WOS Radio: Notes on a Scandal at ENRON Q&ADate: 28 September 2009
Over 100 Whatsonstage.com theatregoers attended our Outing to ENRON at the Royal Court last week (24 October 2009), and were treated to a post-show discussion with nine cast members, including Samuel West and Amanda Drew.
On the play's development
Sam West: People think a lot of things in the play are Rupert’s inventions, and indeed because he runs the company, that the idea of the play was his. But it’s important to say that what Headlong did was go to an intelligent writer and say “We’d like you to write us a play.” And Lucy, being a very intelligent person, put her nose in the air and sniffed and thought 'I want to write a play about Enron', and that was three years ago. By the time it came out, the world had collapsed, and everybody wanted to know why. But that’s just why you go to writers, because they can sense that before the rest of us.
Susannah Fellows: What I loved most about the rehearsal process was when we did a field trip to a real trading floor in the city - that was quite an experience for me. I didn’t know much about the financial market or trading, so this has been a complete eye-opener to me.
Tom Godwin: The rehearsal room was a whole jumble of ideas and everyone was encouraged to throw ideas in. Part of the beauty of the process is that we were all presented with a brilliant script, a very strong vision, and given space to play within it. Scott Ambler, the choreographer and movement director, got us together as an ensemble very quickly. And personally, it took me to a whole new level of movement and a whole new experience. But also, it threw us challenges. We were creating a lot of new material every day and polishing it to a performance level, which we might not use again. It was a very targeted but very oblique creative process to find that choreography.
On using Light Sabres
Gillian Budd: When the boys got their light sabres, it was unbelievable. Eleanor and I were like “Alright, whatever”. The boys were like three-year-olds, so overexcited. It lasted a long time.
Sam West: At first we were disappointed because we couldn’t use sparklers, as originally planned. But once we got the light sabres, we were very happy … for someone like me with two left feet, being in a company like this that’s so fluent is really eye-opening. There's a lot of different skills and backgrounds - Gillian was in musicals in the West End and I was in the RSC. Tom studied at Lecoq, we have an assistant director who studied at LIOTA; everyone is so physically different, yet they come together in a fantastic mixture.
On learning the gestures of the trading floor
Susannah Fellows: During our visit to the trading floor we were shown an extensive range of hand gestures and told what they all mean, like the days of the week, months of the year and any combination of numbers. Then we began to improvise using things like our phone numbers, so we became fluent.
Tom Godwin: We were on the trading floor for about an hour and a half, and it was fascinating for about 20 minutes but then it became a bit boring. Then suddenly, in the last five minutes before the market closed, it just went ape shit. And in the last minute, it was amazing; all these guys on the side who had been reading their papers just became monsters. Their hands seemed to double in size and their fingers got longer and they were doing these extraordinary gestures.
Sam West: It was very pure. Everyone was very close to each other. But there was none of that sort of embarrassment from a crowd pushed too tight, like you get on the tube. They were absolutely concentrated on their deal and making money. And you may think that’s despicable or marvellous, but it was very pure.
On the individual characters
Sam West: Jeff Skilling is a someone I really wanted to play, and I turned down work in order to be free to audition, which I’ve never done before. I got a little bit of the script and I just thought “I really want this”. Skilling's journey is a classical tragedy. It’s not up to me to comment on how wrong he was. Even if I don't agree with him on any point, I have to make him make sense from his point of view, which is what you do when you play Macbeth. Macbeth is a child murderer, but you don’t play him like he’s a child murderer, you play him like that was the best thing to do at the time.
Amanda Drew: My character Claudia is based on a woman called Rebecca Mark who worked for the company but wasn't involved in the scandal. She had a very glamorous side to her and a very fun, charming side. She really did ride a Harley Davidson and go to a lot of parties with elephants - she was a larger than life character. But because she wasn’t involved in the scandal, Lucy didn’t want to use her real name. I‘ve seen photographs of the woman she’s based on and she’s a glamorous, blonde, tough business woman – she certainly wasn't perfect, but I wouldn’t want to play a character without flaws because there wouldn’t be many dimensions
Sam West: One of the things that we cut was a line at the funeral. When Enron went down, the only stuff that turned out to be worth anything were the power plants: Enron International, which was Claudia’s division. The fight in scene three, the scene with Ken Lay at his desk, is basically between derivatives and assets. You got one guy who says “No you don’t need the stuff, you just need the prices. And you can generate paper income.” And then Claudia’s saying “No, people need power. People need the Indian Power Plant.” And when Enron went under, the only thing that turned out to be anything of value was the stuff that she was responsible for building.
On the transfer from Chichester
Sam West: One of the things we noticed in Chichester was the atmosphere at Thursday matinees, which would bring in an older crowd who were really responsive. I have a theory that it's because they're from a generation that's never been in debt, and they find the idea of it really naughty. I mean, half of this cast are paying off student loans. But in Chichester, all these people own their houses, they don’t have credit cards, and they think the idea of living beyond their means is thrillingly awful. So they laughed a lot. It was great.
Susannah Fellows: The staging is different here. In Chichester, we were surrounded by the audience on three sides and we had an entrance that was straight downstage centre.
Sam West: It was a terribly useful position to have, because you were surrounded. So you could stand downstage, and only have your back to ten percent of the audience. During the trial scene, I was downstage centre, facing back. I really enjoy that scene.
Tom Godwin: I think that when you’re in the round, the relationship with the audience is different. You’re talking to people next to you as if they’re your equals, because you’re not set apart from them or above them. Also, you have to have a sharper idea of who you are, because you’re set. You have inverted corners around you. I found the first show very worrying in that respect. But it's easier here. In Chichester, a lot of people weren’t looking at you when you were speaking, so sometimes you would have to do something to draw their attention. Here, you don’t have to do that because everyone is looking in the same direction. I think the play does benefit, because it becomes subtler. You don’t have to do as much. Whether it changes politically remains to be seen.
On the technology used in the play
Sam West: I think one of the things our video director and Rupert (Goold) would want to say is that this really is cutting edge technology we're using. A show that looks like this simply wasn’t possible three years ago. We’ve got three digital projectors now which are capable of superimposing. The fact that you can play around with digital things and change sizes or colours or proportions is possible in a way that it wasn’t earlier this century.
On 9/11 and the American viewpoint
Susannah Fellows: The collapse of Enron and 9/11 were a month apart. They coincided, almost, with each other.
Sam West: Ken Lay said something like “Just like America is being attacked by terrorists, we’re being attacked in our homes.” He actually said that in one of his speeches. He himself used it as a metaphor.
Susannah Fellows: So it’s his tastelessness that’s being displayed.
Amanda Drew: There is a plan to take it to the States, and I think it will go down fantastically well over there. I think they’ll love it.
Tom Godwin: I imagine that when we go to the West End, a lot more Americans will see it. I think a lot of them will take issue with the 9/11 scene because it’s kind of taboo. I think a couple of dance companies have done pieces about 9/11, but no one has really tackled it yet in a theatrical way. Maybe it’s still too soon for them. I don’t know how it would go down. We do it in quite a detached way, even though it’s obviously quite iconic.
Trevor White: It depends whether you think this piece is about a lot of people in Houston, or about a global, financial, and humanitarian problem. I mean, imagine a Minnesota company transferring a show to the Almeida about Newcastle United and saying “We’re from Middlesbrough”. You listen to them and you say “No, you’re not.” Nevertheless, there’s something important about the story. British people shouldn’t remove the sting and the power of what we’re trying to say. I hope that if it goes to America, people accept that, because if people just insist that this is an American story, they’re missing the point.