Dry Powder at Hampstead Theatre
Guess what. Capitalism is bad! Oh, and guess what else? Those who work in finance have to be somewhat soulless to do so! That’s a slightly facetious reading of Sarah Burgess’s Dry Powder – but not by much.
Rick’s (Aidan McArdle) private equity firm is drowning in bad publicity: the same week he threw a grotesquely opulent, elephant-garnished engagement party, a supermarket under his purview announced mass lay-offs. He could really do with a distraction, for the media and investors alike. Luckily, his partner Seth (Tom Riley) has come up with a buyout target at a cheap price, an American growth story that could go some way to lifting the stench of evil currently lurking around the company. That is, unless he listens to Jenny (Hayley Atwell) and goes for the more lucrative option…
If you’re already rolling your eyes at the financial jargon above, then good luck getting through the first half an hour of this play. Even if one is au fait with private equity firms and the like, Burgess does little to make us want to stay in that world, unloading exposition dump upon exposition dump to lay the foundation for her predictable narrative.
This would be somewhat forgivable if Dry Powder had the aggressive snap, crackle and pop it thinks it does. The dialogue has a sitcom-like rhythm, constantly rising to punchlines that barely land a glancing blow. Director Anna Ledwich does nothing to add any zip of her own – the production lacks intensity, meaning its easy for the viewer’s attention to drift from what’s on stage without missing a beat.
There are some interesting ideas lurking around the edges, namely to do with the optics of capitalism and the finance world post-crash – explains Andrew D Edwards’s mirrored set – and how that can, potentially, end up being the driver of change. Yet even then the “soul” of the play, if there is one, is a handsome, white, ostensibly heterosexual man – hardly groundbreaking stuff.
Atwell is fun as Jenny – basically heartless corporate destruction in a black turtleneck, chasing abstract numbers on a screen without caring about their real-world consequences – but she isn’t exactly given a lot to work with. Riley’s role is a smidge meatier, though his minor existential wobble doesn’t really have much weight to it. There’s also decent support from McArdle as their cliché of a boss and Joseph Balderrama as an out-of-his-depth CEO. We just can’t help but wish they were in something more serving of their talents.
The fact is, all this has been done before, and better. It’s a defanged Glengarry Glen Ross, an unambitious Enron, an impersonal Bull. Burgess would have done better stripping Dry Powder for its assets and moving on.
Photo: Alastair Muir
Dry Powder is at Hampstead Theatre from 26th January until 3rd March 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.