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17th Jun, 2019

Enron at Birmingham's Old Rep makes for very enjoyable theatre

Redditch Editorial 23rd Jan, 2019

ENRON was directed at The Old Rep by James Lees whose trademark abundant use of physical theatre is something I have found rewarding in his previous work.

Lees opens his production with an energetic kaleidoscopic showcasing life in the 80s and 90s era of the dot com boom where everything was seemingly paved in gold, greed was good and God lived in Wall Street.

Mobile phones are the size of house bricks and glued to yuppie ears, hedonistic lifestyles abound and ‘Friends’ is the TV show everyone watches.

This prelude lands us nicely into 1985 and the world of energy supply – two large gas companies are merging to form the infamous Enron Corporation based in Houston Texas.

The Chair and wheeler-dealer Kelly Lay is played with a fine intensity by Leah Rogers.

Lay takes advantage of the deregulation laws by turning the company into both an energy supplier and trader; she then forms the Enron Finance Company which can place bets on future energy prices. It is essentially pyramid selling with Enron becoming one giant bubble.

Lay appoints young yuppie finance god Jeffrey Skilling to front what is to be the biggest financial scam in history.

Chris Rutter is not only magnificent as Skilling but he is also charismatic – definitely a star in the making.

Chris is ably supported by Charlie Newham, who plays the financial Rasputin Andy Fastow with just the right level of malevolence.

Whilst Skilling is the public face of Enron encouraging everyone including Enron’s own employees to ‘buy, buy, buy’ its own shares, Fastow exists in an underworld below the chrome and glass towers where he hives off Enron’s mounting debts into shadow companies. Bizarrely, they are represented as the hideous raptors from Jurassic Park.

Jada-Li Warrican puts in a note-worthy performance as Caludia – an honest Enron executive who is appalled at what is happening and resigns in protest whilst the shares are still reaching dizzy heights.

Skilling peddles dreams to stock buyers that grow ever more fantastic involving video, the Internet and even the weather. The gap between perception and reality finally bursts the bubble. Fastow runs out of ideas and flees the nest leaving thousands of ordinary investors and employees penniless and ‘Skilling’ arrested and convicted for fraud.

There are some very clever scenic treats such as the Lehman Brothers Investment Bank played by Siamese twins that speak in unison and the representation of Accountants Arthur Andersen as a hand puppet. Fastow’s explanation of financial investment shrinking into tiny flickering boxes is ingenious – a fine smoke and mirrors exposure of a capitalism con trick shown in layman’s terms that we can all comprehend.

Lees’ use of physical theatre throughout links and drives the action in a long play, which could easily get lost in wordiness. In addition to the excellent leads, there is some fine cameo role-playing with the whole company working in unison. A special shout out for the full-on bodysurfing moments, which are handled with casual abandonment and complete trust in fellow actors.

Despite some occasional poor vocal projection this was a very enjoyable and impressive evening’s theatre. I am told all the BOA productions this week will also be of the same high standard as Enron – so do go if you can.

The Old Rep can be found in Station Street Birmingham at the bottom of the John Lewis stairs exit down from New Street Station.

It resides amongst an enclave of Korean restaurants and nearly next to ‘The Electric’ the oldest cinema in England.

The Old Rep opened its doors in 1913 and on its hallowed stage such luminaries as Lord Laurence Olivier, Sir Derek Jacobi and Dames Peggy Ashcroft and Edith Evans learnt and plied their trade.

Nowadays the theatre is owned and managed by the Birmingham Ormiston Academy, which offers an interesting theatrical programme throughout the year of visiting companies and their own productions.

This week it is the turn of the ‘Year 13 Pathway Students’ to tread the same boards of those illustrious predecessors.

On different nights you can see ‘Nell Gwynn’ by Jessica Swale, ‘Road’ by Jim Cartwright and ‘Enron’ by Lucy Prebble.

Review by Euan Rose

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