The London Paper – 22 Oct 2007
‘People say I’m a terrible snob, but I’m not … I’m really good at it’. It was immediately after that great line in the new play ‘Alex’ based on the City character in the Daily Telegraph cartoon that my lady-friend elbowed me in the ribs and said ‘it’s just like watching you on stage’. I, of course, took this as enormous compliment until I realised that she was actually being a little critical. OK, Alex may be an obnoxious, greedy, shallow elitist git but he’s pretty successful at his job.
This hilarious one-man play staring Robert Bathurst of Cold Feet fame has just opened at the Arts Theatre. It is all about a roguish investment banker trying to scheme his way out of a potentially disastrous corporate deal whilst saving his beleaguered marriage. It will, I believe, become a ‘City event’ as brokers across the Square Mile take their clients to see it for entertainment in the run-up to Christmas. The fact that I met two clients and three ex-colleagues before the play suggests that it is already some way to achieving this goal. What will be interesting is whether this audience ‘can handle the truth’.
Shakespeare, who’s always struck me as reasonably smart chap, said that the point of drama is to ‘hold the mirror up to nature’. When Cityboys, their clients and their wives see themselves depicted on the stage are they going to like what they see? Will the uncomfortable truths displayed on stage be too much for a City-based audience or will it be water off a duck’s back such is the ‘thickness’ of their skin? (though when it comes to Cityboys I think we already know the answer to that one).
For example, the play seems to suggest that the City is run by lucky, thick posh people. This, of course, goes without saying but will Tarquin Bennington-Smythe on a million a year for doing diddly squat fully concur? The play also suggests that clients are there to be shafted by greedy investment bankers willing to lie and cheat in order to save their own bacon. Again, you’ll hear no objections from this corner but some bankers in post-play conversations with the clients they’ve brought along may be keen to emphasize what preposterous stereotypes were being depicted on stage.
However, it’s Cityboys and their wives who may have the most to talk about. Poor Penny craves ‘spontaneity and passion’ yet never sees her husband Alex who works all hours God sends and goes to strip joints. It may make uncomfortable watching for certain couples but it could result in a constructive discussion of how to address the work/life balance. And if that happens we may also see swine performing loop the loops over the Bank of England.
I’m afraid my own personal epiphany came when Alex realized that he was rapidly becoming a dinosaur in a modernizing City environment populated by young, professional ‘rodents’ who can speak five languages. Fortunately the play offered me some solace even as I realised I was as doomed as its main character. For, as Alex says, although our days may be numbered, ‘until the asteroid strikes dinosaurs can still squash prototype rodents’. I slept easy that night and it wasn’t just the two bottles of Bollinger.