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A play’s worth what the mar­ket will bear, says Peter Craw­ley

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion - pcraw­ley@irish­

No show ever re­jected an au­di­ence be­cause they weren’t right for the play. But it’s never been clear whether the pa­trons of Caryl Churchill’s wickedly funny Se­ri­ous Money knew that the joke was sup­posed to be on them.

Ei­ther way, in 1987 Churchill’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing “City com­edy” archly lam­pooned the men­dac­ity of stock mar­ket traders and the boor­ish ex­cesses of fevered cap­i­tal­ism, be­com­ing – with no small amount of irony – the hottest ticket in town.

Writ­ten as an acidu­lous take down of the cul­tural logic of Thatcherism, Se­ri­ous Money started out in Lon­don’s Royal Court, for gen­er­a­tions the home of an­gry young men and women.

The first sign that some­thing strange was hap­pen­ing was found in the car park, now no­tice­ably choked with BMWs and Porsches. Two months be­fore the gen­eral elec­tions, the show ended with Ian Dury’s snarlingly ironic mu­si­cal ex­hor­ta­tion of “five more glo­ri­ous years”. By the time the show had trans­ferred to a much plusher West End the­atre, Thatcher was safely re­in­stalled and the polemic sounded like a victory chant. The au­di­ence be­gan to re­ceive as much at­ten­tion as the show. “It is now a bit like go­ing to see The Re­sistible Rise of Ar­turo Ui with a coach party of SS men,” wor­ried one re­viewer.

That’s the trou­ble with satire. No mat­ter how much bile there is be­hind the smile, it’s al­ways pos­si­ble to take it on face value. “Sexy greedy is the late ’80s,” was writ­ten as a sar­donic one-liner, but the Gor­don Gekkos on the bal­conies made it their slo­gan. Or so the story goes. Watch­ing

Se­ri­ous Money 22 years on in Aoife Spil­lane-Hinks’s fe­ro­ciously good pro­duc­tion at the Project Arts Cen­tre, when hos­tile takeovers seem quaint and few Porsches are left unat­tended out­side the the­atre, it looks as if ru­mours of the play’s cap­i­tal­ist co-op­tion have been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated. The traders here are so en­joy­ably ve­nal, you won­der how any­body could have ever iden­ti­fied with them.

More cu­ri­ously, though, the play seems giddy with the ex­cite­ment of the pi­ranha tank it de­picts. Even its mu­si­cal num­bers are re­veal­ing. They may have been in­tended as a two-fingered salute to their West End neigh­bours, but they stand up with them. Could it be that to skewer some­thing you ac­tu­ally have to love it a lit­tle first?

Se­ri­ous Money could never be fully ab­sorbed into the cul­ture it crit­i­cised. At a time of smooth com­mer­cial pack­ages, it was too rough around the edges, too ag­gres­sive and know­ing. But what re­ally marked it apart from a cul­ture of flash ex­cess was its poverty. Spil­lane-Hinks has 15 ac­tors at the ser­vice of nearly 60 parts, but the orig­i­nal used only eight ac­tors. The gap be­tween the glut­tonous world of high fi­nance and the over­stretched world of the­atre could only be filled with in­ge­nu­ity. A Lon­don trader is no less sus­cep­ti­ble to the se­duc­tion of cre­ativ­ity than a Marx­ist critic.

When it came to the cap­i­tal­ist mas­ters of the uni­verse, though, the the­atre pre­ferred to laugh at them, then wor­ried they were sim­ply laugh­ing along. Per­haps the play has fi­nally had its re­venge. Se­ri­ous

Money is still here, in­de­fati­ga­ble and acridly hu­mor­ous. Where is Gor­don Gekko now?

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