Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Power of Yes

Company B Belvoir presents THE POWER OF YES - A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis by David Hare in the Upstairs Theatre, Surry Hills.

On September 15th 2008 capitalism failed. The National Theatre of Great Britain commissioned David Hare to discover, uncover, what had happened. To try to answer the Queen's question "Why did nobody notice?" A year later in September 2009 a 'verbatim' text had been 'massaged' by Mr Hare from an intense year of interview and research and opened in the Lyttelton Theatre.

A character called The Author begins the performance: "This isn't a play. It's a story. It doesn't pretend to be a play. It pretends only to be a story. And what a story! How capitalism came to a grinding halt. Where were you on September 15th 2008? Do you remember? Did you even notice? Capitalism ceased to function for about four days..."

A cast of almost 30 characters, played at Belvoir by just 12 actors, lead the enquiring Author (Brian Lipson), into the world of financiers in an attempt to unravel for us the events leading to the Global Financial Crisis, in which we,in May 2010, still stagger through. Mr Hare claiming that like himself "Starting from a point of almost total ignorance" – and that if we will be guided by the excellent principle "If I can understand this, so can anyone" – we will be enlightened. At the end of this brisk and crisply clear production directed by Sam Strong most of us had had that experience. And like the character of the Author in the play, bewilderment, amusement, bemusement, disbelief and anger are just some of the emotions that one experiences.

An excellent cast: John Derum, Jonathan Elsom, Russell Kiefel, Brian Lipson, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Amber McMahon, Rhys Muldoon, Luke Mullins, Marshall Napier, Graham Rouse, Christopher Stollery, and David Whitney with great clarity and brio take us carefully, but at breakneck speed, through the facts of the circumstances of the collapse of capitalism. The speed insists we pay attention and we do.

On a pale grey, dowdy set ( Dale Ferguson) with a low roof and fluorescent lighting (tempered by the theatre skills of Danny Pettingill) with an oblong window in the back wall that sometimes is used as a writing board backed by a masking screen or as a view into a back room where mimed activities, mostly using balloons as an illustrative tool, can be seen, the actors tread carefully over a black stage floor littered with hundreds of coloured deflated balloons. (The balloons an artful metaphor).

Dressed in mostly grey suits and colour-coded, co-ordinated ties (costumes, also Dale Ferguson), immaculately shaved, the testosterone power on this tiny stage is high. Our guide, through the maze of this highly charged masculine environment is, in this production, a power, pants-suited young woman, Masa Serdarevic (Amber McMahon), a financial expert, is a more than equal antidote to the chauvinism of these 'warriors' of the floors of finance, and a welcome relief of alternate (female) energy. The sly (jazzy) score and sound design (Steve Francis) is an able abetter to the irony and seriousness and satire of the production.

The elucidation of the events to answer the Queen's question is shockingly provocative. One cannot leave the theatre anything but unnerved at the sheer 'arrogance' and the power of yes that these figures, drawn by Mr Hare present. And in the program note from the writer in London in March 2010, Mr Hare insists, "'s democratically important that we do understand it. Bankers, financiers and money people are relying on your confusion and ignorance in order to be able to go back to all the old corrupt practices and lucrative sleights of hand which brought about the crisis in the first place. They have a vested interest in pretending nothing happened. But something did."

Watching the USA Senate Committee tasking the principal figures of Goldman Sachs, a week or so ago, gulping at the Greek financial crisis and staring with trepidation at the insistently rising problems in Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain; let alone being personally shocked at the numbness and sense of panic-denial in both London and New York that I detected in the environment and newspapers, two of the great financial capitals of the world, whilst visiting recently; and sitting in the Belvoir theatre on Federal Government Budget night brought the relevance of this play, production, sheeting home.

Having seen the London production as well, I found it a very interesting experience to watch the same play in, reportedly 'a lucky country'. In London the production had a company of some 20 actors and the wealthy world of the power of yes was amplified with spectacular video support and imaging, a glittering reflective black floor and all the costumes immaculately tailored, almost menacing in the perfection of cut and fit. The final scene revealed on what had been a bare stage, a tauntingly luxurious apartment of Mr Soros, with a glittering aspect high up over Central Park, with dinner accouterments of impeccable class and taste. The demonstration of such power in wealth brought that audience to an awed sense of anger, and we sat through the production, on what felt like a precipice looking into an unknowable abyss of threatening darkness. At Belvoir, the design has a feel of a lower corporate eschelon. The costumes less reflective of money but pragmatism, the Soros apartment and dinner, sitting on the deflated balloons, like an annexe at the local Leagues Club. The production had a sense that this happened 'over there', some way away and the comedy and reflective mood of the play was one less of dread of our predicament and more of 'smug amusement'. It is some safe distance away. The play is no less interesting just less impactful, relatively.

In a very interesting essay, that can be found on the James Waites blog, Mr Hare talks interestingly about the play form/style, that is, this verbatim form. We have seen STUFF HAPPENS by this same company, another example. He talks of a production of STUFF HAPPENS given last year, in Norway, which if you remember, was about the entry into the recent/present Iraq war.

What was once a timely and damming verbatim exercise of exposure and examination, now with the passing of time has become a timeless telling of our human foibles and our marches of repeated folly into war. Man simply repeating its history.

It seems to me this play THE POWER OF YES has the same capacity to speak to the whole of the world and probably for many years to come and still be sadly, potent and scarifying.

Do go, and as our days pass you may find yourself holding your breath as the world picture crosses our news outlets.

P.S. The Sydney Morning Herald front page story in the Business day section page one and six "MACBANK’S CODE RED" on the 17th May 2010 (Michael Evans and Ian Verrender) might bring the immediacy of THE POWER OF YES into the consciousness of the attending audience.

1 comment:

JOHN said...

After ten minutes my heart sank. Reams of words were whizzing about the stage with little connection to character or sense of dramatic foundations being laid. Sure , one must grant that this is presented as an inquiry into a crisis . But why should we look for answers here , rather than in the financial pages? Perhaps , you think , because the theatre will find imaginative ways to bring us to greater understanding. In the case of Belvoir's production of "TPoY" , the use of balloons and whiteboards doesn't compensate for the impossibility of involvement with most of the people - the bankers and businessmen and bureaucrats - who strut and fret before us. The actors are to be admired for their achievement in transmitting the arguments , but one only enjoys things when the characters take on some unusual hues - eg when Tony Lewellyn-Jones injects notes of irony , or when Luke Mullins exposes the bitterness beneath his cool exterior. (A lost opportunity , though , when Mr Mullins took on the role of George Soros' in house waiter .....I hoped to see him keep up the sneers , conveying the idea that this nwaiter was the banker brought low.)
Such a disappointment , after the marvellous "Gethsemane".
And not helped by such grabs for profundity , as when Amber McMahon's uber -guide-through-the-maze confesses almost as an afterthought to her guilt at being a survivor of Sarajevo .