REVIEWS: Other People’s Money, Southwark Playhouse ✭✭✭

Julian Eaves reviews Jerry Sterner’s play Other People’s Money now playing at Southwark Playhouse.

Other People's Money tickets Southwark Playhouse
The cast of Other People’s Money.

Other People’s Money
Southwark Playhouse,
23rd April 2019
3 Stars

It’s worth seeing this enterprising revival of Jerry Sterner’s 30-year old Broadway smash about a predatory take-over business dealing in the USA for its central, dominating role of Lawrence Garfinkle, a part that pretty much reflects himself and his experience in the real estate business of seeing (and being?) sordidly capitalistic asset-strippers.  This was his first great success and it’s a masterly achievement.  There is so much to like in its cracking dialogue, tight plotting, and the smart production created by director-producer team of Katherine Farmer and Paul O’Leary.  However, Sterner has made a play that pretty much sinks or swims on the presentation of its dynamic, overbearing lead: here it is played to perfection and with wicked relish by the wonderful Rob Locke and – rather like the part of Mephistopheles in Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ – he is the main reason why you should go and see it.  Yes, there are lots of other good people involved, but the writer simply doesn’t give them the same chances that he positively heaps upon this rascal.

Other People's Money
Mark Rose as William Coles in Other People’s Money.

That is not to say that this production doesn’t try to even things out.  No, it has a jolly good old go at that.  Right from your arrival in the traverse ambience of almost ‘West Side Story’-like urban challenge in Emily Leonard’s set (she also does the costumes – very period – and graphics – ditto) the Little space once again offers a remarkably fresh and involving world despite its modest dimensions.  When the action begins, so does Sam Waddington’s glamorously dramatic lighting design, splashing and merging effects with his customary aplomb on a set where almost nothing else changes for its near two-hour duration.  And John Leonard provides suitably and finely judged sounds, often with great discretion and subtlety, to keep us feeling stimulated.

Other People's Money Southwark Playhouse
Amy Burke as Kate Sullivan and Michael Brandon as Jorgy in Other People’s Money.

The other casting choices are interesting.  Michael Brandon is a strong choice to bring in for the owner of the slightly moribund Wire and Cable Company of Rhode Island (upon which Garfinkle has set his sights).  He references Harry Truman in his speeches, and there is much about him that seems to come from the late Forties. Working alongside him is Mark Rose’s deputy/finance officer, William Coles, who begins as a narrator, but isn’t structurally allowed to keep that role throughout: he reaches out to us, but he doesn’t speak to us any differently from the way he speaks to the other characters, which oddly doesn’t make us bond with him particularly.  (On the other hand, when Locke treats us to insights into his naughty mind, we just beg for more!)

Other People's Money review Southwark Playhouse
Rob Locke as Lawrence Garfinkle in Other People’s Money.

There are two further participants in this drama.  The company secretary, Bea Sullivan, whom Lin Blakley makes a peppy, jaunty creation, full of verve and liveliness: yet, her words sound much more the dour Yankee Mary Wickes (to take us back to the Truman era: she has more than a ‘thing’ for the boss).  Strangely, when she adopts a more imperious, cool and remote disdain for Garfinkle, she seems so much more at one with the part.  And, tightening the family circle still further, the company is completed by the sudden arrival of the secretary’s corporate lawyer daughter Kate (to get maximum mileage out of a small cast list), played with austere iciness by the grey business-suit clad and hairsprayed Amy Burke.  Burke has the hardest job of all to convince us of her final twist – which I at any rate absolutely did not see coming – and there are any number of other personal plot points that come tumbling out of the mouths of these garrulous Rhode Islanders that also surprised.

But these are quibbles.  The long and the short of is that this is a super drama from someone who had lots of smart and punchy things to say about the role of money in our lives.  If the play is less successful in presenting a dissection of how our lives manage to function in a world of money, it’s only half a problem.  The rest works just fine.

Until 23 May 2019

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