Saturday, 9 February 2013

MONEY: The Game Show - review

Written by: Sophie Talbot (@sophietalbot_91)

Bush Theatre, London

For a show about the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, written and directed by Clare Duffy, it is oddly bursting - quite literally - with verve, dazzling charisma and boisterous fun. Though it’s not all fun and games, as Duffy’s concurrently stern theatricality of the 2008 global financial crisis brings to head the question of what money is really worth.

Photo: Simon Kane
The financial market is cleverly framed as a sumptuously elaborate game show, hosted by glossy former hedge fund managers - turned performance artists - Queenie (Lucy Ellinson) and Casino (Brian Ferguson). Divided in half and seated in opposing rakes, audience members align with their designated host and each team competes for 10,000 genuine pound coins lying openly on stage, monitored by a robust bouncer. The show is thrillingly interactive as volunteers participate in niftily designed games such as stashing money into a suitcase before the bubble bursts: a smart metaphor for the bursting of the real estate bubble. We bet long and short – each term explained by informative PowerPoint-esque projection during intervals between games – and the instinctive risks we take whilst competing for the money aptly resembles the analogous setting of the financial world.

Photo: Simon Kane
The plush-looking, red-carpeted set, multi-coloured exuberant lighting and catchy music (Rhys Jarman, Richard Godin, and Matt Angove respectively) perfectly captures the essence of a lively game show, stimulating competitive spirits all round. It is exactly this investment that Duffy’s play demands in order to make heads or tails of her proposition regarding money. For, as we cheer and emotionally invest in betting on buckets filled with coins, the reality of £10,000 in the theatre never really surfaces, it’s almost too surreal. As importance is placed upon competing for such a large sum of cash, it is contrastingly thrashed around the stage, wandering awry; its value is utterly undermined.

As the game show ends the tone takes a dramatic turn as the reality of our carefree rivalry unfolds and the significance of the back-stories of Queenie and Casino (acted out and interwoven with the audience interaction) emerges. As the pair predicted the crash of the financial system and played to make money out of it, we realise that the outcome of the competition is no game for the loser, Casino in this instance, who really does lose everything. Declaring he’ll kill himself if he loses he holds true to his promise and reminds us of money’s hefty part in our lives. Yet, as his death is depicted with a ketchup bottle it is ingeniously pointed out that we shall readily conceive such a representation of Casino’s bloody suicide. Duffy makes theatre and money comparable: it only has value because we believe it does. In 2008, currency was on the verge of crumbling into worthlessness and Money: The Game Show opens our eyes to the inconceivable possibility of this. Money is both everything and nothing.

The script is incredibly slick and crams a lot in which suitably reflects the complexity and ‘glaze-over’ associations with the financial system, suggesting why we have the belief in money that we do. Consequently, the play’s eclectic format sacrifices the depth of the characters and Ellinson and Ferguson struggle to emotionally draw us in. However, the pair is flawlessly compelling and bold as the game shows hosts.

Photo: Simon Kane
Unlimited Theatre and Bush Theatre have made a worthy investment in this inventive theatrical experience, which thriftily delivers fun and contradictory graveness, offering a golden perspective of money’s value. Credit where credit is due.

This production runs until 2 March 2013. 
@BushTheatre #MONEYgameshow 

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