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the Headlong Theatre

Chichester Festival Theatre and Royal Court Theatre production of

Enron


Paul Chahidi as Andy Fastow in ENRON

Photo by Helen Maybanks

 

by Lucy Prebble

Director – Rupert Goold

Designer – Anthony Ward

Lighting Designer – Mark Henderson

Composer and Sound Designer – Adam Cork

Video and Projection Designer – Jon Driscoll

Choreographer – Scott Ambler

Casting Director – Joyce Nettles

Associate Director – Lisa Spirling

Assistant Director – Derek Bond

Resident Choreographer and Dance Captain – Ewan Wardrop

Noel Coward Theatre

Now booking until August 14, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Enron, set in the corporation’s Houston Texas headquarters between 1992 and the present day, is a well–oiled, high powered theatrical machine, designed to make the corporation’s legendary rise and fall a staggering, almost physical experience for its audiences. Thanks to the fact that all aspects of this production fire on all cylinders, this testosterone fuelled, trader’s world is fully realised in a way that is powerful and deeply affecting. At times, the production’s smooth pacing and seamless staging are so impressive that they almost threaten to overtake its intelligent script, though the three are, more often than not, nearly as neck in neck as Enron’s fact-based, greed driven employees are throughout the course of their onstage corporate ‘careers’. 

Started in 1985 by Kenneth Lay, Enron was more or less an above board energy company before the appointment of Jeffery Skilling as its president in 1992. Jeff ‘mark the market’ Skilling had ideas of his own, among them, that Enron could become a company that not just provided energy, in the form of natural gas and electricity, but one that could trade it, enabling the corporation to, in Skilling’s own words ‘realise future profits they’re going to make now.’ Virtual technology enabled Enron to achieve their goals, but raising profits and share prices weren’t enough to satiate Skilling and Lay’s greed and other deals ensued, included wildly speculative betting of investment funds, covered by hedging, meaning Enron would win even if investors lost, and a multitude of other vacuous transactions such as Enron’s ‘mistress’ corporation, LJM, designed by Executive Andy Fastow to hide their losses, in which financial giants like J P Morgan and Lehmann Bros. eagerly invested millions.

Enron’s double dealings, which yielded unprecedented earnings and share prices were, of course, the corporate crime of the century. As the time trajectory these events took place in encompassed the terms of three US Presidents – George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr., it’s important to place these crimes in political context. This production does that wisely and succinctly, choosing which White House snafus to feature, among them, Clinton’s half-grinning insistence ‘I did not have sex with that woman,’ in reference to his 1995 dalliances with White House aide Monica Lewinsky, the obviously, rigged election of 2000, in which the winning of the state of Florida was first allocated to Gore before being switched to Bush, then contested, after which the famed recount lead to GW’s predictable appointment, (NB. a postage stamp sized announcement in US newspapers in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 declaring Gore the president was swept away with the ashes of the Twin Towers); there are also audio illustrations of this point, such as Lay’s reference to ‘golf with Clinton,’ Lay’s comments on a proposed ‘deregulation’ of electricity, which actually became a black out, black mail enducing reality in the state of California, and his observations that if Enron was to make it, it would need to have someone ‘friendly to them’ in the White House.  However, it would seem as though corporate society has learned nothing from Enron’s treachery, bankruptcy and subsequent jailing of top executives, as the company’s shady practices and double-talking terminology have bled into the lifelines of corporations the world over, making it difficult, if not impossible to predict what may occur next by way of unprecedented illustrations of greed and corporate manoeuvring. However, as the groundwork for all of Enron’s amazingly twisted dealings was laid in the 1990’s, their virtual plundering is now, fittingly, seen as a 20th century crime casting its ever-lengthening shadow over the 21st.

As the play opens, we prophetically see three blind mice leading Enron CEO Ken Lay (Clive Francis) to a corporate party, where he speaks of their ‘transparent’ dealings while considering candidates for the pivotal role of president of his company. The lone female possibility, Claudia (Sara Stewart), entices in Nazi red and black, while skulking Jeffrey Skilling (Corey Johnson) takes centre stage, wheedling his latest ideas for ‘marking the market’. Yes man wannabe Andy Fastow (Paul Chahidi) hangs on every word of Lay and Skilling, waiting for just the right moment to exhibit his unprecedented, shadowy bookkeeping capabilities, like a hungry vulture anticipating a carcass.

