You Can Still Make A Killing by Nicholas Pierpan looks at the faltering heart of the financial system. It follows two friends, Edward and Jack, as both are affected by the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008. The result is a broken amity with only one of them ending up very much on top, and not the one you’d think. While both lose their morality and most of their dignity, Pierpan’s writing and Matthew Dunster’s direction (as precise as in the ETT’s The Sacred Flame) combine to create a smart, snappy and systematic production.
The show opens with a discussion that I didn’t fully understand until I went home and googled some keywords ferociously ("haircut" and countless acronyms amongst them). On reflection I felt exactly as I imagine my parents feel during every theatre related discussion I attempt to have with them – confused and hoping it will all explained later on. Thankfully, the ingenuity of Pierpan’s writing deals with this smoothly, without making the audience feel like financial dimwits, as the characters subtly describe their plotting in layman’s terms rather than in Lehman's terms, god forbid.
Edward Knowles (Tim Delap, an effortless triumph) is a broker at Lehman Brothers who loses his job, his stock and, consequently, all of his assets, leaving him in a crisis where he wants to support his young family and his capricious wife Fen, astutely performed by Kellie Bright, who was a joy to watch as she stretched, fussed, panicked and encouraged. Edward’s long time friend Jack Tilly, fortunately employed by another financial firm, strides across the rickety foundations of the global financial crisis by buying low and selling high and making a lot of money for himself and Roger Glynn (a veritable performance from Robert Gwilym, though I found him to be a bit more of a caricature than the other city workers).
As Jack blooms into a beast of a businessman, Edward descends into a caffeine drilled desperate public worker, which in itself seems cruel as the backgrounds are revealed, what with Jack’s education in medicine and Edward being the driver behind his change to the disparate City career. Time moves on and luck changes, but this story is ultimately a portrayal of the people behind some of the more unreasonable financial and political decisions and, though you certainly don’t end up pitying them, you can definitely relate. It’s not all seriousness either, with some subtle humour and terrific one-liners popping up at the most sober of times.
The two-hour-plus production takes you to many places, from the homes of the characters to the conference rooms and offices by way of parks and coffeehouses, and Alison McDowall and Chloe Kenward take you there with a few seats, a couple of shiny tables and a lighting plan as precise as the direction. Emma Laxton’s soundtrack, as contemporary as her previous associations with Dunster, features songs from artists such as Adele to provide a sometimes ironic backdrop to the performance, invoking a chuckle from the audience, as well as sticking to Pierpan’s scripted music including Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, the unrealised, until that point, perfect drunken celebration soundtrack.
There was some shakiness here and there from the lighting desk and from Elexi Walker’s Kim Lopez, but her arrogant and competitive character was not lost through the stutters. Casting was particularly well done for this production, each actor personifying their character with ease, integrity and realism.
In this play, we meet people making and losing money and pride while being acrimoniously devious about it, but you find yourself still rooting for the little guy. You Can Still Make a Killing, it’s easy if you know how, and this production certainly does.