Review - £¥€$ (LIES) at the Almeida Theatre
I walked in last night to the Almeida with £20 cash in my pocket. I left with a cheque for £79million, a new-found career as an investment banker, and a strong allegiance to a young country known as Emilyland.
Okay, this isn’t strictly true, but it certainly felt like it.
Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed have created a pulsating piece of theatre that’s unlike any interactive stage show I’ve ever seen. It’s a searing commentary on the structures of finance that puts the audience in complete control, but in reality, they have no say in what happens whatsoever.
Filing into the stripped out Almeida auditorium, the audience is split onto tables circling the room. These tables are our countries, and along with four other citizens, I became a proud member of Emilyland. More specifically, we were each a bank in Emilyland, investing in services with poker chips and finding out if they the investment comes good with the literal roll of a dice.
As the instructions are read out from a control centre in the middle of the room with a game show vernacular, the temperature is read out. Predictably, it rises. Palms were sweating. Each roll of a dice was followed by a fist pump or an agitated sigh (I may have got quite into it).
Time rolls on as you fight to improve your country’s credit score, and more and more financial function are introduced: bonds, taxes, mergers, tactics, competition and crashes. But inevitably, the system collapses. Countries buckle and have to be saved.
It’s a piece of theatre that makes you feel genuinely in control, buzzing with the roll of every six, but this cleverly designed game is playing you the entire time. I learnt more about investment, risk and markets than I have in previous feeble attempts to learn more about how the industry works.
And it’s a stark warning of the inevitable: when one goes down, we all go down. We live in an interconnected world and when you establish a shared system of trade, competition and reliance, it won’t work out well.
None the less, Lies works exceptionally well. It’s tense but fun, alarming yet insightful, and created a sense of community I’ve never felt inside a theatre before.
Photo credit: Thomas Dhanens