The work hard/ play hard lifestyle of bankers and city traders has always been a bit of a closed shop. The Thatcher era saw the rise of the barrow boy with opportunistic and ambitious Essex lads invading the stock exchange to break down class barriers and get rich quick.
In the rapacious ‘80s we were shocked by the greed-is-good culture which was depicted in the film Wall Street and, later, in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.
Has anything changed? Not if Stephen Thompson’sRoaring Trade, which opened last week at London’s Park Theatre, is to be believed. The obscene bonuses are still being paid out – if you’re prepared to shaft a colleague.
The lifespan of a trader working in a bullish market seems to be no more than five years. The message is to get in early, make your millions, then get out – all before the age of 30.
Roaring Trade fails to capture the adrenalin-fuelled aggression which comes with working on the trading floor of an investment bank where an unsuccessful deal could end a career faster than the Dow Jones can move a point.
But you have to work within your limitations. You’re never going to be able to replicate the shop floor buzz unless you fill the stage with dozens of traders doing business at breakneck speed.
But the stage does have a video backcloth that flashes up images of London’s glass encased city district and various shares indexes. Lots of flashing figures that meant little to me.
Here we have just four masters of the universe and when we first meet Donny he is stripped and being led around by his tie by the office man-eater, Jess.
But it’s not what it seems. Donny is our barrow boy. He’s worked his way up through taking risks and making the most of any opportunity and now he’s at the peak of his game.
The working of shares and high finance are a complete mystery but it is fascinating (and equally appalling) listening to Donny give a lesson to his teen son, using a sachet of ketchup, on how to make money. I think I almost got it (Canary Wharf can breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not applying for a job any time soon).
Working class Donny (Nick Moran), who can label a suit at five paces, lives for the next deal and enjoys humiliating the new boy, a public school and Cambridge rowing blue he immediately nick-names Spoon (as in born with a silver spoon..).
Jess (Lesley Harcourt), poured into a tight black skirt, who flaunts her assets to win clients, watches the boys circle each other with cool detachment.
Meanwhile the office “old boy” PJ (Michael McKell over-doing the drunk act by a bottle or three) has day-long liquid lunches and seems to have lost his mojo.
Thompson does little to flesh out the characters. We know next to nothing about Jess and all we learn about Donny is that his marriage has broken down (probably due to work).
PJ’s life is sketched out and is a bit of a cliché. He has a trophy blonde wife who is spending his bonuses faster than he can cash the cheques.
He caustically remarks that he’s bought three sets of lounge furniture yet has never been at home to sit on any of them. His wife has already booked a five-star Caribbean family break with the next expected bonus and is distraught when all it can afford is a wet weekend in Bruges.
While Donny lives for the cutthroat competitiveness PJ, when occasionally sober, tries to have some element of a life outside the office – but that’s his weakness. He’s just not corporate enough.
Director Alan Cohen needs to up the pace and inject more energy into the performances which, at times, become sluggish.
Thompson himself admits that some of the stories he’s heard are so outlandish as to be almost unbelievable but they should be there in the script. It needs more colour and absurdity.
The only creditable performance is Moran’s. Suited and booted he could probably sell short (or go long, whatever) and make a buck or two.
Roaring Trade plays at the Park Theatre until October 24.
I wouldn’t buy shares in Steve Thompson’s Roaring Trade but it gives an insight into the cutthroat world of the trading floor at a London investment bank.