Does theatre absolve us of responsibility?

The Power of Yes

In the past few weeks, I've seen more evidence than ever that the recession has injected a shot of adrenalin into theatre land. Three "state of capitalism" plays stand out: Money, a delirious satire based on Zola's L'Argent and the 19th-century collapse of the French bank Union Generale, at Shunt; Enron, Lucy Prebble's hit based on the insatiable skulduggery of Jeffrey Skilling and his comrades, at the Royal Court; andThe Power of YesDavid Hare's narrative drawn from conversations with key players in the financial downfall, at the National. All played to full houses on the nights I was there, and have been generating earnestdebate in the press.

This is theatre doing what it does best, we drama-philes cry. This is theatre holding a mirror up to nature, helping us to tease narrative from chaos and learn lessons to free us from history's repetitive round. This is theatre as public service, as social rehabilitator; you can see it in the language used by the National when they describe how they asked Hare "to write an urgent and immediate work to be staged this autumn that sought to find out what had happened" and found the result to be "as enlightening as it is entertaining". By making the grubby underbelly of corporate greed into London's hottest dramatic meme, we feel we have proved our humility; we have already taken action to repair our rotten economic state.

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