Jack O’Connor, Christian Roe, Andrew Scott, Nicolas Tennant, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Susan Vidler
Steve Thompson’s Roaring Trade arrives at an interesting time: a tale of City excess, of million dollar deals and monopoly money bonuses, it has the feel of a play out of place, a relic of a fading world.
Thompson’s last play, Whipping It Up, which was staged at the Bush before transferring to the West End, was set in the Whips’ office at Westminster and entertainingly portrayed the constant power games and back-room machinations.
It was solid piece of writing, often very amusing if rather conventional in its structure and staging. All of which applies to this new play, a commission by Paines Plough: it’s decently written, authentic in tone, but ultimately rather flat.
Roaring Trade is set on the bond traders’ floor of McSorley’s, a major city bank. Andrew Scott, so superb in Simon Stephens brief but brutal Sea Wall, also at the Bush, is once again excellent as Donny, a City trader with a whiff of east end wide boy in his manner. His fellow traders include PJ, a man in his forties with a seven bedroom house which he never sees in daylight hours, who is starting to reach burn-out point. He wants out but he also has to contend with a demanding wife (rather one-note as a character) who has become accustomed to their more-than-comfortable lifestyle.
Then there’s Jess, who knows how to stay afloat in what is still something of a boys’ club and the Cambridge-educated new chap Spoon, as he’s christened by his colleagues who quickly comes to grasp that this is a kill-or-be-killed world and that, as new blood, his every success is viewed by his colleagues as a threat.
Thompson’s play capably captures an environment where everyone is forever measuring everyone else up and where a man’s worth is dictated by the size of his bonus. It’s a hard world full of hard people, and not a particularly pleasant place. Donny even tries to teach his young son Sean (played by 13 year old Jack O’Connor, who nabs one of the night’s best lines) the tricks of the trade; Donny’s work is his life and he has nothing else he can share with the boy. The play, however, only ever seems mildly critical of the world it depicts; in fact at times it even seems to revel in the hard ball banter of the trading floor, the constant pressure and game playing.
Strong performances lend the play more weight than perhaps is warranted. Scott is, perversely, not wholly unlikeable as the oily, obnoxious Donny with his shrill, nervous giggle; Pheobe Waller- Bridge hits the right pitch as Jess, flirtatious when necessary yet ever cautious and Nicholas Tennant exudes a plausible mix of sweat and rumpled desperation as PJ, a man who has woken up to the fact that there should be more to his life than there currently is.
Roxana Silbert’s production is, in the main, brisk and efficient; but the use of thumping music plus some overlong scene changes only highlight the fact that this plays feels older than it actually is. And just like with Whipping It Up, this play feels as if it might work better on television than on stage, its structure seems better suited to the small screen. As it is, though the writing is often very funny, there’s a featurelessness to proceedings, little to distract from the fact your last ninety minutes have been spent in the company of some fairly unpleasant people.