- West Yorkshire Playhouse
- Now until 13th November 2010
Crash, a new play by William Nicholson, seeks to dramatise the conflict surrounding the recent banking crisis, and the much-maligned figure of the banker. Set in the Elizabethan house of city trader and multi-millionaire Nick (Colin Mace), the set exudes an air of wealth and excess, with a Damien Hurst spot-print and a guitar once owned by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler hanging from the walls.
At first sight Nick represents all the clichés of the casino capitalist: the unfeeling self-interest, the vulgar extravagance, and in Eva (Helen Bradbury), a Croatian girlfriend who seems little more than a kept prostitute. He is placed in juxtaposition to two old school friends, the vegetarian schoolteacher Christine (Carolyn Backhouse), and her husband Humphrey (Steven Pacey), an artist whose garden statue Nick has just purchased.
The couple remain at Nick’s mansion for the duration of the play, and a debate unfolds between two contrasting moral perspectives. Nicholson’s confrontational dialogue is sharp, witty, and thought provoking, enhanced by commendable performances from the four main actors. Gradually, the conflicting viewpoints translate into hostile argument as Humphrey directs a tirade of abuse at bankers whose bonuses roll in at the expense of the taxpayer, while Nick ridicules the ‘timid little losers’ who have been the victims of the economic crash.
At this point the play threatens to descend into rather simplistic binary opposition, but in the second half both character and ideas become significantly more complex and challenging. If the first half has been concerned with establishing difference to the point of stereotype, the second half is about diffusing these distinctions. There is shown to be an element of attraction – even jealousy – as well as moral outrage on the part of Humphrey and Christine towards Nick’s wealth. Nick has been attacked because what he possesses is not what he ‘needs’, but he responds by asking what any of us actually ‘needs’? And an important question arises for an audience of theatregoers: are money and materialism any more of an extravagance than art?
A personal tragedy recounted by Eva places all political opinion into perspective. The ideological is replaced by the humane, and the polarised debate from earlier in the play is shown to be unhelpful and inadequate to human concerns. We are still left with little sympathy for the cocky, self-indulgent Nick, but we begin to realise that his glaring array of material possessions offers little consolation for an existence lived in fear and isolation with no loving relationships. Nicholson’s agenda seems unclear, and towards the end he ultimately succeeds in giving a voice to the banking community, while the voices of liberal conscience are left dancing in celebratory fashion to Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’. A dubious ending perhaps does not do justice to the ideas explored up until this point, but this is still a play which asks provocative and highly relevant questions for our times.
words: Tim Gallagher