Sir David Hare is the lead character in his new play about the cause of the banking fiasco. The Power of Yes is subtitled, "A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis." The author is played by Anthony Calf (amusingly he looks flatteringly younger than Hare who is 62), and for two hours he goes round stage in a dubious suede jacket, interviewing bankers, journalists and economists about the great 2008 meltdown.
The good news is that it's a learning curve for those of us with a slender grasp of economics. It tells us what the Financial Services Authority (the principal financial regulatory body in the U.K.) does, who the Nobel prize-winning Myron Scholes was, and how his algebraic formula for avoiding risk was meant to beat the Wall Street casino.
We meet hedge fund guys, lawyers, an MP, a Financial Times journalist (the fragrant Claire Price) and investors. He even interviews the understated George Soros (a sage gnome memorably played by Bruce Myers) for whom losing a billion bucks was "annoying."
The smirking mug of Fred Goodwin (about as loathed in the U.K. as Bernie Madoff is in the States), who drove a bank off a cliff and (quite legally) parachuted safely down with a colossal annual pension, looms large but only in digital form. Creeps and fat cats there are a-plenty, but no real Napoleonic mastermind, and no smoking gun. It's the banking culture, the very system itself, who dunnit.
As an event it's a bit like watching a Panorama or Newsnight TV report. The evening hammers home the shocking lack of contrition of these people, their utter indifference to the damage done to the ordinary householders. The title of the piece (a phrase never explained or used) should have been renamed "Scot Free."
Hare is onstage all the time, his pen hovering over his notebook. The writer is a superb journalist but you do wonder why he—or the director Angus Jackson—didn't rev this up a little more as a theatre event. It's so emotionally flat there's no place to put an interval, so they don't have one.
Most baffling is where the millionaire writer—who tells us he puts his money in an account at the good old Post Office—stands in all this morally? "Playwrights don't fuck up people's lives," he declares. Maybe not, you think, just their evenings.
But is he so removed from it all? At the back of the theatre programme are gratefully listed the legions of rich individuals and corporate "supporters" (the same unattractive crowd you see on stage) who are helping to pay for the show. The National Theatre's toadying to the corporate culture is not something we are not invited to notice in this probing act of reportage.
Nowhere near as good a night out as the new hit play Enron, this more in-sorrow than in-anger piece is highly intelligent and worth seeing, but the plodding format lacks the one ingredient that drives the money markets: adrenaline.