By Andrew Jack
LONDON, 2 APRIL 2010 At the start of the dramatist David
Hare's play about the 2008 financial crisis or rather about a playwright
devising a play about the financial crisis the on-stage "participants"
question the wisdom of the author's project to his face. Apart from being
uncomfortably solipsistic, the scene is also painfully true.
"How can you turn this into a drama," "what can you say that is
new," "will you understand it," they ask him in turns. "It's boring,
too technical," "it will just confirm the existing widespread hatred of
bankers," Hare has them reply. Quite so.
The opening of The Power of Yes, with a series of actors
playing bankers, regulators, investors and journalists as the author looks
on and occasionally asks questions, is awkward enough. The problem is that
unlike in the innovative (if greedy and questionable) world of finance
things never evolve. The entire 1 hour 45 minutes without interval
continues in the same vein as it begins.
Anthony Calf as The Author and Jonathan Coy as
Howard Davies in The Power of Yes
Photo: © Catherine
Ashmore courtesy of the National Theatre
That is not to say the play is not interesting to watch and well paced.
There are some good observations and analyses of the recent near collapse
of capitalism. And there is a sense of the conflicting explanations and
motives behind the fall, which go beyond the simplistic approach of the
film-maker Michael Moore in his recent Capitalism: A Love Story. But at
least he makes eye-catching and humouristic cinema. Hare's product
really is not theatre. It is a lazy and over-hasty first cut of a
Occasionally there is some striking theatricality in the play, as when
a growing human chain of investors instantly doubled in size by a giant
set of mirror images projected effectively above the stage exchanges
pieces of ripped up paper, signifying the dispersal of securitised debt,
and with it all responsibility for or understanding of the underlying
Once or twice, Hare also intervenes with his own useful asides: the
irony that many of those involved in the saga worked at Harvard, Goldman
Sachs and the Financial Times, or sometimes at all three; or the
wisdom when he upbraids an adviser helping him understand the arcane world
of finance for saying "let's take this slowly." "You understand money, but
I understand rhetoric," he says. "Going slowly impedes understanding."
Malcom Sinclair as Myron Scholes in The
Power of Yes
Photo: © Catherine Ashmore courtesy of the
He even has a journalist in his play draw a parallel explanation of
self belief to explain the confidence and lack of post-crisis contrition
of bankers and of playwrights. Touché.
Largely, this play is pedagogy on a big stage, as the
actor-participants explain their take on the crisis in mini-monologues
with the actor-writer. It resembles the initial cutting room takes of a
documentary on the financial crisis, the raw material from which something
more artistic could be cut and honed.
There is plenty of potential drama in the financial crisis. Hare could have delved into the
subtleties of a few players: what really made some of the big bankers
tick; what were the pressures on the regulators, politicians, and
investors; what did they really think of the potential risks; how far they
were purely motivated by money?
The rehearsals he describes en passant of aides ahead of a
parliamentary scrutiny of Sir Fred Goodwin, who turned the Royal Bank of
Scotland into the company with nominally the largest assets in the world,
could alone have made a play. So could have the fleeting reflections on
the very different perspective of refugees of a previous generation from
the ahistorical greed of a younger
group without experience of disruption. Instead, Hare skips
superficially from one character and trite description to the next.
He has semi-written a play about writing a play, which is not yet a
play. A sort of semi-deceit, semi-conceit, just like the one at the heart
of the financial crisis itself. Happily, the end of capitalism did not
last, or seem with hindsight quite so devastating, long lasting or
dramatic as it did even a few short months ago. Nor will this play.
The Power of Yes: A dramatist seeks to understand the financial
By David Hare
Through 18 April 2010
Royal National Theatre
South bank , London, SE1
Tel: (44) 020 7452 3000
Andrew Jack is a senior journalist at the Financial Times and
the author of Inside Putin's Russia: Can There Be Reform Without
Democracy? (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004, 2007). He is also a
member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com and last wrote on
Emily Prince's American Servicemen and
Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the
Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis),
currently on view at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
Headline image:Simon Williams and Anthony Calf in The
Power of Yes at the Lyttelton theatre.
Photo courtesy of the
Related Culturekiosque Archives
Devil's Food: The Financier
Hammer (and Sickle) Time for Japan?
The Warning: Frontline Investigates the Roots of the
Barney Kilgore: The Man Who Made The Wall Street
After Bush, Are Responsible Libertarians Better Off with
Giacometti Bronze Breaks Art Auction Record
The Fall of Lehman
WTO Announces Compassionate Slavery Market for
Investment: Montenegro Coastline
New Fragrance by Francesco Vezzoli
Glitters as Wall Street Shatters
Power and Politics in the Roman Empire
The Splendour of the Medici Art and Life in Renaissance
Death, Art and Money
Methods and Motives of
a Muckraker: A Biography of Jacob Riis
Shipwreck Find Yields Over 500,000 Silver and Gold
Banknote Sets World Record at Auction
Brzezinski Spells it Out to Joe Scarborough