Last night was the first night of Caryl Churchill’s play Serious Money at Birmingham Rep. I like Churchill’s political approach in Top Girls so was looking forward to seeing Serious Money without being quite sure what to expect. Well, like Top Girls, it seems to have the 1980s down to a T – you can just feel the atmosphere of corporate greed and excessive shoulderpads. The play takes a look at the working lives of stockbrokers and their ilk during the 1980s boom, when it seemed as though it would go on forever. That the play was written and produced in the 1980s allows the audience to appreciate the irony given its timely production in the middle of a recession – their “it’ll last forever” approach is hubristic, and we know it. In fact, the play opens with a scene from a play of 1692 (The Volunteers, or The Stockjobbers, by Thom,as Shadwell) in which the wealthy are being persuaded to buy into things that may not exist. The message, of course, is that the human mind, the desire for money and power, never changes. And while that may be true, we can see the fallibility of that all to strongly at the moment.
The play does two slightly daring things. Firstly, it stages the trading floor of the London International Finance Futures Exchange – no mean feat on an average sized stage with not that many people, but the buzz and energy (and desperation) of it is captured very well in this production. Secondly, it’s in rhyming couplets. I didn’t know that before I went, but it works. Really well, in fact – the actors handle the verse with flair, and the rhymes give a rhythm and speed to the script which works fabulously with the subject matter – and of course, rhyming verse always gives a few laughs, too, when the obvious rhymes are used; Churchill’s couplets are good at this.
Somehow, as we (audiences) become increasingly political, and increasingly conscious of the hollowness of apparent financial security, the play seems very much of-the-moment. In 1987, when it was produced at the Royal Court Theatre, one might think it could be viewed as a warning, but in fact the programme tells me that the very people it lampooned loved it. Now, perhaps, it seems a sadder play; the intrusion of the personal into working lives when one of their number dies seems to ring true.
Serious Money is on until 23rd May.