Canal Cafe Theatre, London – until 20 August 2017
Guest reviewer: Nick Holland
The Canal Cafe Theatre, in the heart of London’s Little Venice, appears a hive of tradition and tranquillity, but step inside and you’ll find something altogether different, and none the worse for it. Don’t Blame The Bankers…$toopid won critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe and it’s now a stand-out show at the 2017 Camden Fringe – a little gem that shows exactly what fringes can achieve.
This two-woman show is written and presented by the talented Serafina Salvador, and tells, in a highly original way, the story of one woman’s first-hand experience of the banking world on the eve of the Lehman Brothers meltdown in 2008. It’s a story that Serafina knows well as she herself was a trader at this time, one who then changed career and gave up the trading floors for stage floors.
From the opening moment of Don’t Blame The Bankers…$toopid you know that you’re preconceptions will be put to the test, as lights flash and a robotic voice chants ‘Selfie Instant Satisfaction’. Serafina, playing the lead role of Prayer, then enters in a suit covered in dollars – an indication of what’s to come.
Over 45 minutes the audience is bombarded with lights, sounds and words, and the effect is exhilarating at the same time as it is thought-provoking. We follow Prayer on a journey from lowly coffee serving minion to senior trader, and then watch her crash and burn before leaving the world of banking behind. What is particularly impressive is the way that the show avoids contemporary clichés regarding the worlds of finance and banking, and asks instead if the bankers really are to blame for all society’s ills, as so many think. Serafina challenges what she calls ‘uninformed hatred’ and asks the audience to look at themselves, quite literally at the denouement when a large mirror is brought onto the stage.
Serafina is more than ably assisted in this tale by Anne Musisi in the role of Mama Destiny. Dressed resplendently in a spangly silver body suit with sun headdress she explains that she is God’s janitor, and has been called to earth because the planet is on red alert thanks to the banking virus sweeping it. It is one of many viruses, we are told, including politics, religion and Trump. Musisi’s laid back, naturalistic delivery and acting style carries this role perfectly, resulting in a performance both charming and captivating, and one that contrasts nicely with Serafina’s fast talking banker.
This production may be short, but it is clear that no expense has been spared in its execution. What is most impressive, however, is the script. The dialogue is delivered in first class verse that to my ears had an almost Beckett-like quality to it, with fast paced rhythms that draw you into the tale. For example, at one point Prayer complains about her supervisor who takes all the credit for the work that Prayer actually does: ‘She allowed me to run the machine, and flew back just in time to take my sheen.’
There is a serious message to Don’t Blame The Bankers…$toopid, one that stresses the importance of finding your own path in life, reflecting Serafina’s attraction to Eastern spirituality. There are also moments of great humour, as when Prayer is asked if she has any MDMA (Ecstasy to you and me) and replies no, but she has a BSc from the LSE.
Running from 18th to 20th August, if you like your theatre challenging yet energising this is a show to catch.
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