Roaring Trade

Soho Theatre, 7 January – 7 February 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

In Roaring Trade at the Soho Theatre, playwright Steve Thompson takes the risky stance of apologist for the short sellers, lifting the lid on the cutthroat culture of high-risk bond trading. The pressure to make millions or lose your job on the spot tends to encourage certain personality traits; the play’s central characters are four traders at McSorley’s, “second largest bank in the square mile,” and each is, in his or her own unique way, a complete screw-up.

Donny (Andrew Scott) is a gambler, responding to catastrophic losses by taking ever greater risks. When it’s his turn to see his ten-year-old son Sean (Jack O’Connor), all he can talk about is money markets. Jess (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) isn’t above flirting with clients to seal a deal. PJ (Nicolas Tennant) wants out, but his wife Sandy (Susan Vidler) has already spent his next five years’ bonuses in her head. And as for new boy Spoon (Christian Roe)…

The foursome – nominally a ‘team’ – compete viciously for profits in Kandis Cook’s Spartan office space. The same desks and swivel chairs become restaurants and living rooms; even on their own time, these people exist in the office. Under IT Designer Matt Kirby’s control, the same flatscreens that display market statistics (constantly flickering and updating) also suggest wallpaper or graduation photos.

The characters’ skyscraping egos demand surefooted performances, and under Roxana Silbert’s direction, the whole cast delivers with confidence and flair.

The race for the biggest bonus is just the respectable front for any number of other, more personal conflicts. The quickfire, often comic dialogue crackles throughout with phallic imagery – bonus size equals penis size; the pub after work is “a willy-measuring contest” – so Jess, the only trader lacking a phallus, has to fight to become more than just another measure of success for her male colleagues.

But the play’s centrepiece is actually a class conflict: slack-jawed bootstrapper Donny versus Cambridge graduate Spoon (named by Donny – “Silver Spoon, born with, in your trap”). Disguised as a simple clash of personalities, the issue nevertheless simmers underneath their escalating one-upmanship, never fully acknowledged but erupting in moments of passion.

It’s these conflicts bubbling away in the subtext that allow Roaring Trade to transcend its context. It is not a play ‘about’ the credit crunch. The money markets are simply a topical backdrop in which enormous egos are placed under enormous pressure, and consequently emotions are concentrated and conflicts magnified. Roaring Trade is an outstanding piece of straight theatre – regardless of its relevance to current affairs.

Written by Steve Thompson

Crew includes Roxana Silbert, Director; Kandis Cook, Designer; Matt Kirby, IT and Media Designer; Wolfgang Goebbel, Lighting Designer; Matt McKenzie, Sound Designer

Cast includes Jack O’Connor, Sean; Christian Roe, Spoon; Andrew Scott, Donny; Nicolas Tennant, PJ; Susan Vidler, Sandy; Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jess

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