15/10/09, Royal Court
Written by Penelope
Enron is now a byword for fraud. A giant corporate puzzle built on flimsy foundations which came apart at the seams. Some of the details are complicated and, even now, defy belief. Before I say what I thought of this play, I feel I should declare an interest. As a journalist working in the US in 2001, I covered the Enron saga, meeting people who'd lost all their savings, visiting the company's HQ in Houston and attending the congressional hearings which attempted to bring those at the top of the empire to account.
Lucy Prebble's play based on this sorry tale blends fact and fiction, farce, musical and tragedy into one production. And it works. Sam West is outstanding as Enron's CEO, Jeffrey Skilling. He is, by turn, insipid, creepy, imperious, venal and pathetic. He's on stage almost the whole evening so it's a role which demands stamina in addition to great acting. One of my favourite scenes was when he and Tom Goodman-Hill (who plays the CFO, Andy Fastow) hold a "meeting" in an imaginary gym on make-believe exercise bicycles. The audience was roaring with laughter.
Fastow and Skilling were the two executives who dreamt up some of the worst aspects of the Enron fraud - a company with high share prices built on nothing. Explaining mark to market accounting and shadow companies isn't an easy prospect but Lucy Prebble's script achieves this with aplomb. And this play resonates well in the current recession.
It's directed by Rupert Goold and is fast moving, entertaining and bold. The scenery and lighting (designed by Anthony Ward and Mark Henderson respectively) are imaginative and stark. There are songs, dances and moments of disbelief at the absurdity of the protagonists' behaviour. Goold is a director full of ideas. There were a couple of moments when one or two of them might have been edited out, as I was in danger of being overwhelmed. But it seems unfair to criticise anyone for having too many ideas! Also deserving a mention are Tim Piggott Smith as the wilfully blind company Chairman, Ken Lay (accompanied by three blind mice) and Amanda Drew as Claudia Roe who also worked for Enron.
For me, there was one glaringly awful moment in the evening which was a crass "reconstruction" of September 11th 2001, complete with projections of planes and tiny pieces of paper falling from the sky. I didn't feel this was necessary and it made me feel uncomfortable to use these iconic historical moments for entertainment. But that squeamishness aside, I loved it and the play thoroughly deserves its imminent West End transfer.