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Review of Labyrinth by Beth Steel at the Hampstead Theatre

Our critics rating: 
Average press rating: 
Monday, 12 September, 2016
Review by: 
Mark Shenton

There's a big feeling of deja vu hanging over Labyrinth, a messy but nevertheless compelling new drama at Hampstead Theatre. Partly its the subject, namely the labyrinthine world of global finance in which American banks that have over-lent (whether, as here, to South American countries as in the financial crisis of the 1980s, or by selling sub-prime mortgages that contributed to the 2007-2009 recession) end up holding the country to ransom, because they are too big to fail. Instead, they get bailed out by the government -- and only add to their profits in the end as the loan cycle begins again.

But its also the staging that's all too reminiscent of a Rupert Goold production -- it is probably no accident that its director Anna Ledwich is credited in the programme as having assisted him in the past. On the plus side, there's a similar dynamism to its propulsion, with actors racing around the stage as they negotiate its short, sometimes sharp scenes. On the other, it sometimes feels without purpose, as actors enter on one side of the stage and exit on the other without participating in the scene itself, only to add colour and movement to it.

The playwright Beth Steel has certainly done her research -- a programme interview says she spent some 2 1/2 years writing the play -- but though it is packed with information, the dramatic pulse of it feels too frequently imposed and contrived, as a young Wall Street trainee trader John (Sean Delaney) finds himself in deeper water than he intends to be, as he recklessly lends to corrupt South American politicians with the urging and encouragement of his more senior colleague Charlie (Tom Weston Jones).

It's an important subject, and a bracing and still urgent one -- but quite a lot of it also feels phoney, too. Maybe that's right: that's exactly what the bankers are as well. It was their false promises and palpable greed that leads to the crisis, after all.


What the Press Said...

"The cast make the Mamet-like most of the zinging script, with assured work from Martin McDougall as the yo-yo spinning, boots-on-table bank exec, Elena Saurel as a canny economics journalist and a trio of Latin American government honchos played by one actor."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph

"Beth Steel’s play about the 1980s Latin American debt crisis is staged with a hurtling energy that propels us through the intricacies of international banking."
Michael Billington for The Guardian

"A macabre Day of the Dead carnival runs rampant. It may well be that the play is too much of a lesson, but it's one that patently can't be learnt too often."
Paul Taylor for The Independent

"There are moments of biting humour...but for all its ambition Steel’s play doesn’t have quite enough freshness and vitality. ."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

External links to full reviews from popular press
The Telegraph The Guardian The Independent


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