Belgian provocateurs Ontroerend Goed‘s new show is less a play, more a game: think Monopoly on steroids. It seems to be a pretty accurate recreation of our often incomprehensible financial system, staged as if it were a casino. The lies of the title suggest condemnation, but mostly you’re in it to win it; there’s actually not much time to wonder about ethics. That’s partly what they’re condemning, of course, but the fun overtakes the thinking here really.
For good fun it is, and extremely well done. The audience is divided into teams which sit at six half-moon shaped wooden tables; each is a country, and each individual one of that country’s banks. An actor/croupier swaps the real money we cough up to invest (don’t worry, you get it back at the end) with an equivalent amount in gambling chips, each representing a million quid. Each go, you put forward an investment; whether it comes good or not is decided by a roll of the dice.
Gradually, it gets more complicated – we start trading in debt, upping risk to up potential returns. Bets are shorted; banks merge. Meanwhile, other actors mingle and observe, report on the state of the markets and assign each country a credit rating. When these shoot up and the banks boom, a bubble is created and then a financial crisis hits as bonds lose their value. Who will be bailed out, and who’ll be given junk status?
It takes a while to get going, but as the money starts rolling in and the stakes get higher, it’s easy to be swept up in the adrenaline of it all – and the final crisis scenes really thrill. Ontroerend Goed have an iron grip on the material, and it’s slickly staged; the physical set-up itself feels classily expensive, while a relentlessly manic (and unhelpfully loud, actually) soundtrack adds to the hyperactive buzz.
There’s a speech about how we have to live with the damage of this crazy system at the end, but really, there's not much analysis here, nor that much troubling our complicity in the game. And although it feels like it’s a realistic recreation of how the system works, I’m not sure how lasting such lessons will prove – but maybe that’s just my lack of economic nous (although I did make a cool £71 million profit in the game, ta very much). But as an interactive experience it is genuinely exciting, and Ontroerend Goed prove once again to be very much on the money.
£¥€$ (Lies) runs at Summerhall until 27 August.