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£¥€$ (LIES): Almeida Theatre

August 8, 2018

(seen at the 6pm performance on 7th August 2018).

 

Authors Joeri Smet, Angelo Tijssens, Karolien De Bleser and Alexander Devriendt attempt to explain that global banking is not only based entirely on trust and notional transactions, but also affects absolutely every participating nation equally.

To do so, the audience of 70 is invited to join one of ten countries. Split into groups of 7 at casino-style tables, each facing an actor / banker / croupier, we are encouraged to first “buy in” to our country’s economy with our own cash (returned at the end) by purchasing casino chips. A dice game increases or decreases those assets, taxes are paid, and an ever more confusing mountain of options, loans, local to international bonds and short-selling cards are offered as the evening progresses.

Therein lies the problem. Director Alexander Devriendt orchestrates things to be frenetic, and they are. Too much so. Many on my table were confused as to what they were actually doing, and never really grasped the concepts. Luckily, their activity was fruitful – in fact, more so than mine (I played it straight, using the knowledge I have of business and finance), but I could sense many were slightly dissatisfied with their continuing confusion.

Trouble was, the game is not just random, but lacked the discipline of a real financial market. Real decisions are made on actual data, and this is pretty scarce – limited to a few updates and on a revolving board you have to turn your back to see. There’s also a problem in that it is possible to manipulate the game if one has even a modicum of magician’s skill. I chose not to, is all I’m saying on that, but it would have been pretty simple.

When it comes, the final dénouement is impactful – but also one can’t help feeling a trifle contrived and inevitable. Had our table had up-to-the-second information at all times about the activities of our rival countries, and had we known how much better capitalised and informed the entire audience should be, I’m pretty certain the near universal apocalypse we witnessed would have been avoided. That may have been the point, in fact, but it felt unrealistic if so, as markets do know, even if we in this model did not.

As it was, four tables went bankrupt and all of us took a severe beating. I’m proud to say that my own team, despite never getting out of the C credit rating (the only ones to fail at that) also lost only £117m, the second lowest, thanks to our cautious investment approach and deliberately sneaky refusal to divulge economic data to other tables at any time.

Thanks too to our steely banker Hannah Boer, whose firm control of our table was always good-humoured and seldom frustrated (though frequently incredulous) at our combined approach. A quick name-check too for fellow team-mate audience members Paul and Rachel, seated either side of me. Good company and, as I pointed out at one point, not the first time I’ve been next to a lady for just a few minutes, only to find myself several million down…

Three further notes: if you are booked (it’s a sold-out run now, alas) and are told you can’t bring a bag in, actually, you can, provided it is small enough to go under the high bar-stool seats we all have. Second, couples will be split up, to prevent collusion. Finally, egotists may like to be in the first ten people to enter the auditorium.

It’s fun, though not quite as much as it thinks it is, and informative in a general way, with certainly enough sobering notes to make you consider exactly how the economy really works.

5 stars for effort, 4 for fun and 3 for communication and clarity, is the verdict – a healthy B rating.

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