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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Power of Yes
Lyttelton Theatre 2009-2010

In recent years David Hare seems to have abandoned traditional playwriting in favour of a stage equivalent of TV talking head documentaries. He interviews a lot of people involved in a particular story - previously the state of the railroads and the Iraq war, now the current financial meltdown - and then cuts and pastes their responses into a script for actors to perform.

He is very, very good at it. What must be mountains of material is not only shaped into a coherent narrative but given dramatic structure. Personalities emerge, ironies are illuminated, black comedy is exploited wherever it is found, and the result is entertaining as well as educational.

For The Power Of Yes, Hare puts himself onstage, in the person of actor Anthony Calf, as the economic novice interviewing two dozen bankers, politicians, investment gurus and the like in an attempt to understand how capitalism almost crashed as spectacularly as communism had at the end of the 1980s.

And so, as identified figures such as George Soros, Adair Turner and Howard Davies, along with a number of prefer-to-be-anonymous interviewees, come onstage to say their piece to the Hare character, The Power Of Yes has to be judged both for how well it explains things and how well it entertains.

For the first, one has to salute Hare for making every moment in the complex story clear, though - perhaps deliberately - how they all came together to create disaster always remains cloudy.

Parts of it you know - once mortgage lenders realised they could immediately sell the debts on to others, there was no reason to be cautious about who they loaned to, and once the selling-on vehicles became so complex that the bankers themselves didn't understand them, the debt-buying banks really didn't know how deep a hole they were digging themselves into.

Hare underlines two further insights - that in a financial climate in which everyone else was making millions, it would have been career suicide for anyone to try to be conservative and not go along, and that bankers and others who make millions in bonuses think they're worth millions and are simply incapable of conceiving the possibility that they could make mistakes.

All this is shaped by Hare and directed by Angus Jackson, whose job consists mainly of traffic management, as actors (frequently doubling roles and needing to be identified as they appear) stride onstage, say their piece to the playwright character, and then get off as another appears.

Anthony Calf attractively makes the interviewer a quick learner, moving from total ignorance through grasping the essentials to being able to make informed judgements - all perhaps just a half-step ahead of the audience, which involves us in the detective-story aspect of the play.

Others who create characters who are more than just mouthpieces for information include Jemima Rooper as the expert Hare hired to tutor him on the basics, Bruce Myers as a philosophical George Soros, and Richard Cordery as a bemused and regretful veteran banker.

So Hare does flesh out the documentary, giving us a sense of the people as well as the facts - in short, making a real play about the story.

You could probably learn as much from a really well-written Sunday newspaper feature. But it wouldn't come as alive and real - and frequently funny - as David Hare makes it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Power of Yes - National Theatre 2009