BWW Review: OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY, Southwark Playhouse
The stretch limo, the chalkstripe suit, the Bronx vowels - Lawrence Garfinkle hardly needs his nickname, "Larry the Liquidator" to announce his intentions when he strides into Jorgi Jorgenson's office. He's there because his new-fangled computer, Carmen (yes, people used to give them names), has identified Jorgi's company's stock as undervalued and Larry intends to buy it up and then salami slice the company, liquidating most of its assets. It's the 80s - this sort of behaviour was once shocking.
And it couldn't be more 80s if the play walked up to you wearing shoulder pads offsetting big hair, singing "We Built This City". Jerry Sterner's play opened off Broadway around the time that Caryl Churchill's Serious Money played in the West End, Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities filled shelves at Waterstones and Channel Four's Upline premiered on television. All were satires on the venality of the newly unfettered financial industry's Masters of the Universe and all came with a large dose of explanatory narrative.
Somehow - and this only emerges in the rear view mirror - they also developed their own discourse, a macho, male language of winners and losers, a black-and-white world of white men. Too much testosterone: not enough empathy - today's social media just fans those flames from a generation ago.
Jorgi is older than that and very old school in his ways - a Republican, whose hero is the Democrat Harry S Truman and who quotes John F Kennedy - the kind of man who knows the value of everything and the price of nothing. Harold MacMillan would recognise him were he British.
The collision of small-town paternalist capitalism with its fire-breathing offspring, Wall Street's free market, was never going to end well for all Larry's Ayn Rand-inspired lectures on the morality of money. As we know, the meek did not inherit the earth.
Director Katherine Farmer keeps the pace high and is rewarded with some good performances that alleviate the sheer familiarity of the stereotypes on show. Michael Brandon's Jorgi and his devoted PA, Lin Blakley's Bea, play off each other well - we believe their 37-year-old relationship and wonder how deep it runs. Mark Rose lurks in the shadows as William, the Number 2 who might become Number 0 unless he looks out for himself.
But the sparks really fly when Amy Burke's ambitious lawyer, Kate, locks horns with Rob Locke's ruthless Larry to discover that they may be on opposite sides in this deal, but they both understand and believe in the game. And they know that they'll win in the long run.
There are plenty of laughs along the way, stemming from some sharp dialogue, and it would be wrong to think that these matters are no longer relevant - ask a Debenhams employee. But I couldn't help wondering about the wisdom of reviving what is, frankly, a period piece. That Jorgi's company was sunk by the new coming technology - fibre optics, would you believe! - suggests that we need new plays to talk to us about the avarice that is as old as time itself.
Photo Craig Sugden