, poverty and a daily jolting adrenalin fear. Unreasoning murders like that of Daniel Pearl, haunt every family whose members travel to work in, report on, or help a developing country.
Ayad Akhtar, a Pulitzer prizewinner, distils this in a play tense, sour and funny, with at its core a nugget of inescapable and dispiriting truth. Not about politics, or even East-West ideological divisons and harsh history: but about human beings and money. Indhu Rubasingham’s last home fixture before her enterprising Trike spends a year in refurbishment is as clever, as political, and in its last ironic moments as barkingly, darkly, shockingly funny as so much else has been under this director.
Nick Bright (Daniel Lapaine) is a bright American trading banker, kidnapped largely in error by a Pakistani cell led by the stout, selfrighteous Imam Saleem (Tony Jayawardena, considerably less lovable than in Bend it Like Beckham). We see Nick first in amiable conversation with the lowly jailer Dar, advising him on his cousin’s potato trade and on always turning his rupees into dollars. “More stable”. The nervier, more dangerous jihadi-minded Bashir is Western-educated, following Saleem, and kicks Dar for dealing with the evil world of banks and interest. But Nick is bargaining for his life, and for not being handed over to the real extremists (who Saleem’s lot hate even more than they hate the national government). So he points out that he could help their finances and earn the $10m ransom they want by lending his skills: showing them how to play the markets online, buying and selling and shorting.
So he and Bashir – Parth Thakerar, unnerving as any angry teenager in his striding, twitching, and ranting anti-Western tirades – are set to do this. Nick may not touch the laptop, and some sharp comic moments occur as – temporarily out of his handcuffs – he frustratedly teaches Bashir to navigate all the windows and make fast bids and sales.
In a series of short scenes broken by blinding lights in our eyes as new groupings form in the cell we witness progress, setbacks, and the growing unease about Saleem’s withdrawals from the trading fund. We witness too some debates about the moralities of global trade – Nick standing up for America and the IMF, Bashir and Saleem cursing it all – and the prisoner’s homesick anxious desperation, and scratching escape attempts.
But most of all we watch something familiar from films like The Big Short and Wall Street: the utterly addictive nature of stock market gambling. Bashir gets too good at it, too committed. And the cell is falling apart. The play darkens as events conspire and this future Pakistan moves towards revolution, and Lapaine’s ever more heavily shackled misery becomes rightly uncomfortable to watch.
But Akhtar has a proper, twisted final scene, which is met with a bark of shocked laughter. And a backwash of realization that human nature being what it is, it was bound to happen that way. Big money on its own is dangerous enough: add resentful, youthful male energy and up goes the powder-keg. Smart, sour, salutary.
box office 020 7328 1000 http://www.tricycle.co.uk to 6 July