Enron isn’t burning anymore.
Joe Cunningham and his talented troupe of actors brought the house down with a gleefully irreverent and theatrically ingenious production worth far more than the company it criticised. Enron marries a denunciation of the corporate greed symptomatic of the modern age with an exploration of those thematic mainstays of the theatre, greed, delusion and hubris.
It is quite a challenge for any theatrical company – convoluted financial jargon must be clearly explained to those in the audience, such as myself, who are uninitiated in the complexities of economics, while the actors must realise a heady blend of arrogance, Machiavellian cunning, and despair.
As if this were not enough, this particular company were faced with the unenviable task of performing the play in the soulless wasteland of Venue One. They leapt over these obstacles with bravado, Cunningham’s innovative direction combining with some skilful acting to ensure that, in this case, the audience’s investment would be repaid in full.
Enron was here produced as a work of promenade theatre, the audience roaming between several different stages and sharing the central space of Venue One with the actors. This ambitious approach was slickly executed. The transitions between each scene were smooth and fluid and the audience, on the whole, knew where it ought to be looking. Perhaps the greatest impediment to this approach was a tentative tendency in the audience, at times ushered forward by the louche, beer-toting Cunningham.
Nonetheless, this theatrical technique was perfectly suited to the play, forming the audience variously as potential clients of Enron, journalists, the jury in the closing trial, and throughout as ‘the People’ so vicariously swindled by the company. The actors would frequently mingle with the audience, creating a tension between theatrical and ‘real’ worlds. Enron has implications that carry beyond the confines of the auditorium and the particular financial debacle it discusses. Cunningham employed the perfect form to communicate this.
Alongside its inventive and refreshing approach to theatre, the play embarked upon a hilarious, gleefully irreverent mockery of cavalier financial attitudes. I defy anyone to create a more stinging metaphor for reptilian corporate avarice than a trio of dancing velociraptors – unless, perhaps, they suggested a blind city slicker flailing around an auditorium to a sweetly intoned chorus of ‘lie, lie, lie’. One scene depicted a cocaine-fuelled, US flag-waving ego-trip following a rise in share prices. Performing this scene in St Andrews, where certain student events shamelessly promote the relationship between business, alcohol and perhaps even naughtier stimulants, had a delicious sting to it.
Building on the play’s intelligent approach to theatrical form and trenchant satire were a series of superb performances. Baxter Gaston deserves particular credit for his performance as Jeffrey Skilling. His powerful depiction of Skilling’s descent from power and assurance to madness and denial called Lear to the mind. Wendell Krebs, as Andy Fastow, charted the progression of this most duplicitous of economists from snivelling lackey to arrogant mastermind with devastatingly pitched satire. This production combined superb direction, accomplished acting and an acerbic commentary on the financial world – ironically substantial assets.