ENRON is now sold out for all performances during its run at the Royal Court Theatre. The waiting list for returned tickets opens one hour before each performance ...… Read more
The Royal Court Theatre, Headlong Theatre and Chichester Festival Theatre present
By Lucy Prebble
17 September - 7 November 2009
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
Tickets: £25, £18, £12. Mondays all seats £10.
“The only difference between me and the people judging me is they weren’t smart enough to do what we did.”
One of the most infamous scandals in financial history becomes a theatrical epic. Mixing classical tragedy with savage comedy, it reviews the tumultuous 1990s and casts new light on the financial situation we find ourselves in today.
Inspired by real-life and using music, movement and video, ENRON will be directed by Headlong Theatre’s Artistic Director Rupert Goold in his Royal Court directorial debut. His recent credits include the award-winning Macbeth and Six Characters in Search of an Author, King Lear, No Man’s Land and Oliver!
Lucy Prebble won the George Devine Award and the Critics Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright for her debut play The Sugar Syndrome at the Royal Court in 2004.
Running time 2 hrs 45 mins
Select a Date
Dates in September
|Thu 17 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Fri 18 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Press Night||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Sat 19 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Mon 21 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Tue 22 Sep 2009||7:00pm||Press Night||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Wed 23 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Thu 24 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Fri 25 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Sat 26 Sep 2009||3:30pm||Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Sat 26 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Mon 28 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Tue 29 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Wed 30 Sep 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
Sold out Performances
The run at the Royal Court is now sold out.
Contact the box office for information on waiting for returns at the Royal Court – Tickets booked from secondary agents (e.g. Gumtree, eBay, Seatwave, Getmein and Viagogo) and ticket touts will be refused entry. Please do not support the reselling of secondhand theatre tickets for profit.
5 stars The Guardian, Wed 23 Sept 2009, Michael Billington
After the high praise earned in Chichester, there was always the lurking fear the Enron bubble might burst on transfer. But, although it had more room to manoeuvre at the Minerva, Lucy Prebble’s play and Rupert Goold’s production are so strong that they survive the move. What they vividly offer is not a lecture on corporate madness but an ultra-theatrical demonstration of it at work.
The play shows how the Texan energy giant, Enron, moved from a model of the future to a bankrupt disaster with debts of 38 billion dollars. Prime mover is Jeffrey Skilling: a Marlovian over-reacher who boldly announces “we’re not just an energy company, we’re a powerhouse for ideas”. His basic idea is to trade in energy as well as supply it. But, as his dreams expand to include video, internet and even the weather, the gap between stockmarket perception and reality grows ever greater. As profits fail to materialise, Skilling turns to his sidekick, Andy Fastow, to create shadow companies to conceal mounting debts. Once the market loses confidence, however, Skilling’s schemes are revealed for what they are: a fraudulent fantasy.
It could all be dry as dust. But the pulse and vigour of play and production stem from their ability to make complex financial ideas manifest. Everything is made visually apprehensible. Thus the complicity of market analysts in Enron’s over-evaluation is captured by turning them into a close-harmony troupe. The Lehman Brothers become Siamese twins locked into a single suit. Best of all is the scene where Fastow explains his system for funnelling Enron’s debts into shadow companies. Even financial innocents can follow this as Fastow shows boxes encasing ever smaller boxes lit by a flickering red light symbolising the basic investment. This is capitalism exposed as con-trick and illusion.
Goold’s immaculate staging, Anthony Ward’s design and Scott Ambler’s movement illustrate the whirling kaleidoscopic energy that is part of the dream. But Prebble also creates plausible people, and Samuel West is hugely impressive as the self-deluded Skilling. It is difficult to feel sympathy for such a man, whose deregulation policies did so much damage, but West reminds us of the global complicity in money worship. Amanda Drew as his rival, Tim Pigott-Smith as Enron’s avuncular founder, and Tom Goodman-Hill as the greed-driven Fastow, haunted by the scaly raptors which symbolise the shadow-companies, are also first-rate.
But the triumph of the evening is that it renders Enron’s rise and fall in exciting theatrical terms, and leaves us with the feeling that, as the bonus culture thrives while others lose their jobs, the lessons of this vast collapse have still to be learned.4 stars Evening Standard, Wed 23 Sept 2009, Henry Hitchings
I’m not a bad man. I’m not an unusual man. I just wanted to change the world.
Who is this – Stalin, Isaac Newton, Kenny Everett? Why no, in Lucy Prebble’s dashing play it is Jeffrey Skilling, the messianic former CEO of Enron, the Texan energy company which under his stewardship mutated from an ordinary supplier of oil and gas into “a powerhouse of ideas” – for which read “constellation of dodgy business practices”.
Had it not come so soon after the events of 11 September 2001, the collapse of “American’s most innovative company” might well have been a bigger scandal. Prebble’s play, which premiered at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester in July, reclaims its rise and fall as a telling harbinger of the more recent global boom and bust.
