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“The financial crisis is inherent to the system”

29 July 2018 Suzanne Frost

£¥€$ (LIES) by world-renowned Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed is an award-winning, exciting, fast-paced and interactive piece of theatre. For one night only, you, the audience, are invited to join the super rich, the 1%, to be at the centre of the economy and call the shots in an immersive, theatrical gambling game! Given the power to do things your way - will you play it safe or risk it all?

With £¥€$, director and writer Alexander Devriendt wants to make us think about how the financial system supports capitalism, our role within “the machine”, and the inbuilt flaws that lead to the financial crisis. And what better way to understand than to get involved in the game!
 
London Calling: It sounds like a really immersive, interactive experience! Can you tell me a little bit about what we can expect?
AD: You are invited to be at the centre of a sort of financial system. You enter into a casino like setting where you sit at tables with 6 other visitors and one actor, who will take care of you and guide you through the play or the game.

(c) Thomas Dhanens

LC: You took the show to Edinburgh last year. The Almeida is much more of a traditional theatre set up, and will probably attract quite a different audience. How do you think that might change the play?
AD: I don’t think too much. I am not so crazy about interactive theatre. Most of the time it is used as a gimmicky workshop kind of thing and I don’t think that is its strength. But what I do believe is that theatre is one of the only mediums that allows for immediate communication and a possibility for interaction. So it almost feels silly not to use it, if it serves the purpose of the show. For instance, for this piece, I thought it could be very interesting to make people feel active with the global financial system, which many of us don’t feel a part of, and are used to only observe as onlookers from a distance.
 
LC: Theatre can be very tangible, more than reading a newspaper or watching the news.
AD: Videos and books and documentaries are out there, so the knowledge is there. But I want to make audiences feel something they seldom experience. The feeling of being in power! Pulling the strings of the financial system. That’s where I think the interactivity serves a purpose within a show.
 
LC: Audiences always bring an element of unpredictability.
AD: But the good thing about unpredictable behaviour is that you can make a show where it is allowed. I don’t like improvisation so much. People bought a ticket for a show, they want to see a certain insight. If it’s too improvised it’s not well thought out. I think it’s better to receive a mulled-over response that has weight or layers to it. So what I try to do is predict every unpredictable behaviour by testing, by running the show a couple of times and after seeing it over 100 times - you can predict what is supposedly unpredictable. The questions you could have in the show I can imagine or anticipate them and that’s what I always try to do.

Alexander Devriendt in LIES rehearsals in Moscow. Credit ©experiencespace

LC: Immersive theatre is really huge in London right now but the quality of the shows varies a lot.
AD: That’s my problem, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you have to. You need to have a very good reason to bring interactive elements into the normal patterns of a performance. It has to gain significant meaning. Half of my work is not interactive. I think everything is immersive to some extent because of its tangibility and uniqueness. But that doesn’t mean it’s interactive. I always look at the idea I have and then I look at what is possible. Will it profit from adding other elements?
 
LC: The financial crash was in 2009, the media have since moved on to other issues and stories but I suppose in the background, financial gambling is still going on, those systems are still in place. Do you think the next crash is in the making?
AD: Of course. It is inherent to the system and that’s part of the reason I wanted to make this show. I think everybody knows that it’s probably going to happen again. We are also used to the fact that the system does this. Thomas Picketty wrote “Capital in the Twenty-First century” and he suspects it’s going to take 8 or so more crises before people will start to revolt.  It’s so fascinating, I invited a lot of bankers to the show and I remember one guy saying: ‘yes, that’s about it. In the beginning, right after the crisis, we were regulated too much so we couldn’t do enough and then slowly regulations disappear and we move on to the next crisis again.’ And he was very neutral about it, like that’s just how it works. I find that fascinating that we are already forgetting. Or don’t want to think about it.

(c) Thomas Dhanens

I always make a comparison with Star Trek: In their universe there is no money. I like that idea. I believe that money is a beautiful instrument, it has beauty and possibilities that we believe in now but I think at a certain point we are just going to move on.
 
LC: To what, what could that be?
AD: I think, I love my job, I like what I do, but I don’t necessarily need to receive money for it. The reason I need money is to buy food but there is enough food in the world to provide for everybody. But due to money it is not divided equally. We are strong enough to create these systems but nobody can control them, so it’s hard to change. I am talking philosophically, not necessarily about what is in the show but what I want to make people think about.
 
£¥€$ (LIES) will be at the Almeida Theatre 1 August – 18 August.
 
 

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