© Thomas Dhanens
£¥€$ (Lies) by Ontroerend Goed – Almeida Theatre, London N1
Ontroerend Goed may be based in Belgium, but their varied and inventive work is an invaluable part of the British theatre scene. Their show £¥€$ (Lies), a hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, continues the strand of their work that puts the audience in the spotlight. While not as directly confrontational as previous shows such as Audience (sexual harassment) and Fight Night (division through democracy), £¥€$ is an immersive and unsettling experience. The audience spends two hours divided into groups at a series of bespoke gambling tables (beautifully designed by Nick Mattan). Everyone hands over the money in their wallet which is exchanged for chips, and the dealing commences. Each table is managed by a cast member, in croupier-like attire, who pushes the audience to risk more in order to win more. As the dice roll and fortunes are made and lost, the options increase. Soon you can short your neighbours or yourself, buy bonds or merge resources. Everything costs, but the times are good. Credit ratings, shown on a central board, climb.
Inevitably, a crash is coming. When bond issuers default, panic sets in and the pressure is on to make big decisions quickly. The drama is orchestrated by the casino-clad cast who constantly gather data and update data on the global market, sounding a gong to make announcements. As a piece of theatre, £¥€$ is remarkably absorbing. Drawn into the increasingly complex decision-making, the evening is over before you know it. Director Alexander Devriendt and his cast pull off a miracle of coordination, in which ten separate improvised shows effectively follow their own course with a single structure.
£¥€$ is also a cleverly constructed critique of the global financial markets. Although simplified, the show explains and demonstrates obscure but important instruments that are used around us every day (for example, fractional interest trading, a technique for simply creating money). It also reveals the febrile nature of the global economy, which can collapse as soon as trust is undermined, or fall apart on the back of a baseless panic. Above all, £¥€$ allows us to see for ourselves how completely dependent we are on one another. This is, oddly, both terrifying and reassuring, leaving just a glimmer of hope that we may choose to succeed together. However, it asks troubling and important questions, including about how much we really understand the world and the systems that govern our lives.