Writer David Shirreff was a distinguished journalist on financial matters for The Economist for many years including during the banking meltdown which began in 2007. He has responded to what he saw during those years by creating a satirical one act musical Broke Britannia! which behind its lampooning front rather subtly makes some hard-hitting points about our dysfunctional financial systems. And doesn’t fail to name the guilty parties! The excellent music is by Russell Sarre and the songs are nicely performed by a small professional cast of six each of whom plays multiple roles.
There is appropriateness to the use of the fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” as the (loose) structure for the story. The wolves were not just at the door but had taken over the running of the show – and it was, as ever, the innocent Grandmas and Red Riding Hoods who were the victims. “Mr Wolf” himself opens the show and praises the process of “natural selection” which enables him to laugh all the way to the Bank – and buy it! An innocent woodcutter, Enzo, wanders in and blinks at the glamour of Canary Wharf and is overawed by it. The financial services clichés abound “Too big to fail”, “Creating Value” and of course the worship of Mammon and the annual bonus. At one point someone says “What about the poor people?” – to be met with incomprehension! The “Masters of Finance” rule the roost – echoes of “Wall Street’s” “Masters of the Universe” – Gordon Gekko lives and greed is still good twenty years on.
The “Big Bang” in the City of the late 1980s turned it into a Casino in which the clever Mr Wolf’s could prosper and the wary but less street smart like Enzo could be victims. By the first decade of the new millennium it was out of control and what regulations there were in place, were proved with hindsight, to be totally ineffective. We see the head honchos of the three regulatory bodies – the Bank of England’s Mervyn King, The Treasury’s Alastair Darling and the Financial Services Authority’s Callum McCarthy as a gruesome trio who spent more time protecting their own parishes than cooperating to be effective. That they fight territory wars when the “Financial system is running wild” was part of the problem as much as the political imperative for “light touch” regulation. Another gruesome trio are the three ratings agencies; Fitch, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. They have a song the theme of which is “We’re all in the game of making you rich” – if ever the Emperors had no clothes it was this lot. The Guilty trio theme continues with the bankers – HBOS’s Andy Hornby, Northern Rock’s Adam Applegarth and the Emperor in Chief Fred “The Shred” Goodwin of RBS. “Our Business Model’s broken” they sing – well you could say that! Goodwin’s most venal error – the preposterous acquisition of Dutch Bank ABM/AMRO – gets due mention as does his summary of the whole affair “I lost the bloody lot, but I saved my pension” (A paraphrase I think!).
Grandma loses her savings to the Wolf and to the upwardly mobile Divina – a splendid portrayal by Danni Payne who, in tight red dress, projects just the right amount of cool, calculating sexiness! Chris Runciman’s Mr. Wolf is well judged too – I’m sure that I’ve seen him get off the Jubilee line at Canary Wharf! “The less you explain” he says “the more people seem to trust you”. Great line. Do any of these characters – the City slickers, the Hedge Find and derivative traders, the failed regulators, the greedy bankers and the rest realise, as one character puts it, “the damage they do to other people’s lives”? Do they really know a thing about the customers of a “Poxy little Bank in the North” – as “Northern Rock” is referred to? The little people? The conclusion is not that there was a faulty morality but that there was no morality at all. Power and privilege and “creating value” were everything. In fact, of course, value was destroyed, although never theirs.
And so we progress through Quantitative Easing and Austerity to a finale in which the bankers are on the run with their bonuses being taxed – sort of! Because when Danni Payne impersonates George Osborne (convincingly) you sense that that the “Masters of Finance” haven’t gone away and that phoenix-like all the key players are reemerging to cast their spells again. In 2015 bankers are as opposed to reform as ever and under pressure from them the Chancellor seems to have decided to surrender some regulations while trying to maintain the appearance of reform. Plus ca change!
This is an excellent hour at the theatre which moves at a lively pace with engaging performers, slick staging and a thought-provoking message. Catch it if you can!
Review by Paddy Briggs
Broke Britannia! The Musical
Finance and musical – not two words you often hear together. Broke Britannia! replays the CREDIT CRUNCH as fairy-tale – with vicious lyrics and great tunes. No character is spared, from doomed bankers such as Fred the Shred and Andy Applegarth, to the jokers who were meant to control them – Alistair Darling, Mervyn King & Co. All set against the easily digested backdrop of Little Red Riding Hood, Mr Wolf leads us through a financial zoo of heroes and villains, taking in Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother on the way.
Think Bertholt Brecht meets Gilbert & Sullivan: lyricist David Shirreff, who reported on the crisis for The Economist, believes only satire does justice to the fiasco and throws down the challenge that today’s cast of characters could easily do it all over again.
Broke Britannia! is the first in a series of three new musicals which each follow a different financial crisis, the first taking place at home in the UK 2007-2009, the second, Eurocrash!, in Europe, and the third, Barack and the Beanstalk, tackles the USA. With a West End studded cast and brand new design, Crunch Productions looks forward to taking the Square Mile by storm.
Music by Russell Sarre, Words by David Shirreff, Directed by Alice Kornitzer, Musical director Chris Huntley and Produced by Noor Lawson
Broke Britannia! The Musical
Words by David Shirreff
Music by Russell Sarre
Directed by Alice Kornitzer
Produced by Noor Lawson
Musical director Chris Huntley
Britain’s credit crunch as musical. Mr Wolf leads us through a financial zoo of heroes and villains, taking in Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother on the way.
Bridewell Lunchbox Theatre, 14 Bride Lane, London EC4Y 8EQ
Telephone booking: 020 7353 3331
Tuesday to Friday 13th October to 23rd October, 2015 1pm (extra show on Thursday and Friday at 12pm)
Running time: 45 minutes
More information at www.crunchproductions.co.uk