First published in The Times, Thursday August 24 2017
The Belgian company Ontroerend Goed is theatrical Marmite. Shows such as The Smile Off Your Face, in which audience members were tied up and blindfolded, and Internal, a one-to-one performance, in which participants were encouraged to reveal their most intimate secrets, tend to inspire everything from admiration to rage.
This new show, conceived and directed by Alexander Devriendt, is unlikely to provoke such extreme response. Its premise is less intimidating and, though it contains some chilly moments, its tenor is nowhere near as edgy or aggressive. For once, audiences leave the 90-minute immersive piece feeling pumped up and animated rather than tense and defensive.
Pic: Thomas Dhanens / Ontroerend Goed
This positive reaction is down to the seductive power of the market and the exhilaration of making and losing money. We find ourselves in a casino, seated at tables with strangers presided over by an austere, black-clad croupier. Each table represents a country and we are the bankers charged with growing the economy.
From all over the room comes the sound of bells ringing as markets open around the world. We hand over money (audiences are encouraged to bring cash) in exchange for chips, which we then invest, handing over taxes when we can, with the stakes gradually increasing. As banks merge and expand, we collect bonds and open ourselves up to neighbouring markets. A rotating board in the centre of the room shows our climbing credit ratings.
Pic: Tom Ver Bruggen
What makes the show so satisfying is not the lesson in boom-and-bust economics but what it tells us about our own behaviour when faced with the raw power of the market. There is something thrilling about watching our piles of chips grow, even as we judge our more cavalier tablemates for their self-interested behaviour.
When the crash comes, as it inevitably must, it feels like a blip on the radar before the market resets and we start all over again. It is the most chilling moment in a show that quite literally raises the temperature in the room.