Review: Enron

Fred Upton 11 May 2022
Image Credit: Alicia Powell

 

“I believe in God, I believe in democracy and I believe in the company.” If the gross incomes and economic tragedies caused by the foolish juggernauts of the world economy make you want to embezzle all your hopes and dreams like a fearful accountant, then the ADC’s production of Enron will be a brilliant experience. It brings a fresh, new interpretation of a play that – since its last production in 2016 – has become even more relevant in our contemporary climate. ‘Enron’, written in 2009 by Lucy Prebble, is a Financial Thriller that centres around the scandal of the real energy company of Enron and its bankruptcy in December of 2001 due to the fraudulent practices of its CEO, Jeffrey Skilling. In the end, our maniacal protagonist is arrested, and the company falls apart.

The stylistic vision is well guided: Director Neve Kennedy manifests elements of horror and dramatic imagery with lighting and choreography that perforates the soul. While it does often go into the eccentricities of Free-market America with comedic effect – and at times touching upon the absurd -, Kennedy competently coordinates the mood in the scenes so that the play does not shy away from the serious subject matters. There are some parts where a laugh from the audience comes from a perfectly timed moment such as Skilling’s final monologue beginning with the line “I’m not a bad man” immediately followed by the most villainous-sounding cello music I have ever heard. However, examples such as this do not overshadow – but rather heighten – the phenomenal theatrics that use this script to its full extent.

Nevertheless, the use of music in this play gives much needed life to a production that would have felt hollow without it. In the first act, we see a sequence of synchronised passing of boxes to the beat of “Money” by Pink Floyd, cementing the tone and style of the entire play. Moreover, there is the cellist (the very talented Imogen Aley) on stage, playing accompaniments of sound effects and music to the scenes, such as an ostinato of Skilling running on a treadmill. While I may say it is sometimes overdone, with some sections needing more breathing room, the use of music rarely outstays its welcome and is a fresh use of solo live music not often found at the ADC.

Initially, I was sceptical about the set, with its imposing white office walls cornering the stage into a trapezium, and an armchair appearing like a throne upon the metro-deck. However, this ambitious set, and its set designer (Rory Clarke) masterfully emulate the imposing blankness of the corporate office, later having the traders draw on them like misbehaving children. Like a Greek Chorus, they come in with an electrifying presence, and the actors involved go all out with the high that comes from the stock exchange. The set design is also accentuated by the use of lighting. During scenes of the corporate buzz of traders, we see a harsh red vibrance descend upon the whole stage, and when the sinister raptors enter a scene, the room becomes a clashing red and blue making the set feel as otherworldly as the metaphorical monsters. But it is the office ceiling lights above the metro deck that truly astounded me. Representing the office of Jeffrey Skilling (Owen Igiehon) or Ken Lay (Hugo Gregg), from the darkness comes the flickering light of the hubristic hero. Indeed, in the climactic scene of the trading during the California blackouts, the warm, orange light, designed by Mahon Hughes, is behind the leering, chuckling Igiehon as he intimidatingly delivers the self-perpetuating speech that ‘we are on the side of angels’, and yet in the darkness, his hubris cascades out from behind him, manifesting a silhouette of a fallen lucifer.

Ultimately, this production of Enron is not only a refreshing interpretation of a compelling script, but also the type of show we need with the economic turmoil still rising across the world in the past few years. However, to say that this play is only for economists is wrong. I was afraid I may have had to wipe the dust off my old economics textbooks to have an idea of what was going on, but, like the best financial thrillers, the direction makes the subject matter easy to digest. It is paced well enough that we understand what is going on when we see Skilling sorrowfully watch the bright red sword of Damocles of his stocks plummet and ruin his life of hubris.

If you are planning to see a play in Cambridge this week, Enron is a strong buy!

5 Stars. 

“Enron” by Lucy Prebble is on in the ADC at 7:45pm until the 14th May. Tickets can be bought here: https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/play/enron/