Labyrinth, Hampstead Theatre: ‘Wolf of Wall Street style thriller is expressive and stylish’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 19 September 2016

Labyrinth at the Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Labyrinth at the Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Archant

We’re introduced to this hedonistic world via new trader John, who’s seduced by its drugs, booze and sex-fuelled excesses, and promise of untold wealth.

Beth Steel, returning to Hampstead after 2014’s Wonderland, dips back into history for a resonant financial drama.

It’s 1978, and Wall Street is lending staggering sums to developing Latin American countries for infrastructure projects that are never completed – money instead lining the pockets of despots.

But when an oil crisis causes interest rates to skyrocket, Mexico – billions in debt – threatens to default.

The IMF arranges a bailout, imposing strict austerity on the masses while protecting the elite, and the banks.

We’re introduced to this hedonistic world via new trader John, who’s seduced by its drugs, booze and sex-fuelled excesses, and promise of untold wealth.

Steel’s meticulously researched piece explains everything from the bad debts “extend and pretend” approach to offshore tax dodging, conference deal-making, and the erroneous belief that a country can’t go bankrupt.

There are modern parallels aplenty, but Steel doesn’t trust us to find them – Greece gets a winking name-check.

The heavy-handedness extends to John’s fear that he’s turning into his low-level fraudster father – both confidence tricksters gambling with people’s life savings.

It’s a salient point, but too schematic.

If reminiscent of both Wolf of Wall Street and Enron, Anna Ledwich’s kinetic production is paced like a blood-pumping thriller – expressive, stylish, hallucinatory.

The neon grid of Andrew D. Edwards’ sleek traverse set effectively projects John’s interior struggles, lights flickering alarmingly and the floor glowing a hellish red.

Sean Delaney is strong as neophyte John, less convincing as he grows more ruthless.

There’s good support from Philip Bird’s deadbeat dad, Tom Weston Jones’s sleazy, Mephistophelian mentor, Martin McDougall’s Southern boss, Joseph Balderrama’s Latin American head honchos, and Elena Saurel’s journalist.

Ambitious but overlong, struggling to combine didactic history with satire, drama and morality play, but Steel’s indictment of a toxic industry blazes through.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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