Thursday, 22 January 2009


17/1/09, Soho Theatre.

1hr 45mins approx, no interval. A sell-out.

What sounded like a very timely play by Steve Thompson about City traders and City greed: would it give us an insight into how we got into the present mess? In fact it was written too soon. It certainly skewers the questionable ethics and playground behaviour of many traders -- but beyond that there were no revelations. We went to see it mainly because S had met the very dishy real-life city type whose expert advice helped make characters and situation convincing.

Four desks (which double as restaurant tables, even a bed at one point), four sets of screens, four speaker phones, four traders. PJ is middle aged and losing it; he keeps going with copious liquid lunches and bluster, only in order to satisfy his expensive wife who is obsessed with exotic holidays and her new kitchen. His colleagues mock him for his eagerness to engage them in conversation about all manner of subjects, but it least he has some kind of hinterland when he tells the boss to shove his derisory bonus and walks out on the job.

Donny is an East End street trader with post-divorce visiting rights. In the best scene by far he teaches his young son (brilliant comic performance by Jack O'Connor, a lad who looks as if he can't be more than 12) about short selling, using a sachet of tomato ketchup in Macdonalds, and about the gamesmanship traders use. He pretends to get angry when he realises his son has put one over on him; when the boy hands the ketchup back in alarm Donny upbraids him -- if he's angry it means his judgement is impaired; the boy can take advantage of that. At their next meeting the lad produces a bag of pound coins, acquired by exploiting his nan's soft heart.

Spoon is a posh graduate (a First from Jesus, rowing blue), bullied and then humiliated in a trade by Donny, who learns fast, gets his own back and turns out to be a straightforward liar and a cheat.

And then there's the woman, Jess, who flirts shamelessly, sees through all the boys' posturing and delivers the plot punchline at the end. As so often, it's the women who have a sense of proportion the men sadly lack.

(The first scene, in which Jess and Donny role-play a job interview which ends up with the pair of them having a quicky, is an arresting beginning but seems to belong to a different play altogether.)

The milieu and motivations (greed, mainly) are convincingly established, as in Thompson's play Damages, about tabloid invasions of privacy (seen at the Bush c 2005). And there are some good gags, but not as many as in Whipping It Up (seen at the Bush c 2007), about Parliamentary whips. But the plot of this one came off the shelf rather than off today's front pages or Peston's blog, and that seems a shame.
Later: I went for work to a real-life City trading floor for the first time in years a few weeks after seeing this. And it truly is a bizarre world which this play does a good job in capturing. They'd all sit around doing very little but staring at screens until someone (the lead trader, presumably) made a shouted announcement, incomprehensible to outsiders. There then followed a great deal of shouting, phone calls, further incomprehensible exchanges; and then the excitement would subside after a minute or so and the prevailing lull would return... until another bunch started up in another corner of the floor.

No comments:

Post a Comment