ENRON (Noel Coward Theatre)
By Lucy Prebble
16 January - 14 August 2010
Noel Coward Theatre
Tickets: £52.25, £42.25, £32.25 or £22.25
“There was a warning and its name was ENRON.”
The world premiere production of Lucy Prebble’s celebrated new play ENRON sold out its entire run at the Minerva Theatre Chichester and sold all 21,800 tickets before opening its six-week run at the Royal Court. It transferred to the Noel Coward Theatre in January 2010 and will run there until 14 August before embarking on a UK tour.
Rupert Goold has directed the most anticipated transfer of the year.
— Sunday Times
The political theatre of the 21st century has arrived.
Inspired by real-life events and using music, dance and video, ENRON explores one of the most infamous scandals in financial history, reviewing the tumultuous 1990s and casting a new light on the financial turmoil in which the world currently finds itself.
Running time 2hrs 45 mins including one interval
ENRON is produced in the West End by Matthew Byam Shaw, Act Productions, Caro Newling for Neal Street Productions, Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Headlong Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre.
ENRON Tour dates
10th-18th September CHICHESTER FESTIVAL THEATRE
Telephone : 0844 482 5140
22nd – 25th September 2010 – BIRMINGHAM REPERTORY THEATRE
Telephone : 01212 364 455
28th September – 02nd October 2010 – RICHMOND THEATRE
Telephone : 0870 060 6651
5th – 9th October 2010 – BATH THEATRE ROYAL
Telephone : 01225 448844
19th – 23rd October 2010 – THE LOWRY, SALFORD QUAYS
Telephone : 0843 208 6010
26th – 30th October 2010 – SHEFFIELD THEATRE
Telephone : 01142 496 000
2nd – 6th November 2010 – NEWCASTLE THEATRE ROYAL
Telephone : 08448 112 121
9th – 13th November 2010 – KING’S THEATRE, EDINBURGH
Telephone : 01315 296 000
Newsreader/Lawyer 2/Understudy Claudia Roe
Lawyer/Grubman/Understudy Jeffrey Skilling
Trader/Security Officer/Senator/Understudy Ken Lay
Congresswoman/Sheryl Sloman/Irene Gant
Swing and Understudy
Employee/Trader/Raptor/Board Member/Understudy Andy Fastow
Trader/Raptor/Lehman Brother/Understudy Lawyer
Swing and Understudy
Swing and Understudy
REVIEWS FROM THE NOEL COWARD THEATRE PRODUCTION
4 stars Charles Spencer, The Telegraph, 27th January 2010
The young playwright Lucy Prebble was working on the piece long before the recent financial collapse and the prolonged economic crisis into which it has plunged us.
But in telling the story of the spectacular demise of the gigantic American energy corporation in 2001, in which a bubble suddenly burst, she hit upon a model, and a dramatic metaphor for all our present woes. Lucky timing has undoubtedly played a part in the success of the play which has enjoyed sold out runs in both Chichester and at the Royal Court before this present West End transfer. But seeing the play for the second time, I’m left in no doubt that there is also a formidable dramatic intelligence at work here. There is something of the classical tragedy about the piece as she charts the rise and fall of an enterprise whose stock prise rose and rose even as it concealed its debts in a series of shadow companies that it passed off as assets. It is a tale of hubris, recognition and despair though one can’t help but note some important differences from our present situation.
The guilty men at Enron were sentenced to jail. Already our bankers are back on the bonuses and Fred Goodwin got to keep his pension. No one has accused our own dear bankers of fraud of course. It would however be pleasant to detect a few signs of penitence.
What’s remarkable about the drama though is that it makes even a financial ignoramus like me feel up to speed on issues I don’t really understand.
There is superb clarity in Prebble’s story-telling as well as high drama, and terrific bravura about Rupert Goold’s often dazzling production that brings the mysterious world of high finance to vivid, comprehensible life.
The shadow companies for instance, are presented as voracious raptors, eating up the debt down in the bowels of the corporation. The chaos of electricity deregulation in California, which led to a series of power cuts, is turned into a dazzling Star Wars-style choreographic routine with light sabres. The Lehman brothers are represented as Siamese Twins, a barbershop quartet sings share prices.
