Roaring Trade

Steve Thompson

Paines Plough

Soho Theatre

(2009)

Review by Philip Fisher

When Shakespeare wanted to write a historical play, he had to look back a century or two at the very least. Without intending to, by delaying the staging of Roaring Trade, Steve Thompson and Paines Plough have unwittingly found themselves portraying a far-off time, recognisable as such even though the happenings occurred less than a year ago.

The play harks back to the balmy era when investment bankers and traders not only had jobs but got bonuses that could be measured in telephone numbers. Those were the days.

The Americans had Gordon Gecko but we have not had an equivalent, certainly on stage, where the best example of a play about traders is still Caryl Churchill's anti-Thatcherite Serious Money.

Thompson's strength in his previous plays about journalism and politics (Damages and Whipping It Up) has always been in the comedy rather than characterisation or plotting. The same applies here, where his creations are pawns to service great comic situations and a stream of good jokes.

Kandis Cook's set is dominated by four desks, each overseen by a triptych of computer screens. Here, young bankers short sell stocks to make millions in seconds, but as one of them points out, for every winner there must be a loser.

In the course of 90 minutes, the mighty fall with regularity so that by the end, of four traders, three have bitten the dust. Their arrogance is so great that we at best don't care and at worst feel jubilant. This owes something to schadenfreude but much more to delight in seeing the worst examples of a now dying breed getting their just desserts.

It is a toss-up as to who is the slimiest. Andrew Scott's estuarine Donny is a Master of the Universe who confuses sex, family values and power with money. He features in the play's best scene, educating his young son (the likeable Jack O'Connor) in the unsubtle ways of business, as effective in the playground as on the trading floor it is suggested.

Donny's power base and esteem are threatened by the arrival of a new kid on the block, Spoon played by recent LAMDA graduate, Christian Roe. This Cambridge-educated bounder has a different approach but is equally ruthless in his quest for power and money.

The other pair add colour. With her blouse unbuttoned almost to the waist and habit of crossing legs whenever possible, Jess, played with great humour by the highly promising Phoebe Waller-Bridge, uses sex as a weapon.

Finally there is Nicholas Tennant as the Cockney PJ, who has had enough at 40-plus, but is driven on by the insatiable spending power of his fearsome, Scottish wife Sandy (Susan Vidler).

Director Roxana Silbert maintains pace through a stream of short, snappy scenes that average no more than five minutes each. This makes for a breathless evening during which the jokes easily cover over the lightweight plotting.

Where Caryl Churchill made serious political capital out of the City, Steve Thompson is happy to settle for laughs. That disqualifies Roaring Trade from any claims to high art but as an entertainment, it deserves to prove popular with City types, many of whom might have quite a lot of time on their hands at the moment; and others who want to learn a little more about life in the good times.