Review: Crash

At West Yorkshire Playhouse

THE biggest strength of William Nicholson's post-recession autopsy is also an obvious weakness – its timeliness.

Because while audiences put their bums on theatre seats, many a finger will still be burnt from the market meltdown. Unfortunately they may well have cooled in a few years, ready to be put back into new financial pies.

In that respect Crash isn't timeless. Sure, another financial crisis will come along, but the main focus of rage is unlikely to be centred on bankers, specifically on bankers' bonuses, and that's the central focus of this play.

That's not to dismiss this production as overly opportunistic or fleeting. Nicholson's writing is first class and the arguments two-sided and articulate enough for us to ponder for years to come. But probably not forever.

Rather than merely turning the lead character, Goldman Sach's trader Nick, into some kind of guy to be thrown on the moral bonfire, he is presented as a decent man who just got greedy.

And this is the playwright's key assertion: the main culprits of the credit crunch and subsequent recession weren't unscrupulous bandits, they just weren't geniuses, and they certainly don't deserve the millions they sucked out of the system.

But even more satisfying is Nick's counter-argument, that we all revel in the same capitalist system. The only difference being that some of us might not wish to admit how often we subscribe to it, assuming we admit we subscribe to it at all.

As Nick says: "You think I'm greedy? You're the ones who own a mobile phone and a laptop and a PlayStation and a car and still don't feel rich. What did you care that five-year-olds were working 15-hour shifts in Bangladesh so long as you could buy a pair of jeans for three pounds?"

He has a point.

Nick is forced to defend himself so strongly because of an assault from two guests at his country mansion – old time friends Christine and Humphrey.

The latter is essentially the voice of Nicholson and the millions of other Britons enraged by the events of recent times. But an interesting balancing act is performed by making Humphrey an artist. So, with the backdrop of Damien Hirst hanging above the fireplace, it doesn't merely ask the question: what are bankers worth? But what is anyone worth?

The play never quite answers the question, probably because it's one for us all to wrestle with after the curtain comes down. If we do that then the production has achieved much.

As a pure work of theatre the value of Crash is questionable, however. Although Nicholson has obviously gone to great lengths to create some kind of narrative and characterisation it is equally obvious that they are largely vehicles for the central debate.

But in one respect it achieves something that so many plays fail to achieve: complete relevance. For that reason alone it is worth seeing.

Until Nov 13, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Quarry Hill, Leeds, 7.45pm, Sat mats 2.30pm and Thu mats 2pm, 16 to 26, Tel: 0113 2137700 www.wyp.org.uk