Lucy Prebble’s Enron is a bold choice for a Freshers’ play. It’s gritty, episodic and technical, with a challenging range of characters that are difficult for fifteen people who don’t know each other to identify with and portray convincingly. Despite the difficulty of script and foreign territory, the cast convincingly portray the rise – and dizzying fall – of energy company Enron through a piece that insidiously blends the real with the fantastical.
This blend is a tricky thing to navigate, and not necessarily helped by Pebble’s script, which at times feels that it needs redaction in order to really ram home the decline of Enron and protagonist Jeff Skilling. Ellie Thornton has been bold in her direction; the integration of elements of the literal comic, such as sock puppets and velociraptor masks, contribute to the surreal impression of the disorientating pace with which protagonist Jeff Skilling, in his own words, ‘can be a billionaire in the morning and worth nothing by the afternoon’.
There are times when it really works; Olly Stanton’s emphatic portrayal of Fastow has an exceptional, almost caricatural energy that really connects with the audience, and permits you to empathise with the man that eventually turns tail on his former idol. There are, however, points where the compounding chaos grows a little too much for the script to handle; the significance of the mice masks, for example, is lost among the frenetic build of music and lighting that comes to highlight the company’s disintegration.
The lens through which this chaos operates is a singular man – Jeff Skilling. Tom Pyle’s performance is captivating; moving seamlessly between the confident swagger of the male-dominated boardroom to the electric tenderness between himself and Izzie Thompson’s Claudia Roe. This is underpinned by a relentless drive to achieve, to succeed, to change something. It’s in all of us; there’s a strain of real human connection that offers a fragility and believability to Pyle’s character; despite his corruption, there is a pathos to his desperation and
Thompson’s Roe is certainly worth a mention. She oozes appeal, intelligence and human desperation that is entirely convincing – her characterisation is strong, which when transposed against a backdrop of continually shifting characters, provides the piece with an essential sense of gravity. The stress on the ensemble to continually multi-role is well-handled; Jesse Price in particular offers a compelling variation of characters, all dealt with in equal tact. While the net effect of a relatively large cast playing so many different characters is a little perplexing at times, the tenacity with which they approach it is commendable.
The play perhaps asks us to suspend our disbelief a little too much; there are points where this depiction of the corrupted American dream, like the company it follows, becomes a little unclear, hindered by the technical issue of slightly too loud music. Yet there are moments, also, of directorial brilliance; the metaphorical connotations of the two empty office seats at the close of the play holds a haunting poignancy that allows the cast to play with
Overall, it’s brave, determined – it manifests the idealism of Enron’s ambition in its treatment of a difficult, distant topic that manages still to resonate with the audience. DST is in safe hands.
Image by DST