A political satire, Enron is also an opulent visual spectacle. Here is the blustering energy of capitalism, the illusion of being a delirious romp; and here too its narcissism and testosterone-fuelled nastiness.
At the centre is Skilling. When we first see him he is a hopeless nerd, yet he transforms himself into a swaggering bermensch. It’s a role in which Sam West positively revels; he is perfect as this suave, grandiloquent and crass overreacher.
Prebble suggests that the trouble with economic evangelists of his stripe is that their message is so appealingly fantastic. We are sucked in by their stories, and we keep being sucked in, rather than learning to be sceptical.
The supporting characters are just as expertly drawn and played. Tim Pigott-Smith’s Kenneth Lay is totally convincing, while Tom Goodman-Hill proves toe-curlingly credible as the nerdy maths whizz Andy Fastow.
Furthermore, the production at the Royal Court is sumptuous. Rupert Goold’s direction is minutely choreographed yet also has a compelling breadth of vision.
Anthony Ward’s designs are densely imagined and skilfully lit, and together with Adam Cork’s layered soundscape and Jon Driscolls video effects create an eloquent tapestry of unsettling information.
But does Prebble shed much light on capitalism? The Enron Corporation is used as a convenient synecdoche for the whole contentious notion of free markets, although really it was a special case. Might it not have been more interesting to expose the flawed praxis of law-abiding capitalists than to focus on capitalism’s most goonish criminals?
Nevertheless, if as a critique of corporate malfeasance Enron is limited, as theatre it delights. It will be transferring to the West End in January, and there is also to be a film version from Columbia Pictures. But if you can catch this lovingly conceived production in the intimate space of the Royal Court, do so.4 stars The Times, Thur 24 Sept 2009, Benedict Nightingale
There are plenty of purposeful back projections in Rupert Goold’s production of Lucy Prebble’s play about America’s greatest corporate scandal, among them Clinton denying he knew Lewinsky, Greenspan warning against irrational exuberance in the markets and the collapse of the twin towers. But what matters is the electronic ticker tape that endlessly circles, showing the rise of the energy giant Enrons stock from (£18) or so to -plus, and its plunge in 2001 as earnings and assets are revealed to be largely fairy gold.
These figures are observed with glee, triumph, apprehension, then horror by Jeff Skilling, the CEO who is now serving 24 years for deceptions that included creating phoney companies, or “raptors”, in which bad debts were hidden. And it’s Samuel West’s superb playing of this role that gives the play a near-tragic feel. You shouldn’t sympathise with a man who ruined thousands, but hes the victim of his obsession, which is to please his boss, Tim Pigott-Smith’s folksy yet ruthless Ken Lay, by keeping the stock price high. Imagine a plump school swot losing his nerdishness along with his specs as he grows in sleekness and hubris, only to end up an embattled, sobbing wreck; and you have imagined the human graph that West charts. I’m not sure I fully understand mark-to-market, the system of presenting future as present earnings when a deal is signed, but Prebble proves as skilled as the Caryl Churchill of Serious Money at communicating complex economic events. Indeed, Enron does for our era what Churchill’s play did for the 1980s, catching the lure, turbulence and brash excitement of high-voltage trade, but leaving you eager to see more traps for fat cats. After all, Madoff, too, created an illusion of riches and he, too, was once the darling of the money-mad. And the paying of unjustifiable bonuses was an issue with Enron, as it is now.
So Prebble’s play is as timely as Goold’s production is lively. Too lively? He gives a naturalistic play an expressionistic turn, introducing suited men morphed into three blind mice, raptors with dinosaur heads, Jedi knights with neon swords or, in the case of Lehman Brothers, Siamese twins in the same vast jacket. Theres even a barbershop quartet of market analysts. At times I wondered if such sexing up meant that Goold didnt fully trust the play or his actors, who also include Amanda Drew as a sharp, bright executive who believes projects should actually have substance. If so, he was surely wrong. Enron the drama has the energy that Enron the company finally lacked. It grips – and warns.
The Telegraph, Tue 22 Sept 2009, James Hall
I went to see the new play about Enron last night at the Royal Court Theatre. It was phenomenal. It charts the Texan energy company’s rise and 2001 collapse (at the time the world’s biggest corporate failure) in a gripping, shocking and strangely moving way.
On paper, a play about accounting fraud at a US corporation doesn’t sound like a crowd-pleaser. But it is funny and inventive. The show itself incorporates physical theatre, singing, dancing and puppetry, all choreographed by a Rambert-trained ballet dancer.
Playwright Lucy Prebble relishes the subject matter. Her script takes no prisoners (apart from the Enron execs, that is) – she sticks it to US equity analysts, energy traders, TV anchors and Arthur Andersen, the accountancy firm felled by Enron’s collapse. They are all made to look like feckless fools. Lehman Brothers is brilliantly ridiculed by a caustic piece of slapstick. In a world crippled by a recession caused by greed, hubris and lack of regulation, the play is the perfect allegory for our times. The West End and Broadway surely beckon.
