Serious Money

In the past year, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre has shown revivals of several classics from the 1970s and 1980s including Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood and Alan Bennett’s Enjoy!. None, however, has been more germane than Jonathan Munby’s new production of Caryl Churchill’s 1987 play Serious Money, set in the City in the midst of the deregulation legislation which, as the director states in the programme, marked “a new style of banking and trading”.

Watching Churchill’s play over twenty years later is like watching the cause and effect of our own current deep recession. Characters spout that “greed is healthy”: an upstart trader at the bank Klein Merrick (did Churchill consciously echo the surname of the ultimate 1980s Raj villain Ronald Merrick one wonders?) informs his co-executive that the trading floor makes $2 for every $1 made by banking. The American banker, Zackerman (Joseph May) who also serves as chorus, tells the audience that “if people lose confidence in us, there could be a big recession.”

The set design of Paul Wills imitates the slick 1980s City cowboy culture in a literally slippery floor. The scene changes utilise both this texture and the Hooray Henrys, by having actors and crew slide furniture back and forth across the stage in impressively well choreographed movements. Given the speed with which this is achieved, it is impressive that each piece of furniture apparently hits its mark.

The cast is equally slick in their portrayal of multiple roles, ranging from upper class toff to East End stock trader to American entrepreneur investor. In an ensemble play with actors who acquit themselves admirably while telling the story of their numerous characters, it is difficult to single out performances but Joseph May, Lex Shrapnel, Sara Stewart and Ian Gelder all excel in an already admirable cast.

– Jami Rogers