By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - One of the first things people see when they sit down to watch "Money the Game Show" at The Bush Theatre in London is a pile of 10,000 pound coins on the floor of the stage.
Standing by is a security guard to ensure the cash does not go missing over the ensuing 90 minutes during which two "hedge fund managers" guide the audience through the world of derivatives trading and the 2008 financial crisis.
Writer/director Clare Duffy recalls her sense of shock during the economic meltdown which undermined some of the assumptions many had about capitalism, markets and, more broadly, money.
"Of course I've been thinking ever since Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, it was just extraordinary to see the globalised economy on the brink of disappearing, money actually not working," she told Reuters during a break from rehearsals.
"It never occurred to me that was possible."
Duffy has tried to make her dramatization of the crisis as engaging as possible using a series of games in which the two actors - each playing a hedge fund manager - lead their half of the audience against the other.
Casino is on one side, Queenie on the other, and they invite viewers to bet long, bet short, and to hedge both ways.
In one game, an audience member puts as many coins into a suitcase as possible for as long as the manager can keep a soap bubble floating in the air.
In another scene, a viewer takes on the role of a wealthy client being offered a risky but potentially lucrative trade - to "short" the subprime mortgage market, betting that the market will collapse.
"We can make you rich," the hedge fund managers purr, likening the "pitch" to that for a Hollywood movie.
They explain how the bubble in the market looks like it is about to burst, and, if the right trade is made at the right time, there are billions in profits to be had.
Bailouts, bonuses, rate fixing and tax avoidance have all contributed to public anger over how money is used and, more to the point, possibly abused in the interests of the relative few, and the play is clearly designed to tap into this.
But Duffy stressed her play, running from February 6 until March 2, was not an anti-capitalist drama targeting greed and excessive risk on Wall Street and beyond.
"My intention is not to make crass comments about the jobs that people do," she said, adding there was a case to be made that had more people listened to fund managers warning of the risks ahead of 2008, the crisis may have been less damaging.
Instead she wanted to get to the fundamental questions of what money is, what we need it for, and whether we can change how it works.
"What I'm hoping is that I can open up those questions for the audience to make up their own mind and make the journey into that question as exciting, as fun, as entertaining and thought-provoking as possible," she said.
What would money be, for example, if people were not prepared to back it up with physical force?
"We have to have a security guard, we have to have CCTV recording the whole show, but that's part of the drama of it," she explained.
"Money the Game Show" is one of several London plays tackling financial failures in recent years. David Hare's "The Power of Yes" looked at the global banking crisis and "Enron" centered around the energy company's bankruptcy.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)