I'm going long on Goold futures at the moment; there have been some sharp criticisms from analysts of this company's recent venture into the opera market with Turandot at the ENO; and last year's King Lear at the Liverpool Everyman also caused the share price to dip sharply. But on the evidence of this play the underlying brand is still outpeforming the market. STRONG BUY.
This play by the young (very young) Lucy Prebble has been met with a well-deserved deluge of praise already, and there are signs that Rupert Goold is starting to revise his habit of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at his productions. He's learning to subtract as well as add, and a quick look at the playtext for Enron confirms that the show has been tightened up, losing quite a few lines since it was first performed early this summer at the Chichester Festival Theatre. It's a co-production between Chichester, the Royal Court and Goold's Headlong Theatre. It's slick, fast, fantastically visual and theatrical in the way it tells the story of the rise and fall of America's most innovative company. Financial engineering isn't really the stuff of drama, but Goold and his designer Anthony Ward unfailingly find the right visual metaphors to tell their story. Showing traders at work in a bear-pit exchange floor is the easy part; but how do you dramatise the accounting wheeze that Enron devised to disguise its losses in opaque dummy companies? The companies become raptors or dinosaurs, prowling around the stage in the half-light greedily munching up debt but eventually threatening their creators. The set has a giant skyscraper at the back of the stage on which is projected a ticker with the Enron stock price. First it climbs inexorably, then falls back as doubts grow about the company's claimed profits. The ensemble become Jedi knights with illuminated swords in a scene about the devastation of California's deregulated electricity market. But the good thing about this play is that the four main characters, while unsympathetic, are all fascinating and well-drawn. Samuel West is terrific as the villainous chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, who begins as a bespectacled nerd but once promoted to the top job displays a chilling ruthlessness. One of his victims is Claudia Roe, played with great pizzazz by one of my favourite actresses, Amanda Drew, whose deep sexy voice should have made her more of a household name by now. As Claudia, she dons a Monroesque giant blond wig and delivers a cracking performance as the ballbreaking female executive who loses out to Skilling in the race for the top job and is later stabbed in the back and sacked, allowing her to sell all her stock before the companny collapses. Tim Pigott-Smith bumbles around to great effect as Enron's genial chairman Ken Lay and Tom Goodman-Hill is Andy Fastow, the obsequious chief financial officer who designed the company's financial trickery but collaborated with prosecutors and got a lighter sentence than Skilling. This is the play that should perhaps have been written about Royal Bank of Scotland, the closest British equivalent to Enron, but I fear the libel laws will make such a venture impossible for any playwright. Enron is fair game as its bosses went to jail, but it's going to be hard to put the disgraced RBS chief Fred Goodwin on stage.
After Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem this is the second smash hit play in a row for the Royal Court; both will be seen by bigger audiences paying higher prices in the West End next year, and I imagine both will be fighting over the same Olivier awards. My instinct would be to go for Jerusalem as best play and Mark Rylance as best actor, while giving the best director and best design and lighting design to Enron.