As interactive theatrical experiences go, Ontroerend Goed’s Lies has got to be one of the best. The audience are sucked into a world of global markets, banks and the deals to be had, then hit square between the eyes with message about economics.
This Belgian theatre company’s co-production with Arts Centre Vooruit Ghent, Richard Jordan and Theatre Royal Plymouth is its most ambitious in a ten-year relationship with this theatre.
One-by-one the audience is allowed into a darkened room to sit at what are best described as semi-circular gambling tables, each with a "croupier" dressed in black. Companions are separated from each other, ages and sexes are shuffled until you find yourself in a cartel of six or seven, backs to the rest of the room.
We are part of the super rich, the elite one per cent who pull the strings at the heart of the global economic system. Handing over all of our real, hard cash, we trade for gambling chips each worth a million. We are now all banks in a country of our making and, with the bang of the gong, the markets are open.
It is a taste of the heady atmosphere of the trading markets. The temperature in the room rises (literally, we’re given readings) as we are all swept up with the excitement. You can risk more money for a better return. You can bet against someone else’s failure. Deals are done, money is won and lost. Any altruism disappears as the investments become more speculative.
This is an immersive experience which makes your heart beat faster and your head spin. There’s no time to think. We’re spending money, paying our taxes when we can afford it, bailing out banks when they run out of cash (through their own reckless behaviour) and all the time trying to make as much money as we can. And I feel a genuine sense of exhilaration of someone who’d turned a £10 investment into an eight million profit. I’d played the money markets and won.
There is, of course, an inevitable downside to all this wild speculation. Suddenly you realise that you weren’t in control. You’ve been tricked, manipulated and played for a fool. Afterwards, you can see the lesson we were all meant to learn about financial trust, the reckless nature of speculation on the markets and the way economies prop themselves up by the printing of more money and the sale of government bonds.
What Ontroerend Goed has done with Lies is far more powerful than simply presenting a play about greed and corruption. We can feel the damage done and we have no-one else to blame. It’s a lesson for us all.
Still, I have my eight million profit. Even if it is in the form of an IOU.
£¥€$ (Lies) runs at Theatre Royal, Plymouth until 24 June.