Tricycle Theatre Spring-Summer 2016
An American banker, the kind of whizkid who instantly makes and loses millions trading stocks, commodities and currencies, is kidnapped by a splinter group in Pakistan. To save himself he offers to raise his own ransom by doing what he does best, and soon turns their limited funds into a small fortune.
But, as he should have known, money corrupts, and around the time that he finds himself blithely using advance knowledge of a planned assassination to give himself a trading edge, his captors begin choosing their terrorism not on political grounds but where it will make them the most profit.
Ayad Akhtar's drama, presented here in an impeccable production by Indhu Rubasingham, is the sort of play that teaches us a lot and makes us think, but doesn't really involve us emotionally.
The characters have to spend a little too much time explaining to us what's going on to be developed and fleshed out much beyond their plot functions, and even the moral points being made are more abstract than personal and real.
(The banker spends no more than a couple of seconds of doubletake when he realizes that he just made millions from a lot of people being killed, before diving right back into the game of trading.)
We are taught a lot about puts and calls and how to make money from a stock or currency going down in value, and the title refers to the trader's faith that the marketplace has an inherent self-control that keeps things from getting too bad, though the events of the play would seem to question that.
The basic premise of the play, that the markets could be manipulated for political ends, is utterly convincing. A few decades ago crop failures in China forced the Chinese to buy massive amounts of American wheat, inevitably driving the price up.
Later reports said that the Chinese had first invested in wheat futures, and made enough in that insider trading to pay for the wheat itself. And there were rumours, never pinned down, of unusual trading in United Airlines futures just before 9/11.
This is the kind of thinking The Invisible Hand will lead you toward. And while the prospects may be chilling, the play itself remains more an economics lesson than an evocative human drama.
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Review - The Invisible Hand - Tricycle Theatre 2016