DRAMA OUT OF A CRISIS
A review of a play that everyone should read.
Want to understand how the financial crisis happened, how it unwound and the implications for us all? David Hare provides all the answers in The Power of Yes (National Theatre, London) – 100 minutes of light shone into some very dark corners of the City and government. It starts with The Author (played by Anthony Calf, representing not just Hare, but Everyman) coming down stage and addressing the audience directly: This isn't a play. It's a story. It doesn't pretend to be a play. It pretends only to be a story. And that 's exactly what Hare has constructed. This is a three dimensional, many-voiced lecture. It is a revue, with lots of acts coming on to entertain us with the their jokes and their tricks and their cons, hosted my a man in a corduroy jacket. In his research, Hare interviewed many of the major players: George Soros , Howard Davies (First Chair of the Financial Services Authority), Ronald Cohen (a doyen private equity ), Adair Turner (Current Chair of the FSA), John Moulton (another leading private equity investor), Paul Mason (BBC Newsnight), along with lawyers, FT journalists, MPs and sundry others involved in the story. He has woven together a linear narrative that is beautifully paced, and parses out the information in a way that is a model of clarity and precision. BALANCE SHEET For a man known for his left leanings, Hare seems fair in his treatment of all. Here are a couple of key paragraphs: Davies: Just before he became Prime Minister, Brown delivered a completely irresponsible budget, cutting tax, stoking the boom, all so that he could plan a an election that never happened and Ronald Cohen: You know that Greenspan made that famous speech in 1996, condemning irrational exuberance? But what's far more interesting is the speech he didn''t make... In 2004 he didn't make a speech condemning a gargantuan appetite for risk. It is also full of astonishing statistics and facts: Soros: At the time of its collapse, the Royal Bank of Scotland had assets of 1,900 billion pounds. The gross national product of your country was only 1,500 billion pounds. In other words, RBS was bigger than the entire annual output of the British economy and Hammond: The whole Labour government was predicated on the prosperity of the City. Not only was it 9% of the economy but it generated 27% of the take tax... Of course (Brown) wasn't going to regulated it! The 'play' is presented in 9 sections (not really acts) and covers all the usual suspects - subprimes, the FSA, Northern Rock, bankers’ bonuses. There are a couple of pantomime villains, but mostly Hare sets the personalities and their decisions in the context and conventional wisdom of the time. CREDIT TO ALL CONCERNED If you do have the chance to go to the National , you'll see a stripped-down production with a few props which lets the characters tell the story. The performances are universally good, although none of the actors really get much chance to develop their roles, because none has an arc or a set of dramatic choices to make.
They are witnesses on behalf of the prosecution, presenting information to make a case. If the FSA was serious about financial education, The Power of Yes would be a roadshow run it in every town hall and community centre across the land. But they don't have any money, so that's unlikely to happen. Instead, a copy of the script - 76 pages that can be read in a single sitting - should be mandatory reading for every economics and business student, every bank employee and shareholder, every mortgage applicant and broker, every credit card owner… Have I missed anyone?
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