Perhaps there is a touch of the flash Harry about Goold as a director, but the theatrical trickery seems to reflect the play’s subject matter, in which appearance is constantly at odds with reality.
The production is is also blessed with some terrific performances. Samuel West grippingly charts the transformation of Enron’s chief executive Jeffrey Skilling from gauche nerd to ruthless financial master of the universe, before his sudden decline into panic and despair almost makes you feel sorry for the bastard.
Tim Pigott-Smith is wonderfully creepy as Enron’s founder, Ken Lay concealing deep-seated greed and ruthlessness with folksy charm and religiosity, while Amanda Drew brings a welcome touch of female sexuality to this masculine play as a hardboiled executive finds herself shafted, in every sense, by the odious Skilling.
In our present hard times, at least those involved with this production will be laughing all the way to the bank. 4 stars Ian Shuttleworth, Finanical Times, 27th January 2010
Only a few hours before Enron’s West End opening, Rupert Goold received the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for best director for his work on Lucy Prebble’s play about the 2001 corporate collapse that presaged the credit crunch as a whole. I saw the production on its premiere at Chichester last summer, skipped its Royal Court run in the autumn but returned to see how it fares on a conventional proscenium-arch stage rather than the thrust arrangement of Chichester’s Minerva Studio. It now feels more like a spectacle laid on before us than a romp that invites our complicity in its irreverence.
But Enron has always been self-consciously a show . Where David Hare’s The Power Of Yes (still in repertoire at the National Theatre) flatters its audience’s inevitable ignorance by enlisting them on the side of the righteous (and self-righteous) author-surrogate onstage, Goold and Prebble do so by acknowledging that mark-to-market valuation, Special Purpose Vehicle corporate entities and so on are arcane to the layman, that any explanation of them will be simplistic and therefore ought at least to be fun.
When this rootin’-tootin’ version of events portrays the deregulation of electricity in California as a lightsabre-dance routine, or chief financial officer Andy Fastow’s debt-eating shadow corporations as “Jurassic Park raptors” (the term Fastow used for them), we are not expected to buy this as the whole picture, but to accept it as close enough for this theatrical jazz. And it is sometimes surprisingly close: the hand-jive performed by the gung-ho blazers on the trading floor, my companion assured me, consists of authentic signal movements.
Samuel West, that most likeable of actors, proves unexpectedly adept at making himself entirely uncongenial as Jeffrey Skilling, the architect of the corporate fraud, with Tom Goodman-Hill his less self-assured wannabe as Fastow.
If Tim Pigott-Smith’s Kenneth Lay is something of a Texan cartoon, he is no more so than the show as a whole, for which the most succinct description remains Alan Greenspan’s wonderful coinage in another context altogether: “irrational exuberance” 4 stars Georgina Brown, The Mail on Sunday
ENRON STILL FIZZES WITH ENERGY
Lucy Prebble’s Enron , her second and highly accomplished satire, transferred to the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End this week. It brings to thrilling life the rise and collapse of the vast Texas energy company, which traded gas and oil and then, appropriately went up in smoke.
Prebble’s achievement springs from giving imaginative substance to things illusory. For example, her creation of dinosaur-like creatures, which haunt the stage greedily guzzling debts, brilliantly explains the notion of the phantom companies that Enron’s finance director set up to hide the borrowings of this gigantic business.
Prebble’s immorality tale is specifically about Enron, but it provides a guide to the way business was done back in 2001. As one character comments: ‘We didn’t do anything other companies didn’t do. We did it more. We did it better.’
The Lehman Brothers are suggested by conjoined men sharing an overcoat; the lawyers who turned a blind eye wear blindfolds.
There are fine performances all round, but specially from Sam West as Enron’s chief executive Jeff Skilling, and Amanda Drew as his feisty rival Claudia Roe. 4 stars The Sunday Times
Lucy Prebble’s Enron, directed by Rupert Goold, was a hit at Chichester last year. It was first brought to London by the Royal Court, and now opens in the West End, so a lot more people can see it.
