What do you get when you take two things that make no sense whatsoever – religious militancy and the global financial markets – and make a play out of them? Turns out, the incredibly compelling The Invisible Hand by Pulitzer-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, directed by Indhu Rubasingham, showing now at the Tricycle Theatre.
Nick Bright is a clever American banker who, mistaken for his boss, has been kidnapped by a fringe militant group in Pakistan. The ransom is set at $10m, but the US government refuses to negotiate with ‘terrorists’. Not the hostage-killing type (“we don’t go in for that sort of thing”), the group threaten to hand Bright over to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (the group that kidnapped and beheaded Daniel Pearl). But Nick manages to make an ingenious arrangement – with the help of Bashir (his Hounslow-born and highly-strung captor) he will raise the ransom by playing the international stock market.
What follows is an engaging explanation of how the market works, as well as a fascinating exploration of the evolving relationship between Bright, Bashir, and Imam Saleem, the group’s slippery leader. The plot unfolds around the central theme of the power of money to intoxicate and corrupt, as Akhtar dismantles each of the protagonists’ initial claims to moral clarity. Bashir, who has railed against American capitalism for destroying the Muslim world, is soon entranced by his rapidly burgeoning trading account. Imam Saleem’s concern for the people gives way to some predictable personal gain-making. And Bright’s unquestioned belief in the innate sensibility of the market and its ability to regulate itself is shattered as Bashir takes all that he has taught him to a terrifying extreme.
The production is cleverly directed, fast-paced, and highly sensory. The undulating stage, bright lights and blaring siren make it a tense, disorienting, and highly absorbing experience. Daniel Lapaine is excellent as Nick Bright, deteriorating both physically and mentally as the play goes on, and Parth Thakrar’s Bashir explosive stage entrances give the play its air of malignant unpredictability.
The play’s descent into melodrama – as Nick’s manipulations of his captors go awry – and its somewhat sudden conclusion does it a disservice. But the important point – that the violent political movements rocking Muslim countries and the world, are as driven by money as they are by ideology – is well-made. A must-see.
Website: Tricycle Theatre
Posted by SK on 6 June 2016
Photo by Tricycle Theatre/ Mark Douet