Enron play is gripping allegory for our times

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I went to see the new play about Enron last night at the Royal Court Theatre. It was phenomenal. It charts the Texan energy company’s rise and 2001 collapse (at the time the world’s biggest corporate failure) in a gripping, shocking and strangely moving way.

On paper, a play about accounting fraud at a US corporation doesn’t sound like a crowd-pleaser. But it is funny and inventive. The show itself incorporates physical theatre, singing, dancing and puppetry, all choreographed by a Rambert-trained ballet dancer.

Playwright Lucy Prebble relishes the subject matter. Her script takes no prisoners (apart from the Enron execs, that is) - she sticks it to US equity analysts, energy traders, TV anchors and Arthur Andersen, the accountancy firm felled by Enron’s collapse. They are all made to look like feckless fools. Lehman Brothers is brilliantly ridiculed by a caustic piece of slapstick.

In a world crippled by a recession caused by greed, hubris and lack of regulation, the play is the perfect allegory for our times. The West End and Broadway surely beckon.

But the show’s real strength lies in the moral questions it poses. Where do the boundaries of acceptability lie in a company’s quest for profits? How free should a free market be? How do you ascribe value to something non-tangible? Can a profitable company exist without inherently taking advantage of a situation? And how can progess be made if frontiers are not pushed?...

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