But the show’s real strength lies in the moral questions it poses. Where do the boundaries of acceptability lie in a companys quest for profits? How free should a free market be? How do you ascribe value to something non-tangible? Can a profitable company exist without inherently taking advantage of a situation? And how can progess be made if frontiers are not pushed?
There is a jaw-dropping monologue towards the end of the play by Sam West, who plays Enron’s scheming, driven and broody CEO Jeffrey Skilling. Despite all his failings, he still believes in the market.
Pointing at the peaks and troughs on a large historical chart of the US stock market, Skilling turns to the audience and says: “Thats our mirror. Every dip, every crash, every bubble thats burst, a testament to our brilliant stupidity. This one gave us the railroads. This one the internet. This one the slave trade. And if we hope to do anything about saving the environment or getting to other worlds, well need a bubble for that too. Everything Ive every done in my life worth anything has been done in a bubble; in a state of extreme hope and trust and stupidity.”
It is a powerful, timely and thought-provoking piece of theatre.5 stars Financial TImes, Thur 24 Sept 2009, Sarah Hemming
Michael Frayn did it with quantum mechanics, Simon McBurney did it with maths, now Lucy Prebble has done it with accounting. She and her director Rupert Goold have achieved the remarkable feat of making fiendish corporate fraud not just comprehensible to the layman but also dramatically exhilarating. Enron charts the rise and fall of the disgraced Texan energy company with brilliant theatrical flair.
But what really distinguishes the play is that it doesn’t just point the finger of criticism at business and bankers which you might expect. It digs deeper than that. It transmits the thrill of innovation, of being on a roll, and conveys the allure and danger of greed. It draws us all into the bubble it creates. This is a specific story about a corrupt company, but also a parable for a credit-hungry era. And it probes into that Faustian drive that makes men overreach themselves.
Readers of this paper may be better equipped than most to understand how Jeffrey Skilling transformed an energy corporation into on of the most innovative companies in the US and then embroiled it in fraud. Indeed, they may take issue with the details. But Prebble neatly gets around this by having a lawyer introduce the story. “Were going to put it together and sell it to you as the truth”, he says, drily. This is apt enough, given that the story is one of selling credibility. And the play asks not just what happened, but also why.
Skilling, then, in Samuel West’s superb performance, is not simply a villain. He is positively creepy when we first meet him: a pasty-faced nerd who harangues his colleagues for not understanding his ingenious mark-to-market idea. And there is a chilly ruthlessness about him as he manoeuvres to become president of the company. But West also conveys the loneliness and seething impatience of a man who is much cleverer than those around him, and who has an almost visionary grasp of the potential of the market. As the company share price rockets, West’s Skilling evolves into a slimmer, sleeker individual: madly charismatic and high, like Richard III, on his own brilliance.
But he also smells the danger before anyone else. There is a fine scene in which Skilling and his financial wizard Andy Fastow work out how to cook the books. In a boiler room deep beneath the towering glass offices, Fastow (an excellent performance from Tom Goodman-Hill) explains his outrageous plan for shadow companies into which Enrons debts can be shovelled, by using boxes within boxes.
The physical rendering of a financial scheme is typical of this Headlong production, which matches creative accounting with audacious stagecraft. Goold’s staging crackles with energy, but it also becomes increasingly surreal. Traders conduct hectic dance routines; the company accountant is a ventriloquist; the Lehman brothers scurry about the stage in one huge overcoat. Meanwhile, down in the boiler room, hungry raptors devour dollar bills, representing Fastow’s shadow companies.
Its not perfect: at times the deliberately exaggerated delivery becomes too shrill. And Anthony Wards stylish, 1990s, neon-lit set looks more cramped on the Court stage than it did at Chichester Festival Theatre, where the play premiered. But this is a scintillating production that matches style to content and contains some great performances Tim Pigott-Smith’s all-too-avuncular Ken Lay, for one. And it ends, as it begins: quizzically.
Skilling, jailed but not repentant, delivers a persuasive soliloquy about the human urge to take risks. When does invention become fantasy, desire become greed and illusion become delusion? How do we handle the world we have made? Such questions didnt disappear with Enron, as this scalpel-sharp play reminds us.4 stars Whatsonstage, Wed 23 Sept 2009, Michael Coveney
The exciting thing about Lucy Prebbles’ Enron is its revelation that there is no business like big business, and a second viewing confirms the gutsiness and vitality of her second major play, the best look at mayhem in the markets since Caryl Churchills Serious Money over twenty years ago.
Although recent television documentaries on the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in New York have throbbed with a quiet, chilling sense of meltdown and devastation, Rupert Goold’s endlessly inventive production moves the astonishing, hubristic creation of a shadow capitalism built on the “real” capitalism into the realms of dance and metaphor.
