The National Theatre: The Power of Yes

Last night, I took male friend M to see David Hare’s play The Power of Yes.  The central figure in this ‘story’ is the playwright David Hare, who rather gratingly tells us that it’s not a play and he’s not a character.   And he is right in a way: it felt as though a Louis Theroux or Michael Moore documentary was being played out on stage, wherein the subjects are unwittingly exposed as fools and we all laugh at their expense. 

As our bumbling Hare unravels the meaning of ‘options’ and ‘fiscal stimulus’ and ‘sub-prime’, the banking world unravels on the stage behind him.  Halfway through, exhausted by the pace at which the banking system is collapsing, I lean in to M and lament the lack of interval.  It seems our man Hare shares my pain, suddenly collapsing into a chair and confessing he’s overwhelmed too.  

The story raises questions but draws only one conclusion…the fall of the banking system and capitalism represents The Death of the Idea.  The Idea, robustly championed by the ‘experts’* from Harvard, being that the markets are wise and that risk can be calculated out of them.  The Idea may grandly be declared dead, but outside The National Theatre the market carries on regardless, if the evidence from my two trader acquaintances can be relied upon.   

There were some interesting moments during the evening, the standouts being:

  • An industrialist declaring that a bank goes bust for no other reason than that it runs out of money;
  • A cheap dig at Damian Hirst as a man of luck rather than talent, whose fortunes have declined along with that of our reviled bankers; 
  • The revelation that in Latin, the word ‘credit’ means ‘trust’, which sparked a moment of speculation by myself as to where trust lay in the transaction between banks and the people (banks trusting people to take on realistic debt?; people trusting the banks’ judgement?) and then a further reflection concerning whether my life would be richer if I had been afforded a classic education and didn’t need to check my Latin on google.

Upon the denouement, I personally felt as though I had been played; much like the pre-2008 markets which responded as the traders expected them to. Hare’s comic timing was targeted perfectly at a middle-class left leaning liberal such as myself.

It was an enjoyable night, but I wonder if telling your audience what they already (if only vaguely) know and confirming their judgement of the situation is a little lax.  Shouldn’t art challenge us to think and feel more rigorously?

* Emphasis I imagine the playwright himself may have included in the script

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