Review: Money the game show, Bush Theatre

“We’re going to add a bit more risk and therefore potential reward into the game”

On picking up one’s ticket for Money the game show at the Bush Theatre, a raffle ticket is placed in the hand and instructions given to wait in the bar where the show will begin as we’re divided into teams. Leading the groups are Casino and Queenie, former hedge fund managers in gaudy suits, who are here to take us on an illuminating journey through the machinations of the stock market and how such gambles played their part in creating the financial crash of 2008. And they do it with £10,000 in real pound coins piled on the stage in front of us, though a security guard and CCTV are in place to avoid any smash and grab attempts.

Written and directed by Clare Duffy as a co-production with Unlimited Theatre, the show is part interactive gameshow, part play, part performance piece. And if it perhaps succeeds more on the former two points than the latter, it is not for lack of enthusiasm or ambition from all concerned. Lucy Ellinson’s Queenie (for whose team I batted) and Brian Ferguson’s Casino do a remarkable job slipping between the roles of team captain – as they cajole and encourage audience participation in a series of games based on economic principles (much more fun than it sounds – you get to play with the pound coins after all) – and their characters – as those principles are located in the real-world context of the financial system that they try to manipulate to their gain.

And it comes across as both an amusing and explanatory piece of theatre. There’s lot of fun in the demonstration and explanation of betting long and short, though I was a little unclear as to just how hedging worked as I was engaged in the middle of that particular exercise. And though it may be easy to get lost in the fun and games, the structure of the show means that we’re constantly pulled back to the sobering reality of how these concepts were used and abused by financiers, even as they spotted that a crash was imminent, the eye always on the profit that could be made. There’s also a sense of genuine interactivity as the outcomes of the games that we play have a real bearing on how the final section of Money plays out and Ellinson and Ferguson take on different roles according to whose team wins or loses.

This certainly must keep the pair on their toes and it definitely adds a certain frisson, especially as they’re also having to deal – remarkably well I might add – with establishing and maintaining a rapport above and beyond that which normally exists between actor and audience. We naturally saw more of Ellinson and she was just excellent with the right level of encouraging warmth to get us thoroughly engaged, so it was pleasing to see the ending that we got as it gave her chance to stretch some dramatic muscle too.

Personally, I wasn’t much of a fan of the brief, late deviation into performance art which can only really be characterised as tomato-zombie-time which felt an unnecessary inclusion, even if it speaks to Unlimited Theatre’s origins as a company. But it’s not a major quibble – I came out of the theatre satisfied, enlightened about (some) financial jargon and thoroughly charmed.

Running time: 105 minutes (without interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 2nd March

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