And at its centre is the tragic figure of the Enron president, Jeffrey Skilling, whom Samuel West brilliantly presents as a geeky, rather childish champion of the mark-to-market philosophy turning first into a predatory shark of the trading floor and then an anguished victim of his own obsessive empire-building, haunted by an accusatory refrain from his little daughter.
With its endless red ticker tape showing the share prices, the gleaming, mirage-like photographic imagery of the skyscrapers melding into the symbolic terrorist targets of eight years ago, shortly after the Enron collapse, and the neon strip lighting that becomes hand-held weaponry, Anthony Ward’s design does look a little cramped on the Court stage.
In the open airiness of the Minerva in Chichester there was a greater sense of a constellation of capitalism, and the use of boxes as rostra for the traders was more effective in a floor-level arena. But visual expression is so endemic to this shows meaning, its hard to see how Goold and his team could have turned the handicap of the Court’s compactness to advantage. Maybe they will sort this out when, after this sold-out run, Enron transfers to the Noel Coward in the New Year. The performances of Tim Pigott-Smith as the Enron owner Ken Lay and Amanda Drew as Skillings office lover and chief rival Claudia Roe (a fictional character) are as strong as ever.
The show is epic, noisy, colourful and cartoonish – flying directly in the face of the predominantly puritanical Royal Court aesthetic – but it’s so heatedly on the button of what happened in all of our lives, you won’t want to miss it. And watch out for Tom Goodman-Hill’s fresh-faced financial controller, Andy Fastow, a wonderful study in cunning survival and the satanic strategy skills that did for Skilling and his castle in the night sky.5 stars Sunday Telegraph, Sun 27 Sept 2009, Tim Walker
An ageing, distracted ruler weights up which of his two heirs should take over his kingdom and chooses the wrong one with disastrous results. It is not actually King Lear I am talking about, but Lucy Prebble’s Enron, which shows that even when a story is taken from real life there is nothing new under the sun.
Tim Pigott-Smith invests Ken Lay, the chief executive officer of the doomed American conglomerate, weith all the majesty and arrogance of Shakespeare’s king, only this time in a sharp Brooks Brothers suit and country club blazer. As for Goneril and Regan, there are certainly elements of both in Samuel West’s conniving Jeffery Skilling. Amanda Drew hardly has Cordelias’ virtue as his boardroom rival Claudia Roe, but Lay might well have saved his company if he had chosen her over Skilling, after she fails to offer him the world when she pitches for the job.
Played out in real life in a language of recondite financial terms, with only slide rules and balance sheets as props, Enron was the ultimate drama for accountants, but bored everyone else senseless. With a rare alchemy, Prebble – praised in this column for her debut play The Sugar Syndrome – has managed to turn it into a tragedy on a grand scale with universal themes: greed, vanity and the futility of human endeavour.
There are jaunty dance routines in Rupert Goold’s slickly directed production and a surprising number of laughs. While it isn’t done any more to say this in the financial pages, I say it here with conviction: Enron is a strong buy.5 stars Sunday Express, Sun 27 Sept 2009, Mark Shenton
The theatre not only helps me make sense of my life, it often helps to make sense of our world. For anyone trying to understand how corporate greed and serial dishonesty has led us into the current global financial meltdown, Lucy Prebble’s powerful, pertinent new play Enron shines a startling light on the sudden collapse of the US energy and communications giant Enron in late 2001 that prefigured it all. It makes for an electrifying night in every sense.
The play, part journalism, part vividly-imagined reconstruction of the backroom and the boardroom activities that led there, reveals how the company’s inflated share prices were built on a pyramid of accounting frauds.
It goes behind the dry statistics to investigate the psyches of those who perpetrated and masterminded it, in particular the company’s president Jeffery Skilling (now deservedly serving a 24-year sentence in a Colorado prison) and its chief financial officer Andy Fastow. The play also portrays the human cost to some of the victims these men left in their wake.
Chameleon-like Samuel West, who morphs in body and attitude before our very eyes, plays Skilling with a queasy brilliance but Rupert Goold’s constantly inventive production has a hurtling momentum that holds you throughout.
The bad news is that you can’t get a ticket for its current run at the Royal Court but the good news is that it will transfer to the West End’s Coward Theatre in January. Book now.5 stars Timeout, Tue 29 Sept 2009, Caroline McGinn
So what price Enron? Canny folks whove snagged tickets to the Royal Court’s sold-out run of Rupert Goold’s latest smash could tout them for upwards of £100. Isnt that what Enron’s mouthy bunch of macho whiz-kids traders would do? Judging by their gang rape of California’s deregulated electricity market (brilliantly imagined here as a pumped-up battle with lightsabres), they’d have bought up all the tickets at subsidised rates then flogged them back to the desperate theatre-goers for quadruple the price. No wonder the Sunshine State turned to Arnie for protection.
