Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“‘The best way to rob a bank is to own one’ (William Crawford, Commissioner of the California Department of Savings and Loans). Ontroerend Goed invites you to get under the skin of the well-to-do, the 1%, the super rich, the ones who pull the strings, the faces we never get to see. For one night, you can take their chairs. You call the shots. You’re in the centre of our economic system. You shape the course. And who knows, you might make the world a better place, more fair, more responsible because you’ll do things differently, for sure.”
More an interactive game than a performance, Ontroerend Goed’s £¥€$ (LIES) nevertheless embodies the best of what really great theatre has to offer – immersion in world like the one you know but somehow different; exhilaration, joy and fear; and hours of thought and analysis once it is over.
Lining up to enter I was feeling trepidatious, having just remembered that rather than relaxing in the darkness on the safe side of the line that usually separates audience from performers, I was going to have to participate and interact with strangers for 90 minutes. As we filed into the Upper Church at Summerhall, we were divided between a series of poker tables, each manned by a dealer in a dark suit. Each table forms a country named after the first audience member to sit there. Each person seated at the table is in “the 1%” of that country. We are the mega rich with a bank of our very own.
The rules are explained. We are to invest and by doing so, strengthen our country. Seems simple enough. But as the game develops and new rules are constantly added, it becomes apparent that what is being invested in is more than material goods or services – it is trust. We are told if we all trust in the system, we’ll come out on top. Of course we know that a crash is inevitable, but the fast pace at which everything happens and the adrenaline of turning at £3 million investment into £30 million is irresistible. Without a strong grasp on how the economic system works, offering an alternative plan in the heat of the moment is difficult.
Having long forgotten my reluctance to interact with strangers, I’m completely immersed in the rolling of the dice, working with and against others at my table and trying to pre-empt the best strategy. Our dealer is at once approachable and detached – part of the system but managing to instill trust that he is on our side and has our best interests at heart. The performers work together to present a slick machinery that moves like clockwork, at times speaking in near-unison, at others drawing our attention to the centre of the room by announcing the temperature or discussing the board displaying our countries’ ever-changing reliability scores – cleverly building tension and goading us towards the inevitable.
For those of you lucky enough to have a ticket for the sold out run, I don’t want to give away too many details. But I can tell you that I left conflicted – enraged at how the super-rich bet on our livelihoods and essential services with the roll of a dice but still somehow proud of the £32 million “profit” I have made. Most of us have lived through a recession and seen its effects on ordinary people, whilst the super-rich who had a large role to play in causing it get away scot-free. At a time when it seems more important than ever to come to grips with the complex, intangible web of “the market” and the power hierarchy really running our nations, purely seeing a piece of theatre about it may not seem like doing much of anything to facilitate change. But if taking part in this experience causes a few more people to become informed about and to question the efficacy and morality of the current economic system and start a few more conversations about it, then it has done what it set out to do. For that reason, this cleverly crafted experience by masters of interactive performance is a must-see.