Tuesday, 6 October 2009

ENRON, Royal Court, 2 Oct 2009

Sometimes a good night out is quite a surprising thing. For I might be only person in the UK whom upon seeing the name "Rupert Goold" in the credits I am immediately less likely to go see that play. I think he is overrated, I can appreciate why he is a critical darling but I believe his ideas kill the text more often than they enhace it. He overdoes things, everything he touches becomes infussed with obviousness and self-importance. Six Characters in Search of an Author remains one of the most repulsive theatre experiences of my life.

Yes, I did have prejudices about Enron before seeing it. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt because I had quite liked Time and the Conways (even if Goold destroyed the ending with his heavy-handed direction) and above all else was the matter of Tom Goodman-Hill. As much as I love seeing Samuel West on stage and how he is always worth the money of the ticket, it was my admiration for Goodman-Hill and his acting skills what decided me to brave the queues and take my chances with a return ticket of this sold-out production.

Two hours of queue later I was in (with quite appalling seats but the Royal Court is small enough for them to be decent) and enjoying it.

It's a fun play to watch. Most of it comes from Lucy Prebble's confidence as a writer, which translates into this indescribable energy that pushes the play even through its less compelling moments (these are very few, indeed, but still there are some glitches). I call it "cocky writing" and it's always a good thing. It was a highly entertaining piece of writing, and clever and never didactic though I admit I learned a few things. The old woman by my side was confused by the economics of it but I think the play does a superb job of explaining the important details of the convoluted finantial affair while never talk down the audience. It's a fine balance and Prebble succeeds.

Sam West always makes for a compelling lead, one of the few actors in UK who can carry the weight of such a huge enterprise as this on his shoulders. He goes from nerdy, socially awkward genius to self-assured, cool guy and the tranformation is quite something to witness. West navigates through the character of Jeffrey Skilling flawless.

Tom Goodman-Hill is a revelation himself. I was quite unsure how much stage time he was going to get and if the price of my ticket would be worth it just to see him, but he was quite pivotal in the plot, had loads of scenes and he excelled in all of that. He was at turns sympathetic and pathetic, ruthless, a villain and a victim. His performance outshone the rest of the cast, for me, the real highlight of the night. The rest of the cast was competent but not exciting (although it's always good to see Ashley Rolfe). And the production in general was very good, with a couple of moments when Goold overdoes it but in a play like this his natural tendencies do less harm than to other works. It is a flashy play. In the best sense. It has great ideas (the raptors, for a start; the newscasters) but sometimes it feels a bit too much, with the lights and the video and the plastic chairs racing like bikes. But I guess it's part of the point the play is trying to make, the abundance and collapse of it all.

In short, the writing was so solid that not even Rupert Goold could do it much harm, and Sam West and Tom Goodman-Hill alone are each worth the price of the ticket. If you can get one, that is.

There's always the West End transfer.

Read other reviews:
The Guardian.
Another article in The Guardian about theatre and banking.
This is London.
Times Online.
Aleks Sierz writes about it.

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