Labyrinth at the Hampstead theatre
Few plays merit the term exceptional more than Beth Steel’s latest venture. The show’s narrative of the 1970s Latin American banking crisis parallels the reckless lending and labyrinthine debt created in the run-up to our own crash, making it relevant and uncomfortably close to home. With a gripping and unrelenting plot, the play uncovers the dark side of wealth and power. American and Latin American accents are mastered by the cast, further adding to the drama’s authenticity. But more than this, Steel’s assiduous research into the banking sector of the 70s and 80s, and the US as a whole, means her cast are not just British with an accent, they take on the mannerisms and the attitudes of Americans at that time.
Labyrinth does not preach, nor is it a sober critique of wanton banking practices. The production features music and strobe lighting, mimicking the blinding effect of greed and the purposeful numbing of the conscience to it. Scenes of drunkenness and drug taking are performed exceptionally, with the characters hallucinations represented on stage along with unsettling strobe effects. The story draws in elements of 80s culture – discoing, money, sexual freedom – and somehow manages to taint them. At one point, the suited bankers dance in a strobe-lit club, but even their movements are monstrous. Steel perfectly captures a world of excess on the brink of self-destruction.
The play gazes at the male banking world from the female perspective – both writer and director are women. Female characters are strong-willed but underrepresented in the cast; whenever there are scenes featuring all the actors, a strong sense of how out-of-place women are in this world is created. Elena Saurel and Alexia Traverse-Healy channel the stealthy resilience of women struggling in a man’s world. Tom Western-Jones is the perfect money-lusting and arrogant banker. Sean Delaney manages to retain the audience’s pity even as he becomes consumed by the industry, his actions encouraging viewers to question who should be considered responsible for the bankers’ malpractice.
Lurching theatregoers into a world of greed and maleness, Labyrinth is gripping until the end. Beth Steel is an unmistakably talented playwright.
Labyrinth is at the Hampstead Theatre from 1st September until 8th October 2016. Book your tickets here.