Money the Gameshow

10:53 am in Featured, Review, Reviews by EVNT

Money‘s two hosts, Queenie and Casino, introduce themselves to the audience in the Bush’s crowded bar. They claim to be former hedge fund managers who decided to become performance artists after the 2008 crash. They explain that they applied for the Arches new directors award and won £6,000, which they then put on stage and played with.

Tonight, the stakes are higher because we’re paying with £10,000. The audience is divided into two teams (according to numbers of on our tickets). One team follows Queenie (Lucy Ellinson); the other Casino (Brian Ferguson). The next section is part primer on the themes of the show and part chance for the team to prepare for the first round of the competition. After this, we are all reunited in the main auditorium with opposing teams on opposing seating blocks and Rhys Jarman’s garish set strongly evoking a cheesy television game show.

On one side of the stage is a big pile of pound coins (ten thousand of them) and a security guard hovering in the wings, which, Queenie and Casino explain, is part of the agreement with the insurance company for having this much money on stage. The game involves the teams competing against each other in various fun, silly activities but also betting on their own representative and agreeing on the level of risk they want to engage in. From a game play perspective, it’s well done. We are introduced to a game play element and that is then expanded upon and combined with other elements that we have discovered. By the final round, both teams were going all in and betting didn’t necessarily have to be team-loyal any longer. What builds up is a simple but effective metaphor/synecdoche for how hedge funds spread their risk and the nature of the risks they take. Running alongside this though, the rounds are interspersed with Queenie and Casino’s own story.

These scenes exist within an entirely different register and we are already about a third of the way through the show before the story begins so it takes a moment to adjust to this additional element of the evening. One aspect of the show does feed into the other though. Without giving too much away, whoever is the loser in the game show also loses out in Queenie and Casino’s story of financial risk-taking. The idea is that they predicted the US sub-prime mortgage crisis and the effect this might have and decided to make it work to their own advantage. By taking part in the game, by wanting to win, we are complicit in the processes that have led both characters to the miserable state they find themselves in by the end of the show.

It’s an interesting experiment in audience interaction but a limited one. The two elements of the piece don’t feel as integrated as they might have been. The rounds of the game and the scenes that follow or precede them are following different trajectories so there’s no sense of the two working together toward a common goal or effect. The more we learn about the two characters, the more we see them as distinct; the more we see them as individuals, the products of their backgrounds as well as their cultural and historical moment, the harder it becomes to buy the idea of their fates being decided by the toss of a coin. Casino’s the maths genius from a working class background, the one whose worked out the numbers; Queenie’s the entitled but driven posh girl who Casino comes to at the start asking to be given a chance to explain his theories to her.

If you’ve seen Enron, it’s not dissimilar to the relationship between Jeffrey Skilling and Andy Fastow (which is always basically Faust and Mephistopheles). There’s a clear dynamic there and that has to be there to for the scenes to work dramatically but the problem is that dynamic than undermines the idea that either of them could lose out in the end. Surely the levels of risk they are willing to take, how far they will push their luck, are entirely connected with who they are as individuals.

The way in which these two elements pull away from each other is one of the big challenges of combining game play with storytelling and something that Money doesn’t quite get to grips with. Duffy says in her introduction to the play-script that the show hopes to ask: “What do we want and need money to be?” It’s an important question and one that the show certainly touches upon but it doesn’t feel that either element (game or show) actually explores the question in depth either through drama or play. Instead, it remains at a level of philosophy and theory and, by the end, when we are reminded that “we make money […] literally” and therefore we can “make it better”, it’s easier to agree with the logic of the argument than to feel that we’ve seen that potential demonstrated.

This article, by William Drew, originally appeared in Exeunt