Ken Lay (Tim Pigott-Smith) is the affable old-school CEO of the energy company Enron, looking forward to playing more golf in his retirement and delighted to receive birthday cards from his buddy Dubya, who calls him “Kenny Boy”. In his place, he appoints the younger Jeffrey Skilling — like so many brilliant minds behind huge financial meltdowns, a graduate of Harvard Business School. Sam West is superb in the role. Initially, he is a boffin with a weird, slicked-down hairstyle, thick specs and trousers too short. He “hasn’t slept since he was 14”, and is not, as a colleague puts it, “a people person”. He possesses a quite breathtaking arrogance. Gradually, his image gets slicker, his suits sharper; he even has his eyes lasered. His big idea is to expand Enron, but not, as his colleague Claudia Roe (Amanda Drew) suggests, by taking energy provision into Africa and India. (“India?” Lay snorts. “Nobody’s in India.”) Instead, Skilling plans for Enron to move into energy trading. Rather than actually pumping gas or oil, it should buy it elsewhere and sell it on at a profit.
The market likes it, Enron’s shares rise inexorably, and soon the company is worth a head-spinning billion. As we are usefully reminded here, to get some grasp of such a figure, a million seconds is 11 days. A billion seconds is 32 years. (A trillion seconds ago, there were still woolly mammoths. By 2011, the UK’s national debt will be £1.1 trillion. Thank you, Mr Brown.)
The trouble is, Enron’s market value is rubbish. The company has the brightest graduates, the best business models and the highest share prices, says Skilling: “The only trouble is, we’re not making any money.” The answer to such a problem is not to reduce expenditure or increase income, but to bluster and borrow (Mr Brown again). So, Skilling turns to his financial whiz-kid, Andy Fastow (a funny, dweebie performance by Tom Goodman-Hill). Fastow works in a dimly lit, subterranean cavern, cooking up financial spells like some incompetent alchemist. His head full of pop culture, Fastow calls his inventions “raptors”, or “the Death Star”. Unfortunately, he never found time to read Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.
Among the many admirable things here is the sheer amount we learn. By the end, you really do get the hang of what Enron’s alchemists called “special-purpose entities”, for example. These are fronts for concealing Enron’s huge debts, by pretending that another company has bought them. You can set up such a company with only 3% of your own money and 97% from elsewhere. This 97% is made up of Enron shares. The 3% should be cash down, yes, but then this 3% stake is covered by a further special-purpose entity, 97% of which is again made up of Enron shares. And so on.
Now, any twit can see that the original 3% isn’t cash down at all, just more Enron shares in disguise. It is for this kind of fatuous trickery that our corporate whiz-kids think themselves so “f***ing smart” — Skilling’s self-description — and award themselves huge salaries. They are not just overpaid bores. They are stupid overpaid bores who think they’re really, really clever.
Prebble’s play is a magnificently ambitious and original piece, given the full-on flamboyant treatment by Goold. Sometimes, he has shown more talent than judgment, but here his playfulness and theatrical invention are a constant delight. Mark Henderson’s lighting designs are terrific; the dense, compelling boardroom debates are punctuated by song-and-dance routines; and Fastow’s “raptors” come to life as men in suits with dinosaur heads and burning red eyes. The best moment of all is signalled by Skilling’s drawl: “Oh shit, it’s the Lehman brothers.” And onto the stage come two piping twins in a single huge overcoat, walking and talking in squeaky unison. Sheer, blissful slapstick.
We were supposed to respect, even fear, these huge corporate names, imagining that they were unimaginably cleverer than us, handling cosmic amounts of money with a supernatural ease: Enron, Lehman Brothers, Arthur Andersen, which shredded a ton of Enron paperwork to avoid scandal. As the play shows, it was all bilge.
Sometimes, it feels as if we are straying into overcomfortable territory. There’s little our lefty-liberal theatre types enjoy more than a portrayal of American capitalism as corrupt, or the suggestion that the regulatory socialist state should run everything. Nevertheless, even though it’s preaching to the mostly converted, Enron is a wonderfully entertaining and informative portrait of corporate collapse, and is tempered by a last, arrestingly sympathetic glimpse of Skilling himself, in prison. Today, he is four years into a 24-year sentence, although his case is due to be reviewed this year.