Review – Enron (by Lucy Prebble) – Royal Court

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In the darkest gloom of 9/11, in those days when it seemed like everything was collapsing – the stock market, the job market, the American infrastructure, my ability to pay my rent – in the short, short days of a Seattle winter when it seemed the world was coming to an end, day after day I remember going to work following not Survivor (for reality TV was a new thing) but rather NPR’s nightly reporting on the implosion of Enron, the company that seemed single-handedly responsible for the ruin of the American energy market, for the blackouts in California and the sudden huge surge of costs for tiny cities in Northwestern Washington.

I’d watched my industry, the dot coms, go belly up in a huge Tulip Madness balloon – but what was this Enron mess? Day after day the personalities played out over the radio like a strange soap opera told in three minute increments, a story that finally ended in jail and death … and, if I’m not mistaken, a sentence that actually allowed someone to alternate “being out of jail time” with his also guilty wife so their kids could have at least one parent raising them … yet somehow didn’t result in anyone being shot by stockholders or the thoroughly betrayed and ruined employees of this corporation. It seemed to almost be at the level of a Greek tragedy, a corporate scandal that was more than just a few lined pockets and a quick flight to Brazil, rather a Trojan Women-style tale of a civilization utterly destroyed.

For me, the concept of Enron seemed completely sensible. We had the larger than life figures (Mama Rose!), the great brought low – why not give it a score and toss in dance numbers? The whole thing was so ludicrous it deserved to be turned into something we could all laugh at. This thought in mind, I managed to (barely) get a seat some two months before it opened at The Royal Court (even that early there was hardly anything but obstructed view for a matinee) and was quite eagerly looking forward to seeing the play despite still suffering from a most persistent lung infection.

As it turns out, Enron is very much a theater piece driven by personalities and plot, with just a few surreal moments thrown in. The key drama is the relationship between arrogant industry climber Jeremy Skilling (Samuel West, rising nicely from newb to player to pathetic has been with delusions of grandeur), brilliant lady executive Claudia Row (Amanda Drew, perfectly capturing the Texas blonde in all her complexities), and Skilling and desperate math genius Andy Fastow (Tom Goodman-Hill, believably pathetic). Somehow their own desires to do well in their careers make them both look normal (and easy to relate to) while also believably blinding them to any ethics considerations about their behavior. Their various moments of desperation are all sharp and full of drama – although the arc of each of their stories peaks at different times.

The intervening explanations of how Enron was truly built on a house of cards (or empty boxes) and just how energy deregulation served almost immediately to bring down the power grid in California are interleavened in such a way as to be very much digestible, both easy to understand and important to the story. Of course, it helps that a lightsaber fight is used to illustrate the California debacle, serving also to emphasize they way the real life traders actually treated the whole thing as a game, despite being directly responsible for the deaths of many people.

Two and three quarters of an hour later, dancing mice, tame velociraptors, and Siamese twin bankers were feeling almost normal, proving that creating a fantasy world that seems a representation of reality isn’t really that difficult. Enron convinced heaps of people that it was a going concern that actually made money by selling nothing and telling people they were making a profit; it’s not really all that much different from many of the financial scandals going on today. In fact, with its core of hubris, it’s a tale that transcends its historicity just as easily as John Gabriel Borkman did. Plus: lightsabers! In short: it was a good night out and I recommend it.

(This review is for the matinee performance that took place on Saturday, October 3, 2009. Enron the Musical continues at the Royal Court through November 7th, 2009, but is about as sold out as it gets. It transfers to the Noel Coward theater January 16 – booking is now open, fyi. A better review is here)

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5 Responses to “Review – Enron (by Lucy Prebble) – Royal Court”

  1. Best London theater, 2009 « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] of the year: the nominees were: Entertaining Mr Sloane; Kursk; The Mountaintop; Enron; Cock. (Note absolutely nothing from the Donmar this year, for shame). In a year in which great […]

  2. 2010 Olivier Awards – did they deserve it? « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] new play of the year. I actively go see new plays, so this is a category that matters to me. And Enron (Best Director: Rupert Goold), well, it had good direction, but it wasn’t a story for all […]

  3. Adrian Maurice M. Says:

    A comi-tragic musical success which soon betrayed the English roots of the playwright and was slightly blemished by the Anglicis/zation of Enron with Kenneth Lay – at the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End Theatre/Theater – drifting into and out of a British accent.

    Also, as regards the terminology, it must be doubted whether the play had been proofed by a native American as not once was Enron referred to as a ‘corporation’ but as a ‘company’ which, apart from employee stock options, had ‘shares’ and not ‘stocks’.

    Instead of a lesson in micro-economics, there could – even for a (UK) non-insolvency law student – have been more elucidation of corporate ‘US bankruptcy’ mechanisms and impacts.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Huh. I’m American but none of these things were noticeable to me.

      I’m curious, why did you comment on a show that’s basically over? My review is really stale.

      • Adrian Maurice M. Says:

        The show isn’t over in London’s West End. And if you, webcowgirl, are a corporate attorney = lawyer, stockbroker or accountant, then I – as a UK lawyer – am mighty surprised you didn’t pick up on the Anglicis/zed terms.

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