Natasha Ketel is impressed by the DST Freshers’ Play for 2019, Lucy Prebble’s Enron.

‘When a company looks too good to be true, it usually is’. This is the message at the heart of Enron, a play that charts the rise and fall of what was once the seventh-largest US corporation and exposes the dark corruption and deceit of the financial market in the 1990s. Directed by Ellie Thornton, the DST 2019 Freshers’ play delivers a disorientating spectacle of this infamous capitalist breakdown despite the challenge of having to confront such a demanding, technical script.

The cast is led by Tom Pyle as Jeffrey Skilling, the CEO central to the drama; his ability to convey the ingenuity, arrogance and ambition of such a scandalous man is exemplary. His performance exudes confidence and the subtleties of his expressions further reinforce his stage presence, showcasing his undoubtable talent. He is best seen in fierce conversation with Izzie Thompson’s character, Claudia Roe, as the chemistry between the two is electric and convincing. Their dialogue was sharp, fast-paced and clear-cut, allowing the tension between them to become tangible and venomous. In fact, this dynamic is clearly central in highlighting the toxicity and danger of the capitalist ventures and the way in which savage greed can lead to grave bitterness and brutality within the play, indicating the success of Thornton’s direction.

Pyle is supported by Olly Stanton as Andrew Fastow, the hilarious, bombastic Chief Financial Officer. Stanton’s energy throughout the play is unparalleled. His unkempt and awkward physicality is heavily effective in revealing the character’s vulnerabilities and desperate desires for success. His scenes with the strange raptor creatures sometimes tread a fine line between bizarre absurdity beyond belief and clever, comic symbolism. Yet, this is far more a concern of the difficulties of the overly complex, repetitive script than Thornton’s direction due to the frequent lack of clarity in tone of the lines. The play is seen to incorporate a confusing mixture of tragic and ridiculous that can often distract the audience from the true drama of the performance, seen primarily with the inclusion of the sock puppet and mouse masks that are far more irritating than they are beneficial performative elements. However, at times, this juxtaposition of serious calamity and silly comedy is also pivotal in adding a level of energy to the play that keeps the audience on their toes, something that is stressed by Stanton’s hyperbolic and humorous acting.

Thornton is certainly successful in her aim to highlight the growth of Skilling’s arrogance and subsequent collapse of fortune, though the play could have the same impact in a far shorter time, nearing two and a half hours including a 30 minute interval. The episodic nature of Enron maintains that there is a loss of fluidity that ties the scenes together and that the supposed growing momentum of the poisonous dynamics between the characters is seen to drag. This is not helped by slight technical difficulty when the sound of the atmospheric music dominates over the quieter volumes of the characters’ voices and the transitions between scenes lack sharp choreography, often resulting in a cluttered stage. Despite this, Pyle’s and Thompson’s clarity of voice are always distinguished, ensuring that overall there is a sharp, clear string of dialogue throughout.

On reflection, Pyle’s ability to welcome the audience into the interiority of his character’s complex mind and the surreal, dreamlike, fantastical quality to the performance is truly triumphant, demonstrating Thornton’s success. Enron certainly highlights the strength, commitment and enthusiasm of Durham’s freshers who took part and although it may not be as polished as it could have been if there had been more time to work on blocking and transitions between scenes, the show is entertaining, engrossing and certainly current in today’s world.

Enron will be playing at the Assembly Rooms Theatre on 8th and 9th November at 7:30pm.

Image: Durham Student Theatre