Edinburgh Fringe 2010
CJ is a TV show host and is rich, rich beyond your wildest dreams. And he believes that everyone has a right to be rich and that they can realise their dream by following his simple advice to buy, buy, buy. But just as the financial bubble took a relatively small pin-prick to burst it, so it is with CJ’s world as it all comes tumbling down. Live. On air.
Capitalism has come in for a bit of flack at this year’s Festival and Fringe. But with the UK’s track record of self-flagellation and the naive belief of the US that there is nothing wrong with the economy that throwing money at it can’t fix, you’d have expected quite different pieces to some of those on display this year.
Take the National Theatre of Scotland’s Caledonia. This provided us with a dumbed-down attack on politicians and bankers that was about as effective as a slap with a wet fish. But in Righteous Money, New York writer Michael Yates Crowley has produced an unashamedly bitter, sharp and biting satirical attack on the American dream – that it’s everyman’s right to be rich.
CJ (presumably no relation to the cult hero of BBC’s “The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin”) is a so-called TV financial expert. We are part of his studio audience as he goes out live with Righteous Money, available to anyone in the world with a satellite dish and nothing better to do than to listen to wild financial tips from a man who is clearly a securitisation short of a collateralised debt obligation.
Initially an effusive and, dare one say it, stereotypical American TV show host, CJ starts to unravel as soon as we “cut to commercial”, that broadcasting euphemism for taking an advertising break. Turns out there is quite a bit of turmoil in CJ’s life – the producer nagging him through his earpiece is the least of worries as a series of incidents make him question to whom or to what he owes his loyalty.
It’s a beautifully arrogant, self-delusional performance, full of hubris and that sense of impregnability you might expect from such a character. And it’s all the more noteworthy as it’s Chas Carey we see before us, a last minute stand-in due to the indisposition of writer/performer Michael Yates Crowley. Carey is believably obnoxious and utterly contemptuous of those who ignore his advice on how to grab their share of the righteous money to be had from the simple act of speculation. The spartan set (desk, chair, TV camera and monitor) keeps the focus on CJ as he goes into complete meltdown – a cleverly worked extended allegory for the collapse of the US economy.
Yates Crowley pulls no punches with his incisive and generally tight script. There’s no quarter given in the terminology deployed – it’s full-on US corporate/finance speak a lot of the time, so you’re either into your CDOs, MBOs, SECs, 10-K’s or you’re not. The odd moment of discursiveness and a slight tendency towards the didactic are forgivable as he exposes the fallacy of a reliance on a capitalist system that, mid-recession, many now believe to be systemically flawed, lacking the ethics, checks and balances many had mistakenly assumed were inherent.
Whilst CJ’s emotional breakdown following the end of his relationship with his gay lover wasn’t quite believable (how could someone as monetarily hard-nosed as this have real feelings for anything, never mind another human being), this was a bravura performance from Carey that brought out the deep and dark humour in the script.
“I don’t have a conscience, I’m a rational investor” proclaims CJ in mid-tirade at the unseen viewer. Trouble is, investors aren’t rational and neither is the market. Some have long been aware that playing the market is just the same as backing a nag in the 3.30 at Newmarket. So perhaps Righteous Money will encourage others to start thinking a bit more about what sort of society we have created, and what needs to be done to improve it.