Like 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?