"Money The Gameshow"A unique, fun and challenging look at our current economic climate, MONEY the gameshow is the creation of writer and theatremaker Clare Duffy. Inspired by the real global events that have seen us enter a time of financial crisis, the production takes a light-hearted look at the value of money, but without sacrificing anything in terms of emotional and intellectual impact. By taking part in a live casino game complete with real coins, the audience are drawn into an interactive world where decisions have real costs and there’s always a price to pay. Clare Duffy tells Laura Turner more.

How did MONEY the game show come about? I was astounded when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. When that happened it was so clear there was no backup plan for the global systems of money, that is the systems that make modern western capitalism possible. I had been interested in speculations and rumours about a possible crash prior to 2007, then of course there was the run on Northern Rock in September 2007. But when Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail by the US government and that threatened to actually break the whole system in September 2008, I was really shocked and in some ways quite excited. For me it is the biggest story of my adult life, although I don’t think it has fully played out yet.

Also, I had written a completely different show the year before about a couple who had ‘put a pound in the pot’ for every day they were together. When one of the couple runs away they take their half of the cash with them. I wrote that play to be performed around a long dinner table covered in 500 pound coins. I used the ‘real’ money as part of a fictional drama and that led me to see that coins on stage are not quite the same as money held in the street or shop. So I put this theatrical discovery together with my interest in the economic crisis of 2007/08 and MONEY the gameshow was the result.

So how exactly does the gameshow element of the performance work?
The first thing that happens is that the audience is divided into two teams and each given an ‘ex-hedge fund manager-turned performance artist’. These two characters ‘Queenie’ and ‘Casino’ explain that in the show there are 10,000 real pound coins on stage, which the audience can play with. The show is a series of interactive games demonstrating some of the ways bets are made in financial services to ‘make money’. These games are interspersed with scenes from the lives of the two ‘ex-hedge fund managers’ and show how they tried to bet that the US sub-prime housing market would collapse. The show has two different possible endings. This is decided by the outcome of the games. So, if Queenie’s team wins then Queenie doesn’t have to perform the losing character’s part that night.

There is a lot of audience interaction. There are six actual games that the two teams play competitively. There is also a scene where an audience member plays a role in the story and of course the outcome of the play is determined by the outcome of those games.

What made you decide to use real money on set?
The show is all about asking ‘What is money?’ so it seemed quite important to have some of it actually on stage. The really interesting thing is that it seems to almost stop being money while it is on stage, during the play. The show aims to ask the audience to suspend their disbelief in the usual role, character and even value of money.

What does money mean to you?
Money to me is something I know I cannot live with out. I see that it runs through our whole lives from birth to death. It runs through the everyday mundane things and the epic life-changing moments. Money has existed in all human societies since the beginning of history. (The first known examples of writing are accounts of debts between traders.) However, there have been many different forms of money in different cultures and times. The kind of money that we have now, I think, is almost broken. It is being kept propped up by implausible (perhaps impossible) government bailouts. We need some radical new ways to value our selves, goods, services and the things we chose to believe in.

So MONEY the gameshow is a way of reflecting on the changes we’ve seen over recent years?

Yes. Any way of understanding the ridiculous state of money can only be helpful… at least that’s what I hope.

I started writing after I left university, although I’d always wanted to be a writer. My university course was part Theatre Studies and part English Literature so I’d been studying theatre and plays for three years. On the course we made lots of shows through devising processes, we also put on plays in a more traditional way. That’s how Unlimited Theatre started, six students at Leeds University deciding that we wanted to carry on doing what we’d been learning about at university as our job.

I made a shorter version of Money at The Arches in 2011, since then I’ve been continuing with the research, talking to lots of people who actually work in the financial sector. That was fascinating. I’ve also been able to work with a bigger budget thanks to The Bush, Unlimited and the Simon Gray Award. That has allowed me to explore the world of the play with amazing designers, Rhys Jarman designing the set, Richard Godin, the lighting designer, the sound designer Matt Angove, as well as David Edwards, the composer. They’ve been an amazing team alongside having more time to direct the script with Simon Perkins stage managing and of course Lucy Ellinson and Brian Ferguson as Queenie and Casino.

What can audiences expect from a night out at MONEY?
A lot of fun, to take part, to cheer and boo, to be silly, to be told a story, to win (and to lose) and to be asked questions.

MONEY plays at the Bush Theatre until 9 March. For tickets and more information visit http://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/production/money_the_game_show/.

Image credit: MONEY in rehearsals by Simon Kane