Enron at the Royal Court – Review

30 10 2009


If you have not heard of the scandal surrounding Enron, one of the biggest energy corporations reaching tremendous heights before its collapse into bankruptcy in 2001, this highly visual engaging production will not leave you in the dark. New playwright, Lucy Prebble, has written an intelligent overview of the rise and fall of Enron, with a clear dramatic narrative. The script is beautifully delivered by director, Rupert Goold who brings the stage to life as the audience follows Jeffrey Skilling, played by Samuel West. Skilling with his new bold ideas eventually becomes President of Enron and with co-worker Andy Fastow, played by Tom Goodman-Hill, commit corporate fraud to hide the company’s flaws and ultimately, Skilling’s very own flaws, leading to their downfall.

This is a fantastic play because it is inspired by real life events with a hint of fiction for dramatic effect. The minimalistic trading floor is created with traders standing on a few moveable boxes. The traders indicate they are buying or selling with exaggerated gestures in addition to the sound of large crowds shouting. The atmosphere is manic, yet with minimal effort. Simplicity is a major strength of Enron with its intelligent design and physical style, as well as its use of music and dance. High energy, technologically heavy, musical dance interludes sometimes break the dramatic tension of certain scenes, which is very effective and entertaining. These interludes provide a new perspective on the financial crisis, since they are unexpected in a play about a typically boring issue, for example, there is a song and dance about stock prices with projections on the entire stage with stock prices making various patterns in different colours.

Absurdist elements of Enron also make it more accessible to audience members unaware of the facts. There is a conversation between Skilling and Fastow about saving the company from bankruptcy, referencing Jurassic Park, which ends up with raptors in suits personifying shadow companies. The raptors are physical characters that Fastow feeds, while Skilling cowers in fear. The scene is set in Fastow’s lair with dark red lights; this is a nightmare that crosses into reality, indicating the trouble ahead. Although the Absurdist elements can seem patronising and slightly overdone, they enhance the interesting and funny nature of the play, while educating the audience without complexity.

Surprisingly, the metaphors and crazy dance routines are scarcely used towards the end of the piece, creating a more serious tone, which prompts the question, why now? Despite the play having serious undertones throughout; even the portrayal of the terrible electricity problem in California was with loud techno music and physical dance with green lightsabers. Enron is certainly not a lecture, but a great theatrical piece. Skilling’s final speech requires our utmost attention as there are plenty of lessons still to learn.