As Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s revival of Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money prepares to open (previews from May 8; press night May 12), Whatsonstage spoke to company member Lex Shrapnel, recently part of the RSC’s award-winning Histories ensemble and, latterly, the eponymous bodyguard in Channel Five’s revamp of Minder. Shrapnel last appeared at the REP in 2003 as Laertes in Calixto Bieito’s Edinburgh International Festival co-production of Hamlet.
WOS: What kind of research have you carried out as part of your preparation and rehearsal for playing Billy Corman?
LS: We spent the first two weeks of rehearsal in London, so we were able to go to the London Metal Exchange and watch trading there on the open-outcry trading floor - one of the last of its kind, I believe. Trading was an area in which I had very little previous knowledge, so the first port of call for me was Trading for Dummies. There are various films which were also useful to watch, as well as a good excuse to revisit some 80s classics, such as Wall Street and Trading Places. Gordon Gekko was a good model for me, as is Sir Alan Sugar.
WOS: Has Caryl Churchill been involved in any aspect of the rehearsal process?
LS: Caryl was with us for the first couple of days’ rehearsal, and director Jonathan Munby had spent time with her before we started. As well as it being an honour to have met her, it was also very useful to know who her models were at the time of writing the piece. She was also very open to changing the text in places, but there were times when even Caryl was unable to help - namely the complicated trading scenes. She had extensive notes which she made at the time, and which unfortunately have since gone AWOL.
WOS: Why do you think now is the right moment to stage a revival of this play? What do you think audiences will make of it in the current financial climate?
LS: I think the play is very timely. Our present economic situation shows that unfortunately we seem to have learned very little since the mid-80s, and that history has a tendency of repeating itself.
WOS: How accessible is the play for actors and for audiences, given that large sections of the text are in rhyming couplets full of trader-speak?
LS: The rhyming couplets in the text should assist in the understanding of the trader-speak; it’s very rhythmic and percussive on the trading floor and the verse helps to get that across. And, like in Shakespeare, I don’t think it’s neccessary to understand every word or line to get the sense of what is happening.
WOS: The original Royal Court production was supposed to have been enormously popular with yuppies at the time. Is there a danger that the targets of the play’s satire won’t be hit very hard by Churchill’s attack on them?
LS: At the time it did attract the people it was satirising. I think now they might be more aware of the attack on them, and that the public in general are more aware of corporate corruption. There have been a number of large cases in the news over the past couple of decades, like those involving Nick Leeson, and Enron, to name a couple.
WOS: Has it been difficult to adjust to a relatively short working process after having been on the RSC’s Histories for two years?
LS: I thought the Histories would be the hardest thing I’d ever do. I’ve been proved wrong. I’m used to 18 weeks’ rehearsal, not four!
WOS: What do you think Archie Daley would make of Serious Money?
LS: Archie’s warehouse is near Bishopsgate in the City of London, so he’s surrounded by ’suits’, and has a few nice ones himself. He could see himself in an office at the top of the Gherkin, but he’s possibly too dodgy even for the dodgy dealers of the city.
Serious Money runs at Birmingham Repertory Theatre between May 8 and 23.
photo: Channel Five