Enron, the Week Four Corpus Mainshow, is a play that straddles true financial events and dark comedy. I was intrigued by this premise, and interviewed directors Ella Godfrey and Simon West to find out more.
Tell us about the show
Enron is a fast-paced, intensive, dark comedy that tells the story of one of history’s biggest ever financial scandals. Jeffrey Skilling (Dan Sanderson) is a charismatic but sinister figure who uses emotional manipulation, threats and many meticulously plotted lies to reach the top of the Enron Corporation. With the help of Andy Fastow (Matt Gurtler), a hilarious maverick accountant (not three words that usually go together), Skilling builds Enron into one of the most successful companies in the world. But could it all go wrong?
Finance and comedy don’t easily come together- how are you managing to bridge the gap?
Sex, swearing, and dinosaurs. Easy! To be honest, Lucy Prebble’s script has done the hard work for us. The dialogue is seriously sharp and witty, with lots of dry humour and cutting quips. Prebble manages to use comedy to explain accounting models in a way that is easy to understand and makes for a really entertaining watch.
The comedy in the show is a strange mixture between the surreal and the subtle. It is a satire, and we have our fair share of satirical caricatures. We have characters like the Stetson-wearing, cigar-smoking Texan businessman Ken Lay, which Myles O’Gorman has brought a touch of the Bible Belt preacher to! There’s also a pair of audacious lawyers, a dreadful ventriloquist accountant and a fight scene featuring a somewhat unconventional weapon which has seriously tainted our internet purchasing histories.
It is important to remember the script functions as a comedy. The ridiculousness of the characters, their actions, and the way the plot is explained actually has nothing on how outrageous the Enron Corporation’s fraud was. And the dinosaurs that we keep mentioning are actually representative of the ‘RAPTOR’ financial models Fastow used to hide Enron’s profits. A playwright who looks at dry financial models and thinks “what if I replaced these with dinosaurs?” will surely create a ludicrous script- and that is exactly what has happened.
Have you had any unforeseen difficulties during rehearsals?
Actually, the whole process has gone disconcertingly smoothly! We both came out of the read through joyfully, because even then all our actors seemed to have a great grasp on their characters, the comic timing, everything!
Some of the more high-energy ensemble scenes have been a bit of a struggle at times, and we have had to dedicate a lot of time to working them out. The camaraderie in the cast has meant we’ve had good scope for experimenting and playing around with different ways of doing things. The original show had much more of a physical theatre edge to it, but we’re really happy with the punchy alternatives we have in place. At certain points we’ll be involving the audience rather than just performing for them!
Have you adapted the script in any way for the Corpus stage?
The great thing about Corpus is how close the audience get to the actors. It’s a really intimate venue and we’re embracing that entirely! The performances gain real power in the space as our actors are able interact with the audience much more directly. We want our audience to be complicit and immersed, and the Playroom is perfect for that.
Prebble’s script features loads of ridiculous stage directions such as ‘the stage collapses’- we couldn’t, and didn’t want to, attempt anything like that. Our focus is on the characters, and our stellar actors. We have been very minimal in terms of props and costume, although there are certain specialist props that should be quite attention grabbing. The hype that surrounded the Enron Corporation was all built on nothing. Our approach is likewise minimal.
Comedy is a cramped field in Cambridge- why should people come and see Enron?
Other than that, we have a really strong cast of skilled comedic and dramatic performers who give an incredible energy and vitality to all their various, ridiculous roles. The versatility of our ensemble is really impressive, and they stand alongside four striking principle characters who trade barbs and witticisms throughout. We’ve been so impressed by all of them throughout rehearsals, and they really deserve a fantastic audience.
We hope people take a break from revision to come and see some dinosaurs!
Enron opens on Tuesday 17th May at 7pm, at the Corpus Playroom.