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Boris Johnson isn’t the only one embroiled in a dispute over his financials. Where you source your funding and how you use it is also the thorn in the side of a charity board in Isla van Tricht’s new play. Over the course of 90 minutes on Zoom, we watch them defend their clashing positions, before we’re asked to take our own, in an engrossing, if uneven, evening.
When we join the Nyoni Youth and Community Project, we hear about the devastating impact lockdown has had in imperiling their work and fundraising. Miraculously, however, there’s a financial lifeline offered by a smarmy CEO — a tongue-in-cheek cameo from Mel Giedroyc. The answer to all their prayers? So it seems, until connections are discovered between the life-saving money and forest-destroying activities of the company.
But it’s not palm oil they need to worry about — it’s an uneven rhythm. Despite it being presented as a dense debate necessitating breakout discussion rooms, what they discuss in them is more trivial personal drama. While it represents how the personal always interferes with the political, they only break up the flow with slow, stilted conversations about each other’s interests. It’s also difficult to gather all the strands, missing details and developments as you jump between the rooms and character pairs.
It’s nevertheless the most intuitive and ingenious use of Zoom I’ve yet seen — a platform, after all, designed for virtual meetings. Technical difficulties or jumpy connections only augment the realism and sense of comedy in the ridiculous. However, you feel it would’ve been better to see this last year, rather than after a year of Zoom lockdown limbo when little appetite remains for tired jokes about a participant not realising they’re on mute.
Although the idea of simulating a Zoom board meeting is rather unappealing and a busman’s holiday for much of the audience, the characters are colourful and compellingly played. Sarel Madziya plays CEO Angela with the sincerity and righteous anger that would see a staunch devotee willing to turn a blind eye to support the cause. She’s nicely balanced by the honesty of Loussin-Torah Pilikian and Nemide May, but Adam Rachid Lazaar’s ignorant joker and Aaron Douglas’ imperious chair feel more like caricatures. Similarly, the petulant bickering and interruption feels too indebted to the infamous Handforth parish council meeting.
At the end of their impassioned arguments and screen-shared presentations, the decision is handed over to an audience vote. It’s a moment of interactivity which could’ve been extended throughout the piece to more strongly pronounce its point about our collective complicity. But I admired its ingenuity with the Zoom form to create a prescient piece of political theatre unpacking a provocative debate about accountability. A play about money that’s worth some of yours.
Money is available online until 15 May 2021. For more information, visit the Southwark Playhouse website.