Review: Lies (Almeida Theatre)
It's not your usual entry to the Almeida Theatre space – a uniformed man appears: "Hello sir, please follow me", he shows you to your table, one of a number circling the auditorium. Betting chips are handed out, it almost feels like a courtesy cocktail is going to be provided. It's apt that you feel like you're in some sort of casino, because £¥€$ from Ontroerend Goed is basically glorified gambling.
Rather than hard-earned cash, in this show, you're playing with international commerce. Each table is a different country, every individual a different bank. You're dealing with different currencies and seven, eight, sometimes nine figure sums. Each chip is worth a million – you can invest the chips, roll dice and earn more. Gains come with risk, and the bigger risks mean bigger gains. You can grab loans, you can short investments. Buying up bonds from different countries and investing them once they're worth more can be a great way to supercharge your holdings. In case it needed saying, don't expect a cushy night at the theatre – in £¥€$ you're going to have to think. Strategically.
It may all sound a bit boggling (and, in retrospect, it certainly feels like it was) but Ontroerend Goed can be applauded for turning such an intricate network of financial systems into an accessible and thought-provoking experience.
What is most fascinating is that the company never tell you that you need to win – even when banks crash, bonds fail and investments aren't successful, we are the ones cursing ourselves for not succeeding, for our own lack of foresight or our inept rolling. In a rigged system that is almost certainly orchestrated, you still feel like your failings are your own.
Because £¥€$ isn't about making money – there isn't any real money at risk in the entire space – it's all about ego. WhatsOnStage colleagues who saw the show in Edinburgh last year are still mentioning how much of a lucrative time they had. A big board in the middle of the room gives your table, your country, a credit rating. Bigger profits mean a better rating. A lowly C- rating is an embarrassment – you want to be up with the As, making more moolah. As the clock ticks down, banks can merge (mine and a fellow punter's Royal Bank of Nalex was, apparently, too big to fail by the end of the two-hour time limit) with merged banks rewarded with special, golden dice. All that glitters is gloated about.
In a week where Facebook can record the single biggest drop in value of any US company in history, and Apple can be the first US organisation to reach a valuation of $1 trillion, the piece should feel relatively pertinent – these are boggling numbers that come with big bragging rights. And while certainly an enthralling idea, £¥€$ falls down on the underlying substance. A hasty monologue, delivered after two hours of dice rolling come to a shuddering halt, about the importance of trust and cautious yet optimistic investment feels tacked on. The earnestness after gamified hysteria doesn't sit as well as it could.
Major-league Monopoly supercharged with some performative flair, do go and see £¥€$ – you'll probably never experience anything like it again at the Almeida. But beneath it all don't expect to learn too much that you don't already know – we trade in images and egos, rather than anything really tangible.