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Two decades on, and not very much has changed; Its attack on '80s greed made it a huge hit during the very decade it parodied, and now the stage drama Serious Money looks set for more success in these financially tough times. Nathan Bevan speaks to its French director.

Byline: Nathan Bevan

IT was a savage satire of the ruthless world of corporate finance, written during the '80s epitome of City greed. Thatcher was in power, there'd just been a global economic meltdown and the decade had kicked off with a royal wedding.

And now, some 24 years later, Caryl Churchill's stinging leftist work has been revived in a world where, well, not much has changed really.

"I know, the Conservatives are back in government, we've had a huge financial crash and William and Kate are about to get married," laughs Mathilde Lopez, director for Waking Exploits theatre company which is bringing the play to Wales for the first time.

"So it's very timely that we're doing this now because, honestly, what have we learned? The system is still exactly the same, with the same intrinsic flaws that allow individuals way too much responsibility and leads to mistakes.

"There's no separate race of monsters called bankers, you know, although some might choose to disagree.

"We're all human beings, and if you put some 20-year-old mathematical genius in the middle of the trading pit and give him the opportunity to gamble fortunes, what do you think is likely to happen?" asks the 35-year-old Parisian.

"In fact the only difference between you or I and the traders is that when we have a flutter it might mean blowing 50 quid of the gas bill money, whereas with them you're talking more like pounds 50m and the future of entire countries."

And it's the swaggering, foul-mouthed frenzy of those red braces-wearing yuppies, with their brick-sized mobile phones and Filofaxes, that Churchill, who shadowed the London Stock Exchange while writing, conveys so vividly in Serious Money.

Here making millions could, in the case of one unlucky underground trader who winds up dead, literally be murder.

"They behave like a pack of wild dogs in the trading pit," says Lopez, summing up the animalistic behaviour that occurred on the financial floor after the City joined in with the deregulated delirium of modern Wall Street in 1986.

"They had a whole system of coded hand signals they'd use to denote when to buy and when to sell and would act so aggressively we've likened them in our version to how gangster rappers might hold themselves and move about.

"In fact there's two music numbers in the play which were specially written for the original '87 stage version by the late great Ian Dury, one called Five More Glorious Years which goes, 'p***** and promiscuous, the money's ridiculous'.

"But, because the music was never really published and there weren't any recordings to listen to, we've decided to update them as rap numbers and have been working with an MC from Cardiff called Ruffstylz."

And that, along with Churchill's decision to write the whole play in a combination of dialogue and verse (including the use of rhyming couplets), gives the portrayal of this loud, bullying brash world a dynamic and fast-paced theatricality.

"My God, yes. It's been hectic," laughs Lopez "It's been like a marathon rehearsing this, and I've feel like I'm working with world-class athletes rather than simply actors acting.

"The way Churchill's written everything on tempo, along with the overlapping choreography, means that every time any of us feel like we've got into our groove, or in some sort of comfort zone, the play throws us again."

"We've also broken down the fourth wall even more than in previous versions too," she adds.

"In the play there's a scene where the actor will suddenly turn to address the audience directly, and when it was staged in Covent Garden the cast even put on a scene during the interval.

"But what we've done is to not only show the actors on stage, but to have them changing costumes and warming up in amongst the audience. We're dragging the crowd along into that world - it's extremely complex and ambitious stuff."

The main difference, though, is that there's little chance of a repeat of the reception it got from financial quarters back then, when the very money men it meant to critique saw its vivid depiction of their world as a celebration of the "get-rich-quick" culture of the time.

"No, I doubt there'll be any such confusion today," insists Lopez.

"I think people feel way too much disillusionment and anger at the bankers now for that to happen.

"But, by having lots of moral grey areas in the play, we're saying that we all really need to look at it ourselves and not feel so detached from everything that's happened in the economy.

"After all, it's our world," she says. "We're all a part of it."

* Serious Money is at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, from Wednesday until Saturday and at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on May 5


* The cast of Serious Money at rehearsals for the play, which is being performed in Cardiff and Aberystwyth
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 25, 2011
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