Ayad Akhtar's The Invisible Hand, directed by Indhu Rubasingham, and running at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, is hard to categorise it mixes comedy, drama and monetary theory. A Pakistani terrorist group led by the charismatic Imam Saleem (Tony Jayawardena) captures US banker Nick Bright (Daniel Lapaine).
His bank is unwilling to meet the group's demands, so Nick offers to raise his own ransom by trading options. With the aid of Londoner Bashir (Parth Thakerar) and his prison guard Dar (Sid Sagar), his trades start to pay off. However, after an escape attempt fails, and Bashir and Saleem start to fall out with each other, things quickly get much darker.
When portraying finance on the stage or screen there is always the temptation to dumb things down. But Akhtar's script provides enough detail to allow the audience to understand what Nick is doing without running the risk of boring them. Similarly, a debate about Bretton Woods between the two main characters is put in terms that the layman can understand. The play, as you'd no doubt expect, is critical of America's role in the world and financial capitalism in general. However, it is also unsentimental about corruption and violence in Pakistan.
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The three main actors have great presence. Lapaine and Thakerar pitch the subtly shifting relationship between master and very reluctant apprentice perfectly, helped by some snappy, cynical dialogue. At one point, Nick trots out the clich "Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered" to be met with the laconic reply, "not in Pakistan, mate".
Thakerar deserves particular praise for portraying Bashir's journey from (relative) idealist to cunning psychopath and Lapaine is convincing as someone who thinks he can outwit his captors, only to find out that he can't.
There are flaws. The rapid change in tone from black comedy in the opening hour to action-drama in the second half is jarring, and amid some fast-paced climactic scenes, the plot gets a little tangled towards the end. "The economic and political arguments are so fascinating," says The Guardian's Michael Billington, that it's a shame the play heads "towards melodrama".
However, the final twist is genuinely shocking and overall this is an unusually intelligent drama, offering a "fiendishly clever examination of religious, political and economic beliefs, how they intertwine and conflict, what unites and divides us", says Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times.
The Invisible Hand runs at the Tricycle Theatre until 2 July (020-7328-1000).
Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.
He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.
Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.
As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.
Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri
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