Neve Kennedy’s stunning vision turns economics into something iconic
Lucy Prebble’s play, written in 2009, gains new life in this stellar production. The plot follows the real-life story of how the company Enron came to be one of the biggest-earning companies in the world, and how it succumbed to its downfall as a result of individual greed and ambition. Though the play’s tragic ending is foretold in its painful inevitability, watching Enron was an incredibly visceral experience as we follow CEO Jeffrey Skilling, portrayed by the brilliant Owen Igiehon, on his inexorable trajectory of corruption.
A large part of the successful conveying of director Neve Kennedy’s vision can be attributed to the show’s atmosphere and physical presence. The set is, at first, quite unassuming, consisting of blank walls and an imposing staircase leading to the throne-like chair which acts as a Marxist reminder of the hierarchies of power that undercut the plot.
The bland office is, however, transformed into a dystopian setting of politics and melodrama as scribblings on the walls, colourful lighting and even moments of blackout accompanied by torchlight provide an overwhelming sensory spectacle, reflecting what one of the traders describes as the ‘primal’ experience of business at the top.
The show’s soundtrack complements this beautifully, as a satirical themed playlist of capitalist bangers such as ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd and ‘Price Tag’ by Jessie J contrast Imogen Aley’s live cello additions, providing a constant undercurrent of dread with its mournful and languishing melodies.
The stunning experience also owes much to the portrayal of its characters by an incredibly skilled cast. Owen’s portrayal of Jeffrey provides a cutting look into the multifaceted humanity behind the businessman at the top: Jeffrey the dreamer, a naive individual at the beginning of the play, Jeffrey the father, in a poignant scene where he educates his child via dollar bills, and Jeffrey the broken man. His striking final speech is delivered directly to the audience, in a moment where he identifies that “all humanity is here”, in greed, fear, joy, and the greatest of these: “Money”. Simply breathtaking.
His unknowing partner-in-crime, Andy Fastow, is portrayed by the fantastic Michael Olatunji, whose sycophantic nature is expertly conveyed as he inadvertently brings about the company’s demise. Hugo Gregg presents the amicable face of the company as CEO and chairman, Ken Lay, whose tendency toward the truth acts as an ironic mode of sugarcoating the company’s shadowy secrets – he plays the role of the friendly yet imposing Texan incredibly convincingly.
A special mention is given to the tragic character of Erin Visaya-Neville’s Claudia Roe, “fourteenth most powerful woman in the world”, who is the only character whose division remains stable in the face of the company’s downfall. Showing not only the realities of being a woman in an incredibly masculine environment, Erin also skilfully presents moments of humanity and logic in the face of Jeffrey’s greed.
As well as this, the ensemble of traders, singing sales analysts, and the classic tropic character of the Italian-American banker all add to the extremely well-crafted atmosphere of the rising business aesthetic that characterises turn-of-the-millennium America. With ventriloquism, jingles and costuming in addition to their accents and peppy behaviour, the cast successfully achieves a parody of America that is both familiar and thrilling to us.
And of course, it goes without saying that the raptors absolutely stole the show; not only because of the novelty of Jurassic Park suddenly invading a random office in America, but due to the talented actors (Mark Jones, Arianna Muñoz and Freya Beard) playing them, who had the motions and dynamics of the raptors down to a T (-rex). The moving moment in which they take off their masks and carry them off in cardboard boxes in the popularised image of being made redundant reminds us of the humanity behind the creatures that lurk in the dark of the shadow companies.
There is a certain togetherness of the cast that also sets this show apart in my mind, as their dynamic performances suggest a real closeness.
This is perhaps partially due to the excellent publicity of this play which can be attributed to Publicity Designer Alicia Powell; through Instagram, I had been made aware of this production well before Easter term had started and with their frequent posts and BTS sneak-peeks, my curiosity rose more and more, leading to an insatiable urge to find out what all the buzz around this show was about – I have never been more interested in a play based on economic. I can definitely say that my curiosity was sated, my expectations were blown out of the water, and there is a real sense that ‘Enron’ was and always will be a passion-project in the eyes of everyone involved.
Overall, the show was an absolute pleasure to watch, in terms of both visuals and narrative, due to its fantastic performance. It is a perfect balance of witty and light and scathing and sinister. There is a good reason as to why this is the third time someone has decided to put on ‘Enron’ in Cambridge; its messages transcend the simple ones about individual greed and identity, reflecting back onto the society that still rules us today, begging the question: have we learned from our mistakes?
Nevertheless, Neve Kennedy’s take on ‘Enron’ is a show that is an utter triumph – an evening’s investment that you will not regret.
Enron is showing on the 10th – 14th of May at 7:45 pm at the ADC Theatre. Book your tickets here.
Feature image credit: Caitlin van Bommel