The question of what Enron the company was really worth is at the centre of Lucy Prebble’s dramatic reconstruction of the biggest corporate bankruptcy in FTSE history. Under its Bush-buddy chairman Kenneth Lay and his smart guy chief exec. Jeffery Skilling, Enron’s share-price sky-rocketed. But Skilling’s favoured mark-to-mark accounting system, which allowed the company to ascribe instant notional value to ideas which might pay off in future, turned into a Faustian instrument when it tempted him to disguise billion-dollar losses as profits.
Prebble’s play gives us a sympathetic intro to Skilling as a visionary accounting nerd surrounded by corporate whores. And actor Samuel West superbly charts his journey from tombstone-faced boffin (with interpersonal skills as skewed as his combover) to suave and criminally optimistic master of the universe. But this is no dry leftist drama. Prebble and Goold’s dazzling greed-powered fantasia hits the same jackpot as ‘Black Watch’: a script with documented reality behind it is staged as an all-singing, all-dancing piece of theatrical expressionism. In this surreal spectacle, complex financial instruments and corporate entities are portrayed with satirical clarity. Lehman Brothers is a pair of Siamese twins who share one trench-coat. Enron’s board is three blind mice. And Enron’s increasingly deranged chief of finance, Andy Fastow, (the excellent Tom Goodman-Hill) is circled by raptors who represent the shadow companies he has created to eat Enron’s debts.
The Damoclesian triumph of Enron is to make you feel how trilling it must have been to make such a killing. Director Goold, whose unrivalled flair sometimes has a hallow and hyperactive edge, has found a brilliant match in slick dot-com bubble capitalism: share prices and graphs ripple over the faces of the actors and the backdrop of Anthony Ward’s design, a mirrored tower which mimics Enron’s Houston skyscraper. Yes, we should make it clear in the small print that this is neither a go-to guide to the credit crisis nor a colossal era-defining dramatic riposte to capitalism. But it’s too smart and brilliantly textured by its top-notch cast to be merely ‘Enron: The Musical’. And, in advance of the West End transfer, its the gold-standard show that everyone wants to buy into – ironic, as thats exactly what they used to say about Enron
REVIEWS FROM THE CHICHESTER PRODUCTION5 stars The Times, Thu 23 July 2009, Dominic Maxwell
Its an incredible achievement to come up with a play with not a dull moment in it. But when that play is a three-hour black comedy about the ins and outs of corporate finance, it’s time for a street party.
OK, Lucy Prebble, the writer of Enron, has chosen to depict the mother of all corporate fiascos. The energy company owed billion when it filed for bankruptcy in December 2001. Having talked it’s way to the top of the market with outlandish ingenuity, it went down with all hands when it could no longer keep the deception going.
Prebble and the director, Rupert Goold, not only address and explain previously bamboozling financial terms, in constantly stimulating, ingenious ways, they also keep an adroit balance between the epic and the intimate. This is political theatre that never, ever feels impersonal.
Blending song and dance with pithy and inventive scenes using every trick in the theatrical book, Enron doesn’t overdose on hindsight. Instead, it recaptures the euphoria of Nineties success, as Samuel West’s nerdy CEO Jeff Skilling reinvents the company thanks to his accounting innovations. He edges out Amanda Drew’s Claudia, his glamorous ex-lover and corporate rival, who has backward ideas that a company should actually make things rather than just repackage them. And, harnessing the dark financial arts of Tom Goodman-Hill’s Andy Fastow – all characters are real, not all events are – he sets up his own trading floor.
Prebble doesnt make a lot of overt links between Enron and the rest of the economy. She doesnt need to. The ensemble mime quad-bike races on office chairs, perform a Philip Glass-style musical number listing commodities while line-dancing to Dolly Parton. The accountants Arthur Andersen, who never recovered from their association with Enron, are depicted as a man with a ventriloquists dummy. The Lehman Brothers are conjoined twins. But it never feels cheap or gimmicky. Such ideas guide us through a world where appearances have become reality. “I’m not a bad man”, a crushed yet unrepentant Skilling says at the end. And although Prebble shows us the Enron employees who lose their life savings by following his plea to invest in the company, nobody’s demonised here.
The acting is superb. West makes Skilling sympathetic without ever making him likeable. He’s not just trying to get rich; he’s trying to stay out of Hell. Tim Pigott-Smith gives strong support as chairman Ken Lay. The entire cast of 16 is superb in a production that shows Goold’s bold showmanship at its very finest, allied to a sense of empathy that makes this an emotional experience too.
Nimble, funny, clear-eyed, inventive, informative, exhilarating and then sobering, relentlessly entertaining, surprisingly affecting, this is not to be missed. The political theatre of the 21st century has arrived, in some style.5 stars The Telegraph, Fri 24 July 2009, Charles Spencer
Money, Philip Larkin concluded in one of his most haunting poems “is intensely sad”. In Lucy Prebble’s fantastic firecracker of a new play, brilliantly directed by Rupert Goold, money also proves exciting, sexy, merciless and ultimately tragic.
