Theatre Review: Money: The Game Show

By - Friday 8th February, 2013

Get on the money train to the Bush Theatre for the most horrifying and hilarious economics lesson that  Tom Black has ever sat through

The Bush Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush
Time from East Croydon  45 minutes
31st January – 9 March 2013

A trip up to Oxford Circus and 15 minutes on the Central Line puts you five minutes’ walk from the Bush Theatre. This versatile space doubles as a very pleasant café, complete with a vast library of plays taking up a bookshelf running along the whole wall. Spend an evening there any time between now and March, however, and you’ll find yourself accosted by Casino (Brian Ferguson) and Queenie (Lucy Ellinson). The two characters, ‘former hedge fund managers’ of believably different backgrounds, proceed to divide their audience into two and immerse them in the world of Money: The Game Show.

Your team is dictated simply by whether a raffle ticket you were given with your ticket is for an odd number or an even one. This arbitrary divide sets the stage for much of Clare Duffy’s script, explaining and exposing quite how much of our system of money – let alone the system by which we bank it – is based on promises and the shared lie of ‘value’. Ferguson and Ellinson are bitter and witty as they skilfully weave history lessons about money, from the foundation of the Bank of England to the Rothschilds paying for the Napoleonic Wars with real gold ingots to the end of the Gold Standard.

‘If I get enough money, I can change the world’

But this show’s true strength isn’t its subtle mastery of ‘edutainment’ (at no point does it feel patronising). It’s the titular ‘game show’. Based on the premise that money is, ultimately, a game, 10,000 very real pound coins are on stage, watched over by an equally real security guard. As Team Queenie and Team Casino place bets on various rounds to accumulate as much cash as possible, they play the audience expertly, drawing them into the game with the kind of audience participation you’d expect of a kleptocratic Jim Davidson. Midway through you’ll realise how effectively the writing and performances have combined to create an intoxicating feeling that can’t be dissimilar to what those at the most dizzying heights of Lehman Brothers will have felt before the crash. You’ll find yourself leaning forward in your seat and cheering as ordinary men and women struggle to inflate balloons under pressure. When balloons pop and the music stops, you’ll wince with genuine feeling before realising that nothing of any substance or value to anyone has just happened. These ‘game show rounds’ are the most effective explanation of the behaviour of the banking class in the run up to 2008 that I have so far encountered, in academia or the arts.

There is some heart under all this. The final act of the piece takes a more sombre tone, concluding Queenie and Casino’s real-life stories with admirable humanity. The former’s belief, stated early in the play, that ‘If I get enough money, I can change the world’, rings hollow, then rings horribly true. While the final ten minutes don’t quite seem to achieve what they’re trying to, there’s a real sense of loss and an uncomfortable feeling of fear as you leave the Bush. The numbers we’re presented with at the end – of global GDP, of debt and more – are by far the scariest part of the night, made all the more chilling by the innovative way in which they’re delivered (you’ll have to go and see it to see what I mean).

The ‘final thought’ you’re left with can perhaps be criticised as being quite dependent on your existing preconceptions of economics. Anti-capitalists will see it as a tale of the failure of capitalism on its own terms. Bankers and the right will see it as a warning not to return to the gambling heyday of Serious Money. Anarchists will embrace the narrative of the beginning of the play – that money itself has failed. This last thought is a powerful one that is, unfortunately, slowly put out to pasture by a script that loses track of its strong opening somewhat.

Go and see this show, and bring your friends – it’s best enjoyed in a group, especially a group of people who aren’t afraid to get up on stage and tit about a bit in the name of the best economics lesson you’ve ever had. It’s also the most fun I’ve had in a theatre in a long time. I recommend it to anyone who fancies a fantastically fresh and invigorating take on the financial crisis, as well as anyone who’s ever wondered what the pound in your pocket really is worth these days.

The Citizen is always looking for more reviewers. If you have something to contribute about a theatre, restaurant or public event which you feel Croydonians should be taking advantage of, contact us today.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

More Posts - Twitter