Review – Enron, Royal Court

Friday 16 October 2009

enron10Like Andrew on a weekend break, Enron comes with an absurd amount of baggage: it picked up suitcases full of rave reviews at The Chichester Festival Theatre and hat-boxes full of predictions that it will scoop Best Play in the awards season.

Its West End transfer was announced before the sold-out Royal Court season even opened. Everyone’s talking about it.

But sadly for the Whingers that pesky old Black Watch effect is back. How can anything possibly be as good as all those critics said it was? It just can’t. And so it proved to be with Enron, the story of the energy company that fooled everyone into thinking it was better than it was. Yes, writer Lucy Prebble has skilfully come up with a play which makes creative accountancy seem quite interesting and yes director Ruper Goold has assembled all those things he uses to try and make sitting through a play less of an ordeal: stylish set (Anthony Ward) and lighting (Mark Henderson), lots of scenes, video projections and a just a tad too much singing and dancing. There was also some baton twirling and an amusing depiction of Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it was all very accessible and enjoyable and neither Whinger fell asleep nor left in the interval. But even so…

Andrew was reminded a bit of the modern television documentary (think how dumbed down Dispatches has become) which feels the need to entertain with a bit of dramatisation to sugar the pill of factual programming. And similarly in Enron metaphors come thick and fast and either feel slightly overdone (the three blind mice at the opening) or outstay their welcome (the raptors representing the bogus companies set up to disguise Enron’s losses). Sometimes the Whingers felt they were being hit over the head a bit too much and for once we mean that metaphorically.

In one exchange between Amanda Drew playing a fictitious character Claudia Roe (would such a rich power-dressing woman have had a hole in her stockings?) and Jeffrey Skilling (Sam West), Enron’s top executive, discuss whether one of their sexual congresses was technically intercourse or not. It didn’t really need underlining with a clip of Bill Clinton’s iconic “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” speech. We got it Rupes. OK? And, incidentally, there should be some kind of warning for people in the front row if actresses are going to go round with no knickers on. And Andrew’s never going to touch a Kleenex again as long as he lives. But we digress.

The play has a fast moving, brisk playful feel and it does explain what could be dry shenanigans in ways that even financial dunces like the Whingers could understand (Phil has never really got over the Co-Op dropping its divvy). And the madness and frenzy of Goold’s shamelessly flashy production seems oddly appropriate to the absurdity of the story. In the scene in which financial whizzkid Andy Fastow (Tom Goodman-Hill) excitedly explains how he’s going to wrap up the company’s debts in a series of shadow companies Andrew had a flashback to The Producers and found himself muttering “you could make more money with a flop than with a hit”.

Despite good performances it’s obviously hard to have sympathy for any of the characters, though West’s Skilling is such an engaging, driven and committed character that you do almost feel something for him when he ends up with a lengthy prison sentence. Prebble manages to get some real conviction into his “I was only doing capitalism” speech.

Apparently Columbia Pictures have already bought the rights and the Sunday Times this week drew attention to the fact that Enron will be charging up to £74 for a seat when it transfers to the Noel Coward Theatre. How wonderfully ironic. Will audiences need to set up spurious companies to pay for their seats? Perhaps, it’s just part of some creative accounting so the production appears to be running in profit, when actually it’s covering up losses. Who would be an angel for Enron?

13 Responses to “Review – Enron, Royal Court”

  1. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Ah, there ain’t a movie exec alive who can see a vibrant and above all *theatrical* experience and not believe they can improve it by stripping out the fantasia and flattening it into two dimensions on a screen…

  2. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    I’m sure, like most films these days, they’ll have the sense to make it in 3D. Imagine the raptors leaping out of the screen, less Enron more Jurassic lark…

  3. Fraser Says:

    Ah…director Rupert Goold…the director for the new “can’t think for myself” genereation. Just saw his Turandot at ENO-and he set Puccini’s masterwork in a chinese restaurant. Grrrr.

  4. Julia Says:

    I thought that the set, visual invention, dance routines etc, were mostly amusing and just enough to carry one’s interest through to almost the end (at least15 minutes too long in my opinion) but despite all that jolliness, the relating in words of actual facts suffered from the usual dryness that seems to distinguish unvarnished fact from fiction. Without ‘effects/illustrations’ it really wouldn’t have been very witty or interesting, except
    possibly to the few people for whom the whole debacle came as a surprise.
    It seems to me that, however good a story may be, illustrated facts are hard to turn into Drama, which seems to me to demand more structure than simple truth would allow. Illustration alone is not enough.

  5. […] West End Whingers it was a trip to the almost universally adored Enron which which was on the cards and, perhaps […]

  6. lola82 Says:

    And this is becoming a movie now?!
    I wonder whether it will better or worsen the surrounding finacial situation 😉

  7. RD Field Says:

    I thought it was going to be funny, witty and clever. It was none of those things. Take away the mildy entertaining choreography and stage gimmicks and you are left with a script that is unsurprising and tedious and characters with whom you cannot identify or feel any emotion for. What on earth is all the fuss about? About as interesting as reading the Financial Times.

  8. Z. Says:

    I liked the play well enough but I agree with you about feeling hit over the head a bit too much. Goold is the King of Unsubtle and I’m glad to see some people share my doubts about his ability.

  9. ms.marple investigates Says:

    Agree with Whingers and RD Field – just about worth the £10 ticket but only just(for Samuel West’s performance alone). This is in the running for the Evening Standard Best Play? Although as two of the others are the execrable August: Osage County and the tedious Punk Rock perhaps it’s not so surprising.

  10. Gone up west Says:

    I was afraid there was no way this could live up to the reviews but was still really disappointed.
    I think the story is a fascinating one, and knew something about it beforehand, so I had to check in with some other friends. But we all agreed: long periods of exposition between two main characters, at the end of which one generally says “good idea”, don’t really make a drama.
    I liked a lot of the staging, except the hackneyed light sabres (just because one of the deals was called death star?). But I was really annoyed at the end: I would have thought the author could have got plenty of drama out of a company that managed not just to sack but to bankrupt a good proportion of its 20,000 staff and I was looking forward to some conflict at last. Instead she roped in 9/11 which had very little to do with the company’s ending – cheap.
    I think excellent work by the actors and the flashing lights have masked the weakness of the play.

  11. alex Says:

    Totally agree with RD Field,
    saw the show this weekend gone and it felt flat, uninspired and dramatically the work of a sixth-former. There is a great story to tell here but it would take a Mamet on stage or DeLillo in print to get it across with the horrendous over sign-posting in the stage show. The sub-PetShopBoys dancing and musical elements (let’s make lots of money, anyone?) hardly made this a hybrid form either. In reality it’s a very very slow Newsnight piece with a city boy’s budget. People just bellow insights past each other and the characters of Skilling and Lay seem little more than ciphers for none-too-witty lines from the writer. Best part of it is Tim Piggott Smith whose performance manages to transcend the slightness of the material.
    A deeper irony seems to be that the show is trading on the very brand values based appeal that caused people to flock to Enron stock – ie surface rather than appearance. However, applause was perfunctory the night I went, so how long its run will last I don’t know.

  12. A G Brace Says:

    “uninspired and dramatically the work of a sixth-former”

    Jesus, you must know some extraordinarily precocious sixth formers.

  13. […] stuff, yes? Well no, apparently not. Prebble’s risky theatricalisation takes her Enron route of jokey, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink rag bag of playful ideas, shakes it all up and hopes some […]

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