Prebble tells the story of the Enron, the energy corporation that was named America’s most innovative company six years in succession by Fortune magazine, but which went spectacularly belly-up in 2001, sending waves of shock through the financial world. But Enron’s collapse, originally viewed as a grotesque one-off, now seems a harbinger of the more recent turmoil in our financial institutions, the full devastating impact of which is likely to blight many millions of lives for years and even decades to come.
The play, in short, could hardly be more timely, one of those rare works that crystallises the mood of its age. What needs stressing equally strongly is that it is also hugely entertaining – and accessible even to dunderheads like me who wouldnt know a financial instrument from an instrument of torture, though they currently seem to be much the same thing as so many of us ponder lost investments and precarious futures.
Prebble, whose father was the chairman of a multinational software company, understands how business works, and makes it accessible to those who don’t. She also knows how to construct a play, moving from savage black comedy to something approaching, classical tragedy as Jeffrey Skilling, the companys ruthless and brilliant CEO who was sentenced to 24 years in jail on fraud and conspiracy charges, reaps what his own hubris has sown.
Goold is in dazzling form as director, superbly capturing the greed and madness that seized Enron as debts were hidden in shadow companies, and the share price went through the roof. Down in the murky world of the finance department, actors dressed as voracious raptors are fed with dollar bills. Elsewhere, there are song and dance routines of great panache, and three performers dressed as the three blind mice come on like the chorus of a Greek tragedy, tapping their way across the stage with white sticks. The lack of naturalism in the production reflects the unreality of Enron itself, part hall of mirrors, part precarious house of cards vulnerable to the faintest nudge of healthy scepticism.
The whole show is driven by Samuel West, giving the performance of his career as Skilling. As the CEO’s power grows and his strategies become ever more outrageous, Wests very appearance seems to change, from geeky overweight nerd to a lean, mean master of the universe for whom, like Richard III, no action is too outrageous. Charismatic, scary, and finally cracking up spectacularly, this is high-definition acting of a very high order indeed.
But this is far from a one man show. Amanda Drew is wonderfully alluring, icy and embittered as the power-dressing Enron executive whom Skilling shafts both sexually and professionally. Tim Pigott-Smith is terrific as Ken Lay, Enron’s founder and chairman who uses a folksy aw-shucks Southern charm to disguise his own ruthlessness and greed, while Tom Goodman-Hill impresses as the nervy financial whiz-kid who hides the companys vast debts.
Enron transfers to the Royal Court in September and already looks like the play, and the production, that all the others will have to beat at this year’s theatre awards.5 stars Evening Standard, Thu 23 July 2009, Fiona Mountford
Two years ago Rupert Goold, the finest director of his generation, hit the big time with an exhilarating Chichester production of Macbeth. He returns to the south coast with the highbrow hit of the year, the collapse of US energy giant Enron brilliantly reconfigured by Lucy Prebble as classical tragedy.
Aristotle himself would relish the hubris in this narrative of an overreaching organisation that plotted, Macbeth-like, to be king, this time of the financial markets.
Prebble’s great skill lies in her ability to take us through complex concepts with ease, without bemusing or, worse, patronising us.
There’s also the magnetic momentum of a thriller, as Jeffrey Skilling (Samuel West) goes from nerdy outsider to slick Enron CEO, en route enmeshing the company in some of the most outr accounting and opaque business practices ever seen.
Prebble sensibly doesnt labour the point, but it’s hard not to find ominous echoes of recent disastrous financial events in the way those surrounding Skilling are loath to ask questions, so long as the stock price keeps heading upwards.
That same stock price is displayed on an electronic ticker-tape screen that runs constantly and transfixingly across the back of the stage in Anthony Ward’s spot-on design, which is all slick business aesthetic. With such dazzling components, it’s no wonder that Goold’s production buzzes and fizzes right from the start.
It incorporates all manner of innovations – stock-market analysts forming a barbershop quartet to sing Skilling’s praises, the cast brandishing light-sabres to celebrate deregulation of the energy market – without ever losing sight of its primary focus.
Were left in no doubt about Enrons punishingly patriarchal corporate culture, as the one person with something resembling a conscience, executive Claudia Roe (brassy Amanda Drew), is cunningly edged out by Skilling.
West superbly suggests a monomaniacal man powered by something far more interesting than mere greed, namely a brilliance with theoretical concepts that eventually disconnects him entirely from reality.
His partner in Enron’s tenebrous nerve centre is chief financial officer Andy Fastow (Tom Goodman-Hill), whose idea it is to set up bogus companies to house Enron’s losses.
