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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs


  Tim Pigott-Smith/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

The last projected image you see in Lucy Prebble's timely new play Enron is a large graph showing characteristic peaks and valleys. "All our creations are here," says the failed company's CEO. "There's greed, there's fear, joy, faith, hope... and the greatest of these is money." 

"Money" is the last word in the play, and it's also the first item on Prebble's agenda. Money is what her play is all about—the love of it and the lengths to which the financial world's movers and shakers will go to acquire it. It's hardly a shattering observation and it says nothing about greed that hasn't been said in countless novels, films and plays before. But apart from its timeliness, what makes Enron so exciting is director Rupert Goold's and designer Anthony Ward's bracingly theatrical approach to the material. 

In telling the now familiar story—how, in 15 years, Enron, the Texas-based energy company, grew from nothing to America's seventh largest company, employing 21,000 people in 40 countries, and how, through creative accounting, debt concealment and fraudulent dealings, they became the architects of the corporate world's biggest scandal to date—the show's creative team has made a theatrical killing. 
Initially I was worried that their powerhouse production was in danger of overwhelming Prebble's text through overkill. The first half, in which you gradually get to know the main players, blurs some of the narrative issues through an excess of stage business and visual affects. At times it almost appears that Goold lost confidence in the text and was impelled to gussy up the exposition in case the audience grew bored with its boardroom politics. 
But as the performances sharpen and the almost Greek tragedy-like inevitability begins to unfurl, the staging melds seamlessly with the text to create a rare kind of stage magic. Mark Henderson's lighting, dominated by a series of mobile neon tubes that change color to reflect mood, and a backdrop of video images against a moving electric strip of fluctuating share prices, make sure that the occasional dead spots in the text pass more or less unnoticed. Particularly effective is a great set piece in which Star Wars-type laser rods are inventively used to create a series of stunning images. 
The three executives featured most prominently in Enron's collapse in 2001 were Ken Lay, Enron's chairman (Tim Piggott-Smith), Jeffrey Skilling, the company's charismatic chief executive (Samuel West), and Andrew Fastow, its chief financial officer (Tom Goodman-Hill) who was (in this version of the story at least) single-handedly responsible for devising the scandal that ultimately ruined the company as well as the lives of most of its employees.
On the distaff side, the play features a woman called Claudia Roe (Amanda Drew), "the 14th most powerful woman in the world," who was also Skilling's occasional sexual bit on the side and an unsuccessful contender for his job. 
All deliver strong, convincing performances, as does the rest of the cast. The single most riveting scene happens when the ambitious Fastow convinces a worried Skilling that Enron can be saved by the illegal creation of a "shadow company" to support its falling stock.
Not surprisingly, Enron's run at the Royal Court is completely sold out. The good news is that it is transferring to the Noel Coward Theatre on January 16 next year. Book now. 


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