Anthony Calf as The Author and Jonathan Coy as Howard Davies / image copyright Catherine Ashmore
This is an odd one; The Power of Yes - David Hare's attempt to understand the financial crisis after being commissioned by the National to come up with a play about it - has been running since early October. We went to see it just in the course of our daily lives and immediately felt bad for not telling you about it earlier. Omission: rectified.
Rather than dramatise events, like Enron, Hare puts 'himself' (as played by Anthony Calf) at the heart of the action. He's crumpled and baffled, being introduced to important players and opinion formers by a bright young thing (Jemima Rooper) recently left without a job when Lehman collapsed. A lot of the dialogue is lifted directly from conversations Hare had with the characters' real-live counterparts; this makes some of the things they say far more shocking than if they were fictionalised rantings. The author is our mouthpiece on the stage: how was this allowed to happen? If they're all so clever, why didn't they spot anything wrong? We watch with fascinated horror as someone from the Bank of England, journalists, traders, mortgage company managers and financiers spell out the problems - and why none of it's been fixed.
If it all sounds deathly dry and horrifically complicated and worthy, it's really not. The whole thing is doused in British black humour, poised to be set alight when the genuine anger boils over. And this is still something worth getting angry over; one character says we won't be out of this til 2025; another that she's yet to meet any bankers who feel apologetic; another that it's never the people with the huge bonuses that feel the pain of recession. When the bonus culture bounces back, even in banks that are financed with our money, Hare wants to know what's to stop it happening again and the answer he seems to find is: nothing.
The starkly bare stage, enlivened only by the occasional prop and a dazzling electronic screen (perhaps its brightly coloured dollars are metaphorically dazzling too), is briskly populated by characters as they whip in and out to say their piece. Yes, there's a lot to take in, but it's presented in the everyday, intelligent language of the broadsheets rather than the language of the FT. There's also no interval, leaving the whole 1 hour 45 minutes to be absorbed in one sitting, but we think breaking it up would dilute its power. And it is extremely powerful.
The Power of Yes runs to 18 April at the National Theatre, £10-£35. For more information, see the National Theatre website.