Rupert Goold and his Headlong company returned to the Chichester Festival Theatre last night (22 July 2009, previews from 11 July), premiering Lucy Prebble's play ENRON, about the infamous collapse of the US energy company.
Goold has enjoyed a happy association with the Chichester Festival, where he premiered his award-winning and crtically acclaimed productions of Macbeth (2007) and Six Characters in Search of an Author (2008).
Described as an "epic tragedy", ENRON is inspired by the real events surrounding the Texas-headquartered energy company that filed for bankruptcy in 2001. The cast is led by Samuel West (who has also enjoyed a fruitful association with Chichester) as the corporation's president Jeffrey Skilling, alongside Tim Pigott-Smith as chairman Ken Lay, Amanda Drew as a fictional executive and Tom Goodman-Hill as Fastow, a financial whizz-kid.
ENRON is a co-production with the Royal Court, where it transfers following its Chichester run, which finishes on 29 August.
On the evidence of the overnight reviews, Goold has completed a trilogy of Chichester Festival successes. ENRON was almost unanimously acclaimed as a masterpiece of political theatre as critics fell over themselves to heap on the superlatives. The Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer suggested it is already the production to beat at this year's theatre awards, while The Times' Dominic Maxwell excitedly invoked a “street party” in honour of Prebble and Goold's success in creating a political epic with “not a dull moment in it”. Samuel West's performance was heralded as “superb” and, according to Spencer, “the performance of his career”. All told, anyone who questioned whether Goold - described by the Evening Standard's Fiona Mountford in her review as “finest director of his generation” - had lost his midas touch of late should consider the question resoundingly answered.
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Maxwell Cooter on Whatsonstage.com (five stars) - “Lucy Prebble's morality tale is the perfect vehicle for Rupert Goold and his love of video, back projections, harsh lighting and sound effects. Goold uses every technique at his disposal to bring the the story to life - particularly in an innovative routine based on light sabres. Anthony Ward’s set is a brilliant backdrop to the events that rocked America. At the heart of Prebble's tale is a superb performance by Samuel West as Jeffrey Skilling, the architect of the fraud. First glimpsed as a plump, gauche but ambitious executive, we see him gradually take control of Enron and enact his own fantasy of selling everything, including the weather … Tom Goodman-Hill is the socially inept but financially brilliant Andy Fastow, the guy who devised the scheme that brought Enron down, while Tim Pigott-Smith as Enron chairman Kenneth Lay smiles toothily and pockets the cash … Headlong is bringing ENRON to the Royal Court later this year, if you miss it in Chichester, catch it there - this is a theatrical treat.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) - “Lucy Prebble's hugely ambitious play, covering the rise and fall of the Texan energy company, Enron, is an exhilarating mix of political satire, modern morality and multimedia spectacle … The first half of Goold's production reminds one of Citizen Kane in its dazzling, vaudevillian energy: stock prices are imprinted on human faces, traders whirl and gyrate like dancers, analysts sing close harmony numbers … Prebble and Goold, aided by Anthony Ward's breathtaking designs, show that Enron was a vast fantasy in which everyone was complicit … The power of Samuel West's fine performance as Skilling lies in its very lack of demonism. In West's assured hands, Skilling becomes a man who combines brilliance and stupidity and grows from a nerdy ordinariness into a tycoon through the idea that future income can be written down as earnings the moment a deal is signed.”
Dominic Maxwell in The Times (five stars) - “It’s an incredible achievement to come up with a play with not a dull moment in it. But when that play is a three-hour black comedy about the ins and outs of corporate finance, it’s time for a street party … Prebble and the director, Rupert Goold, not only address and explain previously bamboozling financial terms, in constantly stimulating, ingenious ways, they also keep an adroit balance between the epic and the intimate. This is political theatre that never, ever feels impersonal … The ensemble mime quad-bike races on office chairs, perform a Philip Glass-style musical number listing commodities while line-dancing to Dolly Parton ... The acting is superb. West makes Skilling sympathetic without ever making him likeable. He’s not just trying to get rich; he’s trying to stay out of Hell. Tim Pigott-Smith gives strong support as chairman Ken Lay. The entire cast of 16 is superb in a production that shows Goold’s bold showmanship at its very finest, allied to a sense of empathy that makes this an emotional experience too.”
Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (five stars) - “Aristotle himself would relish the hubris in this narrative of an overreaching organisation that plotted, Macbeth-like, to be king, this time of the financial markets … Prebble sensibly doesn’t labour the point, but it’s hard not to find ominous echoes of recent disastrous financial events in the way those surrounding Skilling are loath to ask questions, so long as the stock price keeps heading upwards. That same stock price is displayed on an electronic ticker-tape screen that runs constantly and transfixingly across the back of the stage in Anthony Ward’s spot-on design, which is all slick business aesthetic ... West superbly suggests a monomaniacal man powered by something far more interesting than mere greed, namely a brilliance with theoretical concepts that eventually disconnects him entirely from reality … As the phrase goes, 'buy now' for an outstanding evening.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (five stars) - “The play, in short, could hardly be more timely, one of those rare works that crystallises the mood of its age … Prebble, whose father was the chairman of a multinational software company, understands how business works, and makes it accessible to those who don’t. She also knows how to construct a play, moving from savage black comedy to something approaching classical tragedy … Goold is in dazzling form as director, superbly capturing the greed and madness that seized Enron as debts were hidden in shadow companies, and the share price went through the roof … The whole show is driven by Samuel West, giving the performance of his career as Skilling … Charismatic, scary, and finally cracking up spectacularly, this is high-definition acting of a very high order indeed … ENRON … already looks like the play, and the production, that all the others will have to beat at this year’s theatre awards.”