There’s plenty of blame to go around in the story of ENRON, and it would be easy for Lucy Prebble’s play to descend into a hysteria of finger pointing and indignation. But it doesn’t. The production doesn’t pull it’s punches, but it does present Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Andy Fastow – the protagonists of the largest corporate bankruptcy in American history – as humans, flawed undoubtedly through greed or wilful ignorance, but complex, intelligent, charismatic and sympathetic none the less.
The brilliance at the heart of this production is its willingness to confront complexity. It examines an arcane corner of finance but resists the temptation to simplify or dumb down for the sake of the audience; and that’s why it feels so real and so honest. Prebble doesn’t paint any villains or monsters (although she does allow plenty of them emerge on their own) and resists the temptation to draw sweeping conclusions (although plenty of them become obvious without her having to). In the hands of David Hare this would have turned into two snoring hours of lecture populated by pantomime cardboard characters useful for bouncing his own political views off (oh, wait, actually, it already has) but Prebble’s work is far more nuanced and interesting than this: none of the characters are parodies, their behaviour feels real and that is why there is genuine power in the message that comes from this show.
The production itself is superb, beautifully directed by Rupert Goold. Dinosaurs roam the stage, traders battle with light-sabres and Arthur Andersen is represented by a ventriloquist’s dummy, but none of this stylised pieces of stage-craft feel like gimmicks. The combination of a script which feels real and a production which doesn’t have to works wonderfully.
ENRON is one of the most beautifully directed and conceived productions I can remember. A wonderfully intelligent and uncompromising play, superbly inventive and interesting direction and strong performances. Worth a trip to the West End.