A compelling take on the moral dilemmas in modern finance

Theatre review: Dry PowderA play that dramatises the dilemmas that people in the fund sector face every day.


(Image credit: ©ALASTAIR MUIRCONTACT alastair@alastairmuir.com)

Dry Powder

Tickets £10-£37. Finishes 3 March

The world of private equity and leveraged buyouts is controversial, associated in the public mind with asset stripping and bankruptcies. Running at the Hampstead Theatre in north London, Dry Powder, named after the industry slang for funds that have not yet been allocated to a specific project, dramatises the dilemmas that people in the sector face every day.

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The play is set in a fictional private-equity fund that is reeling from a PR disaster caused by mass redundancies it has made in a firm it is restructuring. Idealistic director Seth (Tom Riley) takes advantage of the crisis to try to persuade founder Rick (Aidan McArdle) to acquire a failing luggage company. However, while Seth plans to work with the firm's CEO (Joseph Balderrama) to turn the company's business around with a plan that plays to the desires of status-hungry business travellers, his colleague Jenny (Hayley Atwell) wants to adopt a very different set of measures.

Her vision involves making most of the current workforce redundant and shipping production overseas, all in aid of a strategy that she admits is likely to leave the company with an uncertain future. As the two fight for the control of the firm, the fund's own future is called into question as investors start to jump ship. This presents Rick with yet another dilemma: should he accept an approach from a dubious Chinese oligarch?

On one level, this is a tale about the conflict between social responsibility and maximising profit, but it is also about personal competition within a business environment. Atwell steals the show as an ice-cold sociopath who freely tells Seth that she fantasises about him dying, and amuses herself by sticking drawing pins in his head while he is asleep on a plane. By contrast, Riley lends his character a degree of warmth and idealism, without shying away from showing Seth's flaws, including arrogance bordering on chauvinism, and a fatal unwillingness to put his skin in the game.

At its strongest, Dry Powder is reminiscent of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, if not quite up to that high standard, although the ending is predictable. Still, writer Sarah Burgess and director Anna Ledwich deservecredit for making the world of finance accessible to the wider public without dumbing it down.With only a fortnight left of the run, I recommend London residents make the trip to Swiss Cottage to seeDry Powder before it closes.

Dr Matthew Partridge

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