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Review of Beth Steel’s Labyrinth at Hampstead Theatre

Matt Whitchurch (Phil) Labyrinth
Matt Whitchurch (Phil) Labyrinth – Photo Manuel Harlan

Whilst not exactly breaking new ground, Hampstead Theatre’s Labyrinth explores the very relevant themes surrounding human greed, particularly as regards the irresponsible lending from bankers which has helped plunge economies into depression periodically.

A black comedy which follows John (Sean Delaney), a young wannabe banker, eager to make his mark and make a lot of money. His naivety and optimism about his potential and the potential of his company are soon put into perspective, as he learns the ropes from Charlie (Tom Weston-Jones). Despite being eager to escape the criminal legacy of his father Frank (Philip Bird), John is unsurprisingly corrupted by an industry built on greed.

Though the staging at first appears a little literal – the action is literally enclosed in a labyrinth-pattern. However, as the play unfolds, the stage begins to show its vertical energy, the actors moving through the floor, the combination of structure and fluidity used to great effect. Richard Howell and Max Pappenheim contribute flawless lighting and sound, the combination of coloured LED and emulsion lighting assisting to cast visceral moods over the action, the layering of ticking and sharp sound adding to the frenetic energy of the piece. The dynamism of the staging and lighting therefore add much to this production, transforming the space into an Escher sketch, realising the labyrinth in layers.

My main criticism of Labyrinth is that we are not given much insight into any character other than John, whose story is not exactly original. The hard-done-by young man who tries to make it big on Wall Street; lured in by personal greed, his experience of the system leaves him as empty and unforgivable as we would expect.

It’s not a new story. However, the scenes between John and Charlie are amongst the most electric, alongside the father and son tension between John and Frank. These are our glimpses into the human descent into immorality, though it is all delivered with such a logical, expected rhythm, and though the results have been shocking, there is something numbing about this kind of dissection of this issue.

Though it is tragic and immoral, the cycle continues – and this is surprising to no one. Kudos should go to the moments we have with Phil (Matt Whitchurch) and Rick (Eric Kofi-Abrefa), who give us humane, comedic relief in the face of so much energy towards blatant exploitation.

This scrutiny of insatiable greed, of where good blurs into bad, legal into illegal, is still a relevant tale – particularly as the cycle continues into the present. Beth Steel’s play doesn’t exactly cover new ground on these issues, but it is clever and sharp, delivered with a pace which works well. Anna Ledwich has directed a slick play, solidly performed.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Christina Calgaro

Hampstead Theatre presents the world premiere of Beth Steel’s Labyrinth, a Hampstead Theatre commission. Directed by Anna Ledwich, this compelling new thriller explores the fallout from one of the most catastrophic economic crises of modern history, which brought Latin America to its knees for decades.

1978, New York. John Anderson is barely out of college and has landed himself a job on Wall Street. His dreams of unimaginable wealth, travel and power are made a reality as he jets around the globe selling loans to developing countries eager to borrow. And there are plenty – Mexico, Brazil, Argentina… But cracks in the banks’ excessive lending strategy soon start to show. Despite the warning signs – and their consciences – John and his colleagues continue to pursue their targets, threatening to leave them all financially, and morally, bankrupt.

A HAMPSTEAD THEATRE PRODUCTION
LABYRINTH
BY BETH STEEL
DIRECTED BY ANNA LEDWICH
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval
1 SEP – 8 OCT 2016
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

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  • Christina Carè

    'Christina is just another Aussie in London, writing about the arts and signing up for all the weird performance productions the city has to offer. She is Content Editor at Spotlight and tweets from @christinacare.'

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