Thrilling hostage drama turns expectations on their head

Daniel Lapaine and Sid Sagar in rehearsals for The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar at the Kiln Theatre

Daniel Lapaine and Sid Sagar in rehearsals for The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar at the Kiln Theatre. Directed by Indhu Rubasingham - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

When an American banker is kidnapped by ransom-demanding Islamic terrorists, it conjures every stale trope of Hollywood movies.

But The Invisible Hand doesn't play out the way you'd expect, as Pakistani-American playwright Ayad Akhtar burrows into greed, the role of money in the West, and US influence on world affairs.

When Nick Bright teaches his captors how to short the market to raise his ransom, it leads to tensions within the organisation who are trying to effect positive change for local citizens.

"What's so clever about it is audiences think they are entering this world they know from the movies - the captured American and Islamic terrorists. But after setting up that expectation he completely messes with their minds," says Catastrophe and The Durrells actor Daniel Lapaine.

"It's not just a thriller about a man trapped in prison, he explores much more interesting ideas about America's place in the world, the power of money, and what it does to people.

"You think the white American is the hero and you are going to follow his story, but by the end you question who the protagonist is. The real journey of enlightenment is Nick's student and captor Bashir."

The play won plaudits when originally performed in 2016 and Kiln Theatre are reviving it for their reopening season because as Lapaine says "it works."

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"At heart it's a thriller, a rollercoaster ride. There's an urgency to it as Nick has inside information that he can use to make money to free himself. It's The Big Short meets Wolf of Wall Street meets a hostage drama. But there are no goodies or baddies. Characters corrupt each other. It's a pressure cooker, animals in a cage having a go at each other."

Lapaine adds that the script has been tweaked for the production.

"A lot has happened in America since we first did it. Post Trump we have worked closely with the writer on addressing the fact the world has changed."

Lapaine, who lives in Highgate with fellow actor Fay Ripley and their two children, says Nick does start to question his own "forthright strong belief that America is the good guy in the world".

"It's exhausting because you go into this tunnel of getting beaten up and psychologically tortured over 90 minutes. It's so intense. As soon as the lights come up, it grabs you by the throat. But it's exciting to do, even if none of us are very match fit."

The Australian, who got his first break in the likes of Home and Away and Muriel's Wedding, says lockdown was "fine."

"I was spared the grief that a lot of people, experienced and spent quality time with my kids in a way I wouldn't have otherwise."

Daniel Lapaine in rehearsals for The Invisible Hand

Daniel Lapaine in rehearsals for The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar at the Kiln Theatre. Directed by Indhu Rubasingham - Credit: Mark Douet

And Theatre he says is his "first love". 

"It forces us all to be present in the moment. Actors have to bring their A game, it's a live human experience none of us have had for a while. Something we used to take for granted but not any more."

The Invisible Hand runs at Kiln Theatre July 1-31.

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