In an ingenious touch, these so-called “Raptors” spring to life as an anthropomorphic metaphor, as actors sporting dinosaur heads start to prowl around ominously. As the phrase goes, “buy now” for an outstanding evening.5 stars WhatsonStage, 23 July 2009, Maxwell Cooper
The story of Enron, the energy company that became, at the time, America’s biggest bankruptcy, sounds so fantastic that it could have been fashioned from the pen of a particularly imaginative writer. The fact that much of this tale is true, heightens the excitement of this thrilling Headlong production, the highlight of what has been a strong Chichester season.
Lucy Prebble’s morality tale is the perfect vehicle for Rupert Goold and his love of video, back projections, harsh lighting and sound effects. Goold uses every technique at his disposal to bring the the story to life particularly in an innovative routine based on light sabres. Anthony Wards set is a brilliant backdrop to the events that rocked America.
At the heart of Prebble’s tale is a superb performance by Samuel West as Jeffrey Skilling, the architect of the fraud. First glimpsed as a plump, gauche but ambitious executive, we see him gradually take control of Enron and enact his own fantasy of selling everything, including the weather. West captures every twitch of a man wholly driven by the need to make money, not so much for its own sake but by the need to create something innovative. Driven eventually into mental disintegration, West gives us a vision of a man driven by his obsession with Enron stock price, because, as he tells his daughter, thats how he knows how much hes worth.
The other leads give strong performances too. Tom Goodman-Hill is the socially inept but financially brilliant Andy Fastow, the guy who devised the scheme that brought Enron down, while Tim Pigott-Smith as Enron chairman Kenneth Lay smiles toothily and pockets the cash.
Prebble has invented a character, Claudia Roe, as the antithesis of Skilling and his machinations. Her vision of a more conventional future, based on actually manufacturing something, is rejected by Lay and after that she is used as a moral counterpoint to Skilling’s schemes. I found this the least convincing part of the play, despite Amanda Drew’s spiky portrayal of the snubbed Roe. Its too neat a dramatic device; a real-life exec would have left or pocketed the cash and asked no questions.
It is however, not a documentary. Prebble leaves out several major players and her portrayal of the real-life characters is too far-fetched. In particular, Lay was an executive who had been in business for years, his life spent mired in controversy (including a previous financial scandal at Enron) – he was far from the James Stewart-like innocent of Pigott-Smiths portrayal.
These are small quibbles: this is an outstanding production of a thought-provoking and, above all, entertaining play. Headlong is bringing Enron to the Royal Court later this year, if you miss it in Chichester, catch it there – this is a theatrical treat.4 stars Independent, Thu 23 July 2009, Michael Coveney
After what’s happened in the past few years, no-one should be surprised if our theatre comes up, at last, with a compelling tragedy of modern capitalism: the collapse of Enron, America’s seventh largest corporation, going from m (£42.5m) of building plants and natural gas and electricity supplies to bankruptcy in just 24 days, is the signature story of the age.
The ridiculous explosion of wealth was based on trading without it, building an empire on shadows, with false figures and the lunatic excitement of the trading floor. This wonderful new show directed by Rupert Goold for Chichester, his own touring company Headlong and the Royal Court (where it lands in September) is an update of Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money and the Michael Douglas movie Wall Street for the post- September 11 generation.
For the symbolic implosion of the twin towers followed soon after the collapse of Enron and is built into the play as a powerful metaphor of the price to be paid for blind greed and the logical extension of corporate corruption. Everything about Enron was about operating a system for the personal gain of the Houston, Texas, owners and executives at the expense of the shareholder.
Playwright Lucy Prebble only her second play bravo! dramatises the obscenity of this in scenes between Samuel West’s geeky-into-viciously sleek Enron president Jeffrey Skilling and a loyal, newly impoverished worker and the security guard whose dreams he’s ruined.
The financial and political manoeuvrings are humanised at every turn, as Skilling outwits the brilliant Amanda Drew’s sexpot rival (and also his office lover) for the presidency and bounces off the ingenious criminality of Tom Goodman-Hill’s fair-faced financial controller, Andy Fastow.
The city-suited three blind mice of the opening sequence are soon replaced by the voracious armadillos of the debtors’ court. These bestial figures indicate the expressionist side of Goold’s production, which hangs the acting space with celestial neon-lit pipes and deploys the cast of chloric traders and office workers in the regimented choreography of Scott Ambler. The sensual excitement in trading in the markets is conveyed with real ingenuity and panache.
We have a comic double act of the Lehman Brothers, sharing a suit and a pitch, the schmutter and the patter. We see Skilling outpacing Fastow on the running treadmill in a funny scene of physical domination. And we see Skilling himself tipping into madness as he follows the sudden windfall of deregulation in the electricity business after the unexpected Bush triumph in the 2000 presidential election with a nutcase proposal of offering shares in the weather.
