Bankers are the root of all evil. Discuss. The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of Crash clearly aspires to provoke lively post-show debate; laying out the issues surrounding the recent financial meltdown and challenging people to face up to some unpalatable truths. It’s a bold ambition, but one that, for the most part, it manages to pull off.
The story concerns Humphrey, an artist, who, along with his teacher wife Christine, brings his latest sculpture to the palatial country estate of their old university friend, the uber-rich Nick, a securities trader. Over the course of the play’s two hours (plus interval) issues bubble to the surface concerning Nick’s long-held feelings for Christine and, more importantly, money.
Money is everywhere in Crash, from the ostentatious artwork in Nick’s living room and the champagne filling his liquor cabinet to a £100,000 cheque that is the cause of much consternation. And along with the money comes the requisite sins, namely guilt and envy. As Nick spouts his capitalist views, you can feel the anger rising in his houseguests, which soon erupts, culminating in an explosive finale.
That Crash is a success is not a great surprise given the pedigree of the people involved. Written by William Nicholson, the script crackles with humour and sparkle (as well as a liberal amount of profanity), while the direction by Sarah Esdaile is lively and inventive. The set (by designer Francis O’Connor) is a wonderful monstrosity that fits Nick’s character perfectly; an Elizabethan mansion filled with shallow, overpriced art, including a provocative pop-art coffee table and a Damien Hirst painting. The clever use of the space more than justifies the choice of the West Yorkshire Playhouse as the venue for the play’s world premiere. The acting is universally strong, with Colin Mace especially effective as Nick.
The play does have its flaws. There’s a tendency for characters to launch into showy monologues and some juxtaposing of the human and financial issues feels a little forced. But it manages to take a story covered extensively in the media and present it to the layman with resounding clarity.
Relating the story to real people with real lives takes the issue out of the abstract world of mega-bonuses and collateralised debt obligations and puts it in terms that are both thought-provoking and entertaining. While it could have drowned in its own sanctimonious liberalism, Crash mostly avoids this trap by painting the debate in all its shades of grey. This isn’t a battle between good and evil. In reality, we’re all to blame.
Those with strong feelings over the banking crisis will find much to mull over in Crash, and judging by the impromptu outbreak of applause that followed one of the character’s more impassioned speeches, the play will undoubtedly fuel the heated debates taking place in pubs across Leeds.