Southwark Playhouse, London – until 11 May 2019
Remember the eighties? The big bang, ‘greed is good’, ‘lunch is for wimps’ all that high-sounding ambition before the collapse of Barings? From Michael Douglas’ braces in Wall Street to Joan Cusack’s shoulder pads and big hair in Working Girl, they’re all here if a little distorted from the rear-view mirror, in Katherine Farmer’s resurrection of Other People’s Money at Southwark.
Basically, it’s ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Any Songs’… compounded by the fact that Amy Burke, hilarious as Hedy LaRue in the Walthamstow How to Succeed seems to have left World Wide Wickets for a desk at Morgan Stanley as she’s hired to rescue Michael Brandon’s wire and cable company from the clutches of a corporate raider played, like Leonardo DiCaprio’s Wolf of Wall Street in a fat suit, quite splendidly by Rob Locke.
The financial semantics seems impenetrable. If the actors don’t understand it either, they’re making a good show with the words. And it’s downright scary to think that accountancy firms have a playbook of fits-all-sizes solutions to hostile takeovers: Poison Pill, Greenmail and Golden Parachute.
Brandon is a gem. Even at close range, he’s entirely credible as the risen-from-nothing factory boss who’s now obliged to juggle millions rather than ball bearings. You want to root for him even though his character’s resistance to making money the ‘smart’ way seems as outdated and worn as his green cardigan.
As the ‘secretary who solves the plot’ – a long tradition including Maggie Smith in The VIPs and Jonesy in How to Succeed – Lin Blakley gives tremendous value has a lot of fun as Brandon’s sidekick-cum-sweetheart Bea.
I’m not sure why fringe theatre can’t really do acting in suits – but here Emily Leonard’s costumes are a specific hindrance. Both Locke and Burke are hampered by cheap lightweight garments that don’t reflect their characters’ affluence or gravitas, Locke stepping out from behind his desk with a ruched crotch like the curtains in an old Odeon.
There are better plays about corporate greed – Enron, A Small Family Business, even The Pajama Game have deeper dimensions – but as a snapshot from a bygone era, Other People’s Money does the job.