The foyer of the Bush Theatre is filled to the rafters with the press and eager members of the theatregoing public. Wine is flowing and the conversation is full of anticipation for the unique debut of what I’m going to call “Gameshow theatre.” Think Deal or No Deal, but 100 times more entertaining.
The soiree in the foyer was brazenly interrupted by Casino (Brian Ferguson) and Queenie (Lucy Ellinson) with the promise of fortune exuding from their flashing suits and gleaming teeth. They are ex-hedge fund managers who have quit the city after the economic catastrophe in 2008, turning instead to performance. They applied for the Arches new directors’ award and won £6,000, which has evolved into a £10,000 prize fund put on stage for us, the audience, to play with. Little do we know that this premise is far more simplistic than the tumultuous journey on wich we are about to be taken. We are split into two teams under the leadership of either Casino or Queenie, and pitted against the other team in our quest to ‘win’. The game was on and so was the show, in spectacular fashion.
Audience inhibitions are left at the bar in this piece. Claire Duffy’s creation effectively depicts the testosterone-filled world of high risk, high reward. The £10,000 is the epicentre of Rhys Jarman’s fantastically garish set and becomes the battleground between contestants vying to get as many pound coins into their respective team’s depository. There is no caution to throw to the wind; actions and decisions are reckless and exciting, an act of ego. Audience volunteers are quick to join the action, evidently becoming infected by the all-or-nothing mindset where losing is not an option.
However, what Duffy shows is that losing is not only an option, it is a reality. There are many losers of this world we live in, not least the younger generation who now carry the burden of world debt on a catastrophic scale. Personally, this was a poignant realisation and one which the piece brilliantly brings to attention. The behaviour of those such as Casino and Queenie, backed by banks and governments, are the cause of the £120 trillion world debt. They are however, victims of their own story, which runs alongside the fast-paced gameshow and competition between both teams.
After meeting in a casino, the pair predict the US sub-prime mortgage crisis and the effect this might have, and decide to make it work to their advantage. We soon realise that whoever is the loser in the game show also loses out in Queenie and Casino’s story. These scenes are somewhat self-contained and are of a radically different tone to earlier parts of the performance. They achieve a sense of reality which cannot be ignored; they intersperse the madness of the Gameshow with disconcerting reality. The tragic end of the play is recognisably the inevitable result of these deliberately placed scenes of their past.
Money is a performance for Duffy, and the theatre is an ideal place to think about it because we find it hard to see how performative it is in everyday life. We live in a world which is reliant upon money, whether it is gold, cash, credit cards or debt; it is always a representation of something else. It has an intangible value, like trust or belief in something. By putting money on stage and acting out this extreme hedonism, money is made truly visible and volatile.
MONEY The Gameshow is playing at the Bush Theatre until 28 February. For more information and tickets, see http://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/production/money_the_game_show/