There is an expectation established in the title of Tony Diggle’s new play, Show me the Money, which promises it to be a relevant exploration of today’s monetary values and attitudes. This anticipation is exaggerated by the choice of songs that act as backing tracks as you enter the tucked-away and deceivingly spacious Chelsea theatre, namely Liza Minnelli’s ‘Money makes the world go around’, which articulates Diggle’s premise that money has become “impossible not to love”.
The play follows David Boreham (James Price), a sort of everyman who, having just turned 40, makes it his mission to find a wife, have a family and start making more money. Once his colleagues have jestingly signed him up to a dating agency – increasing his annual income and upgrading his job description in the process – David meets Jenny Quiver (Lindsey Readman), a single woman who has made it her life’s ambition to do as little as possible, aside from marry a millionaire. The play explores the power of money to unite two seemingly unsuited individuals.
Frustratingly, Diggle’s script seems so bent on telling this jam-packed story, a story that covers business hierarchy, criminality, recession, police jurisdiction and the corruption of the banks, that the gravity of its implications loses its weight. The set design of the play, three tables across the stage that represent Jenny’s flat, the local pub and David’s office, make a trio of scenes that work well alongside the sensitive attention to lighting. Unfortunately, due to their proximity, the three settings diminish any sense of progression and instead create the feeling that we are being held at arms length from the action. The result is a choppy first half that spends little time building an environment but instead rushes to establish the basic elements of the narrative.
The play identifies itself as a city comedy and Diggle gives us moments that work with this assertion. The comic dynamic between Jenny and David is most successful when their independent attitudes to life come under scrutiny. When Jenny tells David she has “high standards” his response, “you call getting kicked out of every pub in London having high standards?” certainly receives a chuckle. The most entertaining characters are in the supporting roles. From The Godfather-esque Mr. Wetherby to David’s exuberantly arrogant boss, Diggle provides an array of exaggerated caricatures that one can stumble across in city life.
However, it is precisely these overstated individuals that reveal the Show Me The Money’s essentially undecided tone. Swiftly after the comic exchanges between Mr. Wetherby and David comes a scene of deep emotion and intensity between Jenny and David. These juxtaposed scenes destabilise the effects of one another, and although both Price and Readman work well with what they’ve been given, the dialogue between the pair seems stilted and formulaic. In creating the everyman, Diggle seems to have incorporated so many recognisable individuals that David becomes a plethora of personalities.
In its strongest moments, Show Me The Money touches upon the different approaches to wealth: the differences between those who spend and those who save. Disappointingly, issues of media dominance, the Faustian trading of riches and the effects of the recession are danced around rather than with. This makes for a discontinuous 90-minute performance that fails to engage with the wider issues it so frequently alludes to, and feels more like story telling than a gripping theatrical experience.
Show Me The Money is playing Chelsea Theatre until 5 October. For more information and tickets, see the Chelsea Theatre website.