This production demands attention, in more ways than one. It is visually stunning, its dialogue is bitingly realistic and fast moving and its acidic acting blurs the boundaries between what is imaginary and real. This last concept is aided and abetted by the fact that the play’s shocking storyline is true. They say ‘truth hurts’ and in enacting that concept, this production’s actors are presented with Olympian challenges in rising to the scenes they must recreate, as their details are fraught with tension, risk and the cryptic blood-lust the pursuit of the almighty buck, above all else must exhibit. As such, Clive Francis is every inch the dapper for his age, turn a blind eye to his underlings Corporate don. It is, after all, the Godfather who commands, without soiling his own hands. Lay’s choice of Jeffery Skilling as President was based solely on the fact that Skilling was willing to do anything, however untoward to make money for the corporation. Corey Johnson gets this seemingly impossible task across via the visible highs and lows of his character and by the end his Skilling is the ultimate rat leaving a sinking ship to prevent his own drowning as Enron implodes. We can almost see what kind of child Skilling must have been  – greedy and manipulative, to the point of manipulating himself into a viably ex geek, brain-box - believable for a corporation that routinely eliminated its ‘bottom 10%’ of staff members in favour of hiring smarter ones. Fitting, as Lay and Skilling saw themselves as ‘the smartest guys in the room,’ and this smarminess comes across through both characters, especially in scenes when they work in tandem, with Johnson as Skilling being the next big thing, then, wonder boy to Francis’ Lay, who sits back and watches the greediest members of his staff do the dirty work and mutually reap the spoils. Conversely, Sara Stewart as Skilling’s lone rival for Lay’s golden handshake, Claudia Roe, does a good job of making us believe at the outset that she is one of the boys, when in reality she is actually the lesser of many greater evils around her. Stewart as Roe embodies the notion that women must be everything in order to get anywhere in the business world: smart, sexy and sharper than their male counterparts, in order to survive, let alone thrive. But this triangular grouping wouldn’t work as well as it might without the oft irritating interference of Paul Chahidi’s Andy Fastow, who, you realise from the outset is a closet genius with a psychological axe to grind, as he was once the proverbial kid who was always left on the bench who as an adult, is dying to prove he’s actually gladiator material. Only thing is, in these scenarios, Fastow was a contender only in terms of his ‘shadow’ accounting techniques, as a gruelling scene in which he is forced onto a treadmill,  during a meeting with his boss, Skilling, who is trying, in turn to prove he’s as good as the next guy, however young, brash or bright he may be. Fastow’s crookedly inventive accounting techniques may have bought Skilling some time before his self realised house of cards spontaneously combusted, but in reality, they weakened the already tottering foundations of this once gargantuan corporation, whose shares had sky-rocketed into the $90. plus range, only to fall to $1.00 each on the company’s demise.
The many actors who play traders, auditors, lawyers, politicians, reporters, employees, family members and other passing characters, are all impeccable in this production, to the point that each commands attention, reinforcing whatever scenario he/she is in, no matter on how many actors are participating in any given scene. Such pointedly distinctive performances are down to Olivier award winning (2010) Director Rupert Goold, whose visionary guidance steered the performance of this production.

The company’s focus and efforts are enhanced by their marvellously orchestrated movements, enabled by the production’s ‘resident’ Choreographer and Dance Captain – Ewan Wardrop and Choreographer Scott Ambler, chanting (as fans might do at a US football game, but in this case, they’re chanting statistical figures), Lighting Design by Mark Henderson - capable of pinpointing individual players, even while they interact in fast paced groups, Composer and Sound Designer Adam Cork, whose appropriate, sometimes ominous sounds and compositions enhance, at times, in conjunction with ‘90’s pulsating techno beats, and the beautifully apt Video and Projection Designs of Jon Driscoll, all of which are timed with great precision, collectively, designed to generate the feeling of a meticulously  run corporation, whose execs featured on the covers of Fortune magazine and many others, right down to the rapid destruction of tons of Enron paperwork, effectively indicated by the projected shredding of a large corporate logo.  Designer Anthony Ward's two level set seems more like a corporate landscape, with it's Chairman's office upstairs, and seemingly, endless nooks and crannies, in which to hide debts and other secrets. When it's projected on, it almost looks like an oversized, gleaming bullet, apt for a company considering itself no. one!

Despite multiple Tony nominations, this play flopped on Broadway, in the sense that apparently, not enough interest was generated to keep it afloat via ticket sales. This may seem baffling, especially in light of the fact that picketers can be seen regularly marching on Wall Street these days - hoards of disenchanted former investors, many of them union members who’ve been robbed of pensions and the like by the usual corporate suspects. If I was a bit greener, I might blame the high price of New York theatre tickets for Enron’s Broadway disaster, or this production’s ironic takes on US patriotism, via flag waving, parading and singing of the National Anthem, in the name of celebrating capitalism. But as I have been privileged to listen to radio shows on London’s lone independent station, Resonance 104.4 fm like The Truth about Markets, hosted by former Wall Street insider Max Keiser and US based Democracy Now, with Amy Goodman, which help keep me informed of what’s really happening, especially in relation to Wall Street, (though I’m aware that I’ve only scratched the surface in terms of understanding corporate inter-weavings in society), I thankfully, but sadly, know better.

Someone once said the purpose of art is to ‘shock, inform or entertain’, and this artful production does all three, to the highest power. So invest in your tickets post haste for guaranteed mega returns.

Corey Johnson as Jeffrey Skilliing in ENRON

Photo by Helen Maybanks

 

www.enrontheplay.co.uk

Box Office 0844 482 5140

Booking via the Royal Court Theatre

www.royalcourttheatre.com
    

TICKET PRICES        Stalls £50.50, £40.50
Royal Circle £50.50, £40.50
Grand Circle £40.50, £30.50, £20.50, £12.50
Balcony £20.50, £12.50
Standing £12.50
Boxes £50.50

All ticket prices are inclusive of a £1 restoration levy

Concessions, Seniors, Students £25 on day of performance

Running time 2hrs 40 minutes

Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm, Wednesday & Saturday at 2.30pm

 

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