Labyrinth review – financial crisis strikes again

Hampstead theatre, London
Beth Steel’s play aims to underline the cyclical nature of crash and austerity, but compares poorly to similarly themed works

We have been here before it seems. Swaggering bankers, debt, default, an imposition of austerity that hits the poor in society and lets the rich off more easily. It is part of Beth Steel’s point in Labyrinth, her play about 1980s Latin American debt, to show how financial crises recur, how the attitudes that cause them are ingrained. That hits home. It cannot, though, be part of director Anna Ledwich’s point to summon up so clobberingly the memory of Rupert Goold’s 2009 production of Enron by Lucy Prebble.

Goold used whirling projections to show the chimerical nature of financial dealings. Virtual and real, video and flesh were opposed to each other. Here, fizz and dazzle – glass floors, a fluorescent grid – provide merely a brash, hard-edged setting. Steel’s extensive research is marshalled with impressive clarity and force of feeling. Repugnance and lucidity do not cancel each other out. What has vanished is character. The hero of Labyrinth, a young man who goes into banking sceptically but becomes enthralled, is a cipher, not made more real by a ghostly father whose minor frauds echo his son’s. The financial machine itself is the hero-villain, the pivot of the play, draining human interest with its flashes and bangs. There’s the start of an interesting theatrical notion there. But it never comes to full dramatic life.

• At Hampstead theatre, London until 8 October

Contributor

Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

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