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Review Round-up: Enron Stock Continues to Rise?

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Following sold-out, critically acclaimed and award-winning runs at the Chichester Minerva Theatre and Royal Court, Lucy Pebble’s Enron finally transferred to the West End last week, opening to a star-filled audience at the Noel Coward Theatre (See 1st Night Photos, 27 January 2010).

Described as an "epic tragedy", Enron is inspired by the real events surrounding the Texas-headquartered energy company that filed for bankruptcy in 2001. The cast is led by Samuel West (who has also enjoyed a fruitful association with Chichester) as the corporation's president Jeffrey Skilling, alongside Tim Pigott-Smith as chairman Ken Lay, Amanda Drew as a fictional executive and Tom Goodman-Hill as Fastow, a financial whizz-kid.

Although perhaps not as glowing as the reviews that greeted its premiere in Chichester (See Review Round-up, 23 Jul 2009), Enron can still be considered one of the hottest tickets in town after another raft of positive notices. Samuel West was again praised for his "masterful" depiction of Skilling, though the Independent's Paul Taylor, reviewing the play for the first time, sounded a rare note of negativity by highlighting the "undernourishment of the relationships" within Prebble's prize-winning text.

  • Jo Caird on Whatsonstage.com (five stars) – “The great Samuel West leads the same cast as that which first appeared at the Chichester Minerva Theatre in July last year, then at the Royal Court in the autumn, and the company crackle with energy and wit now just as they did in each of the previous incarnations of the show. Anthony Ward’s set looks fantastic on the larger stage of the Noel Coward Theatre after the more confined environment of the Court … Rupert Goold’s thrilling staging, complete with light sabre choreography, stalking raptors and line-dancing traders is a theatrical feast. This transfer is just what Lucy Prebble’s astoundingly mature play deserves. ”
  • Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (four stars) – “In recent years, the stock of director Rupert Goold, the closest thing British theatre has to its own PT Barnum, has risen so high that he is regularly mentioned as a future artistic director of the National Theatre. The bubble shows no sign of bursting with his West End transfer of Lucy Prebble's all-singing, all-dancing morality play … a piece so confident it's astonishing that it is only her second play. Audiences that put their money into this ticket are guaranteed a return … exuberantly staged as a cross between a vaudevillian nightmare and roistering Jacobean City comedy … Sam West is remarkable in what is a remarkable cast … you might argue that the overlay of visual tricks and video amount to show-off distractions, in this show they are put to terrific use to create the dizzying and seductive spectacle of capitalism itself … in Anthony Ward's design the figures flash before our eyes in mesmerising digital displays that capture the giddy euphoria of the markets … Prebble has brought clarity to a complex story, cleverly blurring the line between fact and fiction to considerable dramatic effect.”
  • Paul Taylor in the Independent (three stars) – “I can absolutely see why Lucy Prebble's play and Rupert Goold's production received ecstatic reviews when it opened last summer in Chichester … both the script and the staging make vividly intelligible such fiendishly twisted concepts as mark-to-market. It is also the kind of production that is easy to write about … I admired Prebble's piercing and principled clarity … it struck me as just a tad sophomoric, or at least what a bright, ambitious undergraduate might concoct if s/he had a healthy budget … the men in business suits with raptor heads are supposed to symbolise the ravenous shadow companies. These figures should look morally repulsive; instead, they look shallowly risible … This brings me to the undernourishment of the relationships in the piece. Samuel West brings some masterly moral shading to Faustian über-geek, Jeffrey Skilling. But the scenes with his little daughter, designed to show him as guilty and emotionally inadequate, are themselves guilty of emotional inadequacy in both the writing and the staging … the show seems vestigial of an earlier plan to make it a musical. While I would not go as far as to say that this is a soulless take on a soulless world, I will say that alternative values are not feelingly enough implied and that if anyone fancies writing the masterpiece of financial meltdown, the field is still wide open.”
  • Fiona Mountford in The Evening Standard (four stars) – “If there’s one thing that those working on Lucy Prebble’s dazzling account of the collapse of the Texan energy giant know, it’s that the boom times can’t last forever. To this observer, who gave a five-star rave for the Chichester premiere, a small but crucial helping of sparkle has disappeared. Maybe it’s been drowned under the six-month deluge of superlatives that Prebble rightly received for the thrillingly clear yet delightfully playful way she conveys the overarching financial hubris of Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling … Rupert Goold gives all this his customary whizz-bang treatment, flooding the stage with ticker-tape electronic screens, neon lights and, when the US energy market is deregulated, light-sabres for a spectacularly well-drilled ensemble of financial Every-people. Samuel West skillfully suggests Skilling’s metamorphosis from an overweight, bespectacled nerd to super-fit financial Superman, although his astonishing thriller-like momentum, which had the clinical purity of Greek tragedy, has dissipated. This time around, I was more struck by Tim Piggott-Smith as Enron’s disingenuous founder. Slight quibbles notwithstanding, this will set the West End’s stock riding high.”
  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (four stars) – “It’s now as much a phenomenon as a play … Rupert Goold gives a highly theatrical staging to the events that ended in the biggest bankruptcy in American corporate history. When I first saw his production, I wondered if he wasn’t sexing up Lucy Prebble’s text too obviously … the narrative isn’t the least unclear. I even left the theatre more or less understanding mark-to-market, if not quite mark-to-model … That a potentially dry subject is actually packed with juice is also due to the actors: Tim Pigott-Smith’s Kenneth Lay, Tom Goodman-Hill as the obsequious nerd who devises and then disowns the fiscal trickery; and, above all, Samuel West as the CEO who is now doing 24 years in jug … You shouldn’t sympathise, but you do, just a bit. Here’s a man destroyed by hubris and obsession — and, if Euripides were living, he would have relished him.”

    - Alex Mangini & Theo Bosanquet

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