[author-post-rating] (2/5 stars)
When a tasteless office prank goes disastrously awry, the shadowy world of investment bankers becomes a whole lot darker. Against the gloomy backdrop of our current economic climate, nestled amidst public unrest reminiscent of the Occupy protests, Odd Ritual’s Economy of Thought‘s glimpse into the sixth-floor office of a powerful City bank should be an incredibly timely interrogation of at least one of its avenues of interest – money, greed, capitalism, power. It’s all there in the sleek glass skyscraper, the sharp tailoring, the iPhones and Blackberries, the privileged few elevated high above the “crusties” (their words, not mine) below.
Unfortunately, the one precipitous event that could have been the solid foundation for a high-octane drama is disappointingly spooled out into a thin and pedestrian story-line where a cast of often nauseating characters aren’t ever really held to account. Overall, Economy of Thought occupies a strange and incoherent moral moot point in a way that suggests writer Patrick McFadden, though well-intentioned, has very little that is decisive or groundbreaking to share.
From the onset, we feel remote. A flurry of incomprehensible business-speak pitches us mercilessly into the world of the play, and yet, the actors’ strangely underpowered delivery of financial jargon suggest I’m not the only one has troubling understanding exactly what actually being said here. We follow along as rising star Amanda tries to hold her own amongst an office of slimy, stereotypical co-workers who go for every politically-incorrect punch line like someone’s keeping score. When a protestor is hospitalised by the foolish actions of chief sleazeball Reece (Jonny McPherson), the usually composed team start to lose their cool, especially when Amanda’s persistent journalist sister gets involved. Yet, events somehow manage to play out utterly without momentum and whilst, visually, Odd Rituals has a clean and bold sense of style, with Rory Evans’s multipurpose set allowing the action to move fluidly from office to flat to club to restaurant with an understated elegance. Perhaps it’s a case of significant style over a severe lack of substance.
Katharine Davenport certainly works hard because Amanda carries the entire plot on her shoulders, but it seems her detached acting style would be better suited to the cold and calculating business protegee she first appears as rather than a relatable human being caving under pressure. Amanda’s growing conscientiousness, which should be the crux of the play, doesn’t quite convince and there’s little to be found elsewhere. As an audience, we occupy a strange middle ground, unsure of what to take from this experience – it isn’t informing us about the inner workings of a company in the financial district, neither does it seek to oppose such cold functionality with emotional resonance.
There’s plenty of distinctly uncomfortable and near unforgivable moments – for example, when journalist Colette suggests her ‘plan B’ for getting information is “cleavage” – and what’s worse is that Economy of Thought is simply not brazen or incisive enough to declare itself satire. Of course, we all assume bankers are an amoral bunch, but here, we often laugh with them rather than at them. You shouldn’t come out of a performance in which the most interesting character on stage was a misogynistic, elitist cesspool of a man (however impressively he be may performed by the actor) simply because he was the most developed. Despite its attempts at balance, it is as if the play itself has a fascination with the repulsive Reece that we’re expected to share. To be honest, I was left feeling a little hollow by this intriguing premise that fails to deliver.
Economy of Thought played as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.