BWW Reviews: THE POWER OF YES, The National Theatre, February 16 2010
I'll confess that public school and Oxbridge and on to leftish subsidised theatre is not a career trajectory with which I find myself in obvious sympathy, so when I heard that David Hare had written himself into his skewering of bankers, The Power of Yes, I'm afraid I arched an eyebrow (of which more later). On taking my seat, surrounded by city types, all well-tailored suits, expensive shoes and voices just loud enough to really grate, I felt class-consciousness wash over me, with thoughts turning to Everton's match at Goodison Park. Which only goes to show that an open mind is the only mind worth having.
Hare's latest outing on The National Theatre's Lyttleton stage, is less a play and more an extended lecture, delivered by actors playing named and anonymous bankers, lawyers, politicians and journalists. "Hare", played by Anthony Calf as a world weary playwright but an ingénue in the world of finance, is guided by a young Financial Times journalist, played with brio by Jemima Rooper. She looks like an ingénue, but is anything but after an escape from the horrors of Sarajevo in the Nineties and a spell in the financial chaos of the Noughties. A variety of men in sharp suits and a lone female (another journalist - this crisis is very much man-made in every sense of the word, despite Ayn Rand's inspirational texts) march on and off stage and have their say on where it all went wrong. These City types when played by actors, are tremendously charismatic, good-looking, and possessed of a winning, self-deprecating sense of humour. Hare's real villains appear as projections on screens above the actors heads. I suspect Alan Greenspan, ex-Chairman of the Federal Reserve and Fred Goodwin, ex-Chief Executive of RBS are unlikely to receive dinner invitations from Mr Hare and Ms Farhi. The device of short-sharp interventions from actors as financiers, makes for good theatre and, I suspect, flatters the City types in the audience to just the right pitch, but it doesn't square with my experience in the pubs of Bishopsgate.
Ultimately, Hare points the finger at a worldwide culture, one whose reification of "The Market" as the only means of moderating behaviour, proved to be as ill-judged in the 21st century as it had been in the 20th. The message that ignoring history invites its repetition, is driven home by financier George Soros, whose assessment of risk was not based on mathematical formulas, but on his experience of fleeing the Nazis. The audience, many of whom appeared to have plenty of wealth residing in pension funds and plenty of debt in mortgages, are left in no doubt that all of it may melt into air unless The System acknowledges its flaws - not a likely prospect.
And the eyebrow to which I referred above? That belonged to the Governor of the Bank of England. Until 2000, he (always he, never she) had the power to regulate the banks, before that power was hived off to the Financial Services Authority by Gordon Brown. Hare claims, not without some justification, that a banker edging towards recklessness, would have been hauled in by The Governor who would simply raise that eyebrow and, thus, rein in the banker's ambition. I had no cause to raise my eyebrow at Hare's decision to place himself at the centre of the action, for the "play" succeeds in its ambition to explain the crisis, the effects of which will be felt for a generation... and all for the want of an eyebrow.