Lucy Prebble's play Enron deals with financial crisis

Celebrated play on UK tour, including run at King's Theatre, Edinburgh

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Lucy Prebble's play Enron deals with financial crisis

As Lucy Prebble’s hit play on the Enron scandal arrives in Edinburgh, Steve Cramer chews over its topical subject matter with actress Sara Stewart

At last year’s Edinburgh Festival, only the National Theatre of Scotland’s Caledonia, an enjoyable if not completely successful production based around the Darien misadventure of the late 17th century, addressed the current financial crisis. The reason many theatre makers have given for the silence on this matter is that the subject of economics is a dull affair, that doesn’t make for good theatre, as if high-level fraud and corruption, people being thrown onto dole queues, out of their homes and onto streets, were quite the most undramatic scenario imaginable.

If that’s the case, it’s hard to see why Lucy Prebble’s Enron has become one of the most celebrated theatrical events of the last decade in London. The play focuses on the financial scandal that unfolded over the turn of the 21st century and prefigured, with uncanny precision the collapse of our financial institutions across the world in more recent times.

According to Edinburgh-born actress Sara Stewart, who plays Claudia Roe, a rare sympathetic character in the piece, the play’s appeal is due to the clarity and force with which it tells the story.

‘It shows the layman how we’re all being taken for a ride,’ she explains. ‘It examines the whole house of cards, where people’s savings are simply being gambled. I did some research into this last year and until then I was pretty ignorant of this area, as most people are. When I found out about such things as hedge funds in detail I was really appalled to think of what was done with my money after I put it in the bank. These bankers are simply participating in a sanctioned form of gambling.’

Perhaps the most sobering thing about the play is the way in which no significant steps have been taken to reverse the wave of deregulation that caused the problem, as Stewart points out. ‘One of the things the show talks about is the fact that Enron is history, but the types of activities involved are still going on. It doesn’t seem as if we’ve really learned anything. I think people don’t really appreciate the full ramifications of what’s going on. It’s a bit like taking your car to the mechanic, and getting charged for all sorts of things that aren’t wrong with the car, but on a huge scale. Just as those mechanics exploit your ignorance of the car, there’s a lot of flannel around the economics of this that keeps people in the dark about where the money is going.’

So, a dry, dull affair? Well, there’s a good deal of humour, song, dance and even dinosaurs on stage throughout the piece, which, unless the English critics are deluded, amounts to an enthralling entertainment. More to the point, the play has had a genuine impact on audiences, as a single anecdote from Stewart illustrates. ‘I met one woman who worked in the city financial sector, who took her daughter to Enron. Straight after the show, the daughter, who was quite ashen, turned to her mother and said, “I don’t care what I do when I grow up, but I’m not doing what you do.”’

And they say art never changes anything.

King’ Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 9–Sat 13 Nov.

Enron

Lucy Prebble's highly acclaimed stage exploration of the biggest financial scandal of the 1990s.

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