Hostile takeovers, corporate greed and company acquisitions are big news at the moment so a revival of Jerry Sterner’s 1980s satire, Other People’s Money, couldn’t be more timely.
It first surfaced, as a play, two years after America’s Black Monday saw shares take a nosedive and companies go to the wall.
While we had the big bang, big ideas and inspirational rhetoric from Margaret Thatcher (not to mention big hair, shoulder pads and way too much make-up), over on the other side of the pond, business was in freefall.
It wasn’t long before it was made into a moderately successful movie starring Danny DeVito. If Wall Street showed that greed was good, Other People’s Money carried on with a theme of profit over people.
It’s now back on stage, opening this week at London’s Southwark Playhouse with ex-pat, Michael Brandon, playing an old fashioned factory boss trying to keep the Wall Street wolves from asset-stripping the company.
It’s still set in the 1980s which simultaneously makes it feel terribly quaint and nostalgic while also picking up on themes we recognise from this week’s news.
Brandon’s Andrew Jorgenson has devoted his life to New England Wire and Cable and, at 68, is two years off handing over the reins to thrusting and astute second-in-command, Billy Coles (Mark Rose).
It’s a steady, small town business and the area’s largest employer so everyone relies on them for their weekly paycheck.
Coles, also acting as the play’s narrator, reveals that suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Wall Street is sniffing around the company.
Worse, a shark named Larry the Liquidator, is buying up stock which can mean only one thing and it’s not good news.
Jorgi’s assistant and lifelong friend, Bea Sullivan, calls on her lawyer-daughter for help, and so begins a David and Goliath boardroom battle between the smart-talking and ambitious Kate Sullivan and sardonic, heavyweight corporate raider, Lawrence Garfinkle.
But I have to admit, as engaging as the performances are – and everyone in this five-hander delivers a terrific turn – there were times when my eyes glazed over.
As someone who is pretty much dyslexic when it comes to high finance and big business, Sterner’s dialogue-heavy script, frequently baffled me.
White knights, poison pills, golden parachutes, green mail, Schedule 13Ds – what the hell?
The jargon comes fast and furious as various characters – but usually Coles or Amy Burke’s ball-breaking Kate – deliver the exposition to keep us poor schmucks in the loop.
Jorgi looked confused and so did I. We both wanted to bury our heads in the sand until it went away.
The result is that I began to wonder if I really cared enough to invest any time in either this story or its characters.
Sure, we’re supposed to be rooting for the little guys and, in a gripping climax, Jorgi pulls out all the stops with an emotional speech at a vital shareholders’ meeting.
But Larry the Liquidator has a point. People invest in companies purely to make money. His ways may not be ethical but everyone comes out of it awash with dollar bills.
Coles’ final burst of narrative delivers a preposterous and unlikely ending to this financial romp which is, nonetheless, slickly directed by Katharine Farmer.
The traverse staging works well with Garfinkle at his smart Wall Street desk – adorned with Dunkin donuts (what product placement!) – at one end and Jorgi’s, messy, paper-strewn desk at the other.
The fourth wall frequently comes down especially with Larry’s quips to the audience.
Rob Locke, is engaging as the self-deprecating and assured Garfinkle, a typical 1980s’ misogynist who initially underestimates Kate before going on to be aroused then beguiled by her.
And Lin Blakley, as Bea, is equally terrific in what is largely the stock, mature woman, role. Her fiery scenes with daughter Kate are particularly credible.
Other People’s Money isn’t as funny or as intriguing as it could be, which is entirely down to the source material, but Farmer’s pacy production is certainly riveting.
Running in The Little at Southwark Playhouse until May 11.
Other People's Money
Hostile takeovers & corporate greed are big news so a revival of this 1980s satire couldn’t be more timely. Fine turns let down by a jargon heavy script.