Director Katharine Farmer discovered the script for Jerry Sterner’s 1989 Off-Broadway comedy Other People’s Money in a secondhand bookshop… with a quote on the jacket from Donald Trump. She explains why she had to revive the play in London on its 30th anniversary, and why it’s still so timely. Gen up and then get booking by 11 May!
The Wire and Cable Company of New England is a sleepy, family-run business – that is until Larry-the-Liquidator threatens to bring a little corporate pillage to the village. CEO Jory has a different approach. Will his small-town ideas stack up against booming Wall Street?
Written in 1989 and premiered in New York, Other People’s Money took Wall Street by storm and won an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play. In 1991, it was adapted into a Hollywood film starring Danny DeVito as Larry.
At Southwark Playhouse, Katharine Farmer directs Michael Brandon as Jorgy, Lin Blakely as Bea, Amy Burke as Kate, Rob Locke as Larry and Mark Rose as Coles.
Talking to… Katharine Farmer
Director Katharine Farmer’s credits include, most recently in the States, South Pacific (Rubicon Theatre and Heisenberg Theatre and Laguna Playhouse). Her UK credits include Kiss Me Kate (Wardrobe Theatre), Pig Farm (St James Theatre), Silent Meat (R&D and scratch performance at Pleasance Theatre). Also in the US, Katharine has directed Incognito by Nick Payne, Gulf View Drive (winner of Best Production of a Play at the LA Ovation Awards), See Rock City (winner of Best Actress at Ovations) and Last Train to Nibroc (Best Director winner at Santa Barbara Indy Awards) at Rubicon Theatre Company in California.
Her international directing credits include 23.5 Hours by Carey Crim at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Canada and Last Train to Nibroc in Bermuda. Katharine’s direction of The Nibroc Trilogy by Arlene Hutton is currently available for download on Digital Theatre.
How did you come across Other People’s Money?
I was working in the States at the time and found the script in a second-hand bookshop. The title sounded familiar but I wasn’t sure why. Once I pulled it off the shelf, I spotted a quote from Trump on the back hailing the play as “extremely witty, timely and relevant” – so naturally my curiosity meant I had to get it! Reading the play, I was struck by its comment on greed, materialism and morality in modern America and thought there was maybe a cautionary tale for us today too.
Has the play been done in London before?
It has! The first production of Other People’s Money in the UK starred Martin Shaw and initially opened at the Theatre Royal Bath in 1991 (the same year the film came out) before transferring to the West End. The original production opened Off-Broadway in 1989 and transferred to Broadway. I’m not aware of many other revivals in the interim.
Why did you want to revive the play now? Why in London?
The play was written 30 years ago and, despite being a period piece, it provides a rich tapestry of themes including old values versus the modern world, instant gratification, loyalty and misogyny. It confronts these issues head-on in a manner that is sometimes unpalatable, but that’s the point! The playwright Jerry Sterner wanted to expose the problematic ethos that underpinned Wall Street in the 1980s and address it openly. Before turning to playwriting, Sterner worked in the corporate world and clearly had something to say about the way things were (and maybe still are) done.
Reviving the play in London felt appropriate as a way to comment on the changing economy and value system behind work and commerce in the UK. Little appears to have changed since the global financial crisis in 2008 and London, as one of the worldwide financial epicentres, felt like the appropriate city to tell the story and try to access those working in the corporate world as well as other theatregoing audiences.
You’ve directed several shows at California’s Rubicon Theatre Company. Has that affected your approach to a US play like this one?
I hold an O1 visa and have now directed six shows in the US. Living in the States during the build-up of the 2016 election completely changed my outlook on politics. It terrified me, but it was also deeply fascinating to see how the dynamic unfolded. It helped me get under the skin of the “greed is good” culture that Donald Trump represented in the 1980s. Working and living in the US also gave some context to small-town American pride – it helped me understand better how strong communities are in the US and the value people place on family and keeping up appearances.
What, if anything, is special about working at Southwark Playhouse?
Southwark Playhouse is a special place. It’s a creative hub of new work and exciting revivals and their programming always seems to surprise and intrigue me. The atmosphere around the theatre is dynamic and buzzy as a result of their diverse shows, so it felt like the perfect place to revive this little-known play. It also felt like a safe environment to tell a complex story about needs and wants in an intimate space. I was also keen to stage the play in traverse and the Little space at Southwark suits this configuration nicely as the audience become active spectators in the show.
Tell us about your company.
The play stars Michael Brandon (who you may recognise from Dempsey and Makepeace), Lin Blakley (who you’ll have seen recently in EastEnders), Amy Burke (an American expat who played Hedy La Rue in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), Rob Locke (who recently moved back to the UK after a successful acting career in LA) and Mark Rose (who you may have seen in the West End or at the National Theatre).
Emily Leonard, our set and costume designer, graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School with me; John Leonard (no relation) is our sound designer, whose work is regularly seen at Hampstead Theatre and in the West End; and Sam Waddington designed our lighting, who’s worked several times at Southwark.
Other People’s Money runs from 17 April to 11 May 2019 at Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD, with performances Mondays to Saturdays at 8pm, matinees Tuesdays and Saturdays at 3.30pm. Tickets are priced £14-£22. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!