Saturday, 20 October 2012

Theatre review: You Can Still Make a Killing

Theatre responded so quickly to the global financial crisis that it already feels like a well-trodden topic. Playwright Nicholas Pierpan has already visited the subject in The Maddening Rain, but his new play could not have been written a few years ago, as it has a more epic scope that starts with the fall of Lehman Brothers and spends the next few years with a pair of investment bankers, reacting to some of the major financial events of the recent past. You Can Still Make a Killing does have strands in common with the earlier monologue as we see these people's personalities varying wildly depending on how much of a hold the City has on them at any given time. But here we start with Edward (Tim Delap) and Jack (Ben Lee) at the top of their game, and consequently as the most dickish City-boy stereotype, arrogantly throwing money around. With the start of the economic downturn Jack lands on his feet in a job with Sir Roger Glynn (Robert Gwilym) but Edward struggles to keep wife Fen (Kellie Bright) and their children in the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed.

You Can Still Make a Killing isn't a short play but Matthew Dunster's production for the most part keeps it ticking along nicely through the numerous ups and downs of the characters. Edward is so unable to see himself doing anything other than banking that he spends months in Starbucks in the hope that he might network with someone there who can point him in the direction of a good deal. When he finally goes from poacher to gamekeeper as a Financial Regulator, trying to catch out his former colleagues making the kind of shady deal he might have made himself once, he finally finds a kind of job satisfaction he didn't realise he was missing. Edward and his family's increased happiness as their material wealth diminishes (Delap even seems to get more handsome as his character gets nicer; or maybe it's just the rugby shorts) has the feel of twee moralising but Pierpan has a twist in reserve to subvert this.

Delap and Lee do a good job of putting across this complicated relationship that does have some seeds of what a normal person might call a friendship, but which, in Jack's case especially, doesn't extend to helping out when he's doing much better than his friend. Bright and Marianne Oldham as the wives get to be the mirror to their husbands' financial ups and downs, comfortable in enjoying the spoils but sometimes struggling to find their own identity outside of them.There's quite a large supporting cast who help fill this antagonistic world. Now better known as a playwright, Alecky Blythe makes a return to acting as Sir Roger's ice-cool PA, and nemesis to Jack, Emma. Elexi Walker, who was the Shrew in this theatre a year ago, has a smallish but memorable turn as an American trader who appears likeable but reveals an ability to come up with ever more ruthless (but technically legal) deals. And Globe regular William Mannering is one of Edward's FRA colleagues who lacks the killer instinct to make it on the other side of the game.

In the opening scene we find out how Edward has built a superstition around how he buys his shirts, and shirts end up becoming a recurring theme of the play that somehow reflects the characters' situations. Punctuated by a Bob Dylan soundtrack, You Can Still Make a Killing is a detailed but worthwhile addition to a crowded market.

You Can Still Make a Killing by Nicholas Pierpan is booking until the 3rd of November at Southwark Playhouse.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval.

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