Talky but tight, Indhu Rubasingham’s revival of Ayad Ahktar’s 2012 work offers a well-rendered play of ideas with continuing resonance. Using the intrinsic tension of captivity, Ahktar places us in close quarters with the instincts and emotions that lead to corruption and betrayal on both a daily and systemic basis – forcing an examination of our own beliefs along with the world’s power structures.
Through deft exposition, we learn that Citibank Futures Trader, Nick Bright (Daniel Lapaine) was the wrong guy in the wrong car in a near-future Pakistan that is set to privatise water. The American Bright now finds himself held hostage for a multi-million-dollar ransom that his employer won’t pay and by captors with whom his government won’t negotiate.
A little bit plucky and Mamet-esque, the naked horror of the premise only appears intermittently. Instead, like the archetypal accountant in a penitentiary saga, the prisoner’s expertise is to be used to enrich his kidnappers in return for his freedom.
The hostage’s cell thus serves as the site of ad hoc economics seminars with Bright as lecturer and the Anglo-Pakistani militant, Bashir (Scott Karim), as an eager student not to be underestimated. Despite his degradation, Bright has travelled little from his Princeton student thesis about the inevitable centrality of the US dollar that his captor-turned-brokerage-apprentice studies assiduously. With a belief in the doctrines of Adam Smith and American Exceptionalism so internalised, the abducted futures trader is not immediately alert to the ironic and dangerous contradictions between his immediate self-interest and the market forces’ ‘self-correcting self-interest’ (or ‘Invisible Hand’) that he zealously preaches to Bashir.
The second act brings a darker tone and reminds us of the anguish each character suffers. We also see greater depth in the role of Dal, played with prodigious pathos and range by Sid Sagar, and the inevitable clash between the idealistic and angry Bashir and his revolutionary leader Imam Saleem (Tony Jayawardena).
With effective lighting and sound design, Rubasingham keeps the action going amongst an intensifying ambience. If you enjoy oratorical drama (like David Hare or Aaron Sorkin), you’re likely to be rapt by Ahktar’s erudite dialogue and trenchant quips. On occasion, the helluva-nice-guy qualities of Nick seem to jar with the circumstances and potentially reinforce the imperialist capitalist supremacy the play challenges. On the other hand, however, whilst theatrical, none of the characters are cartoons and it’s possible to sympathise with each – highlighting that there are few easy choices regardless of the political imperative to simplify the narrative.
Review by Mary Beer
You see we are prisoners of a corrupt country that is our own making. But don’t pretend you don’t participate. You do. Of course, you do.’
American banker Nick Bright knows that his freedom comes at a price. Confined to a cell in rural Pakistan, every second counts. Who will decide his fate? His captors, or the whims of the market?
Following a sold out run in 2016, Kiln Theatre Artistic Director Indhu Rubasingham directs the first major revival of Ayad Akhtar’s tense, thrilling and ‘fiendishly clever’ (Financial Times) The Invisible Hand.
Kiln Theatre and Dasha Theatricals present
THE INVISIBLE HAND
BY AYAD AKHTAR