It’s both a sharp, satirical diagnosis of the state we’re in, as well as a new Brechtian epic of the rise and fall of a gangster produced and legitimised by the environment of the day. West builds an appropriately resonant performance, stuck on the simply devastating questions of his own daughter and the vanity of his own campaign. And he also pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of allowing us to like him.
Anthony Ward’s design incorporates the best projections (by Jon Driscoll) we’ve seen for a long time, clear videos of Alan Greenspan and Bill Clinton (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”), as well as a blizzard of market figures, a tickertape of falling shares and a cityscape of office blocks that dissolves like snowflakes in the sun.
Tim Pigott-Smith draws a fine portrait of the avuncular Enron owner and golf-lover, Ken Lay, while a really outstanding back-up cast also includes Susannah Fellowes in various guises, Gillian Budd and Eleanor Matsuura as cunningly deployed news reporters and Orion Lee as a sonorous senator who leads the enquiry into the whole tragic catastrophe.4 stars Guardian, Thu 23 July 2009, Michael Billington
It’s a sign of Chichester’s new adventurousness that, in partnership with Headlong and the Royal Court, it is staging theatre’s latest attack on corporate corruption. Lucy Prebble’s hugely ambitious play, covering the rise and fall of the Texan energy company, Enron, is an exhilarating mix of political satire, modern morality and multimedia spectacle.
Spanning the years between 1992 and the present, Prebble’s play makes Jeffrey Skilling, Enron’s top executive, the prime mover and principal villain, rather than Kenneth Lay, its founder. It is Skilling who gets the top job by coming up with a vision of the future: one in which Enron doesn’t merely provide natural gas but trades in energy, the internet and even the weather. But Skilling is aided by financial officer, Andy Fastow, who creates exotically named shadow companies in which Enron’s escalating debts are disguised as assets. Eventually the whole bubble bursts, with the company’s debts revealed as bn, Skilling sentenced to jail and Lay dying before being sentenced.
Prebble’s overwhelming point is that nothing has been learned: that, even as Enron employees were losing everything, others were pocketing fat bonuses, as they might today. But the virtue of both her play and Rupert Goold’s brilliant production is that they capture the dual face of capitalism: its turbulent energy and hubristic vanity. The first half of Goold’s production reminds one of Citizen Kane in its dazzling, vaudevillian energy: stock prices are imprinted on human faces, traders whirl and gyrate like dancers, analysts sing close harmony numbers. This is the free market as jazzy fantasy in which Skilling says of Enron, “we’re not just an energy company – we’re a powerhouse of ideas”.
Prebble and Goold, aided by Anthony Ward’s breathtaking designs, show that Enron was a vast fantasy in which everyone was complicit: not least the lawyers, analysts and investors who believed in this self-created bubble and kept it afloat. The power of Samuel West’s fine performance as Skilling lies in its very lack of demonism. In West’s assured hands, Skilling becomes a man who combines brilliance and stupidity and grows from a nerdy ordinariness into a tycoon through the idea that future income can be written down as earnings the moment a deal is signed.
Tim Pigott-Smith as Lay also rivetingly presents us with a devout, backslapping figure who sanctions Skilling’s dirty tricks without wanting to know the details. There is rich support from Tom Goodman-Hill as the innovative Fastow surrounded by red-eyed raptors devouring Enron’s debt and from Amanda Drew, playing the one person who seems to believe that profits must be related to productivity. Even if Enron isn’t the last word on the free market debacle, it is a fantastic theatrical event.4 stars Financial Times, Mon 27 July 2009, Ian Shuttleworth
Huge as Enron looms in business history, costing some 20,000 people their jobs and many their life savings, there is something absurd about its debacle to the lay mind. Lucy Prebble’s play, as directed by Rupert Goold for Headlong Theatre, feels like a satire, even at times a romp, yet each daftness is based in actuality. Enrons conduct in the deregulated electricity market of California is portrayed by a bunch of executives wielding light-sabres: well, one of the terms they coined for their predatory approach was Death Star. Chief financial officer Andy Fastow referred to his debt-eating shell companies as Raptors, so there is a recurring visual Jurassic Park motif. The Lehman Brothers appear as conjoined twins, talking in unison and wearing one huge joint overcoat. (Ok, maybe that one’s not so factually grounded.) Both script and production make it clear that this is not a historical reconstruction but rather a speculative fiction.
Nevertheless, the ground gets covered, staged with Goolds customary aplomb and powered by fine central performances. Samuel West is at first unrecognisable, so far does he go in his sociopathic rendition of Enron president Jeffrey Skilling; Tom Goodman-Hill’s Fastow is more neurotic. Tim Pigott-Smith has a touch of the Ed Begley Sr about him as chief executive Kenneth Lay, following a “Don’t ask, dont tell” policy of his own and Amanda Drew is excellent as dissenting executive Claudia Roe.
It is in keeping with a mood of what Alan Greenspan described, in a market context, as “irrational exuberance”.
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