'Bankers' by Brian McAvera presented by Focus Theatre. Photo: Colm McDermott

'Bankers' by Brian McAvera presented by Focus Theatre. Photo: Colm McDermott

It’s pompous v. pedantic in Bankers, Brian McAvera’s polemic about the general state of the financial system in recent times. The Focus Theatre production can’t be faulted for contemporary aptness, but several elements inherent in the presentation of the conflict interfered with the delivery, to such a degree that, from the start, it was difficult to engage with it in full.

Eoin (Michael Bates) and wife Penelope (Tara Breathnach) and daughter Riann (Evelyn Lockley) have been kidnapped by the unnamed Kidnapper (Cathal Quinn). The cast were tied to office chairs, and were present onstage as the audience entered. Additionally, the audience passed the fidgety, impatient Kidnapper as they filed into the auditorium. Whilst waiting for the play to begin, I became distracted by the practical issues related to having the majority of the cast tied to said chairs. How would they manage the curtain call? Was someone going to have to untie everyone’s feet? Their hands seemed to be attached to the arms of the chairs with black plastic closure thingies. Would they be able to slip their hands out of them? If so, well, they weren’t really restrained properly, were they? And if they aren’t restrained properly, then the whole conceit is compromised, isn’t it?

There are things that theatre can do that film can’t, and vice versa. In this case, theatre is only marginally able to convey the necessary claustrophobia and helplessness required to make this tale of terror and confinement work. The New Theatre is small, but certainly not claustrophobic, and Phillipa Kavanagh’s set design is decrepit, but perhaps too artfully so. The lighting design by Ilo Tarrant doesn’t help to create a ominous atmosphere, and any further ways in which the production team may have used to reinforce notions of captivity seem to have gone unexplored.

BankersIn all, the production lacked the vital degree of menace required to convince an audience that none of the family were going to make it out alive — and when it became clear what the real endgame was, the enacting of it did not convince, either. When Chekhov was talking about that gun, it’s possible he was also talking about the impossibility of its firing, live, on a stage, with any degree of believability.

Brian McAvera’s self-directed text takes the banking system to task, via the Kidnapper, who is incredibly informed, and informative, to the point of pedanticism; when Eoin takes the Kidnapper to task for his long-winded set up, it was difficult not to agree with him. As a punter who knows nothing whatsoever about how we all came to this global financial pass, I am technically the prime candidate for an enlightening explanation.

The super-smart young Riann, played feelingly by Lockley, is held hostage not only literally but also figuratively due to the actions of her father, and by extension the world banking system, and is young enough to be saved by the truth. She is caught in the middle between the two men; she is ‘us’, basically, the general public who are treated like children, and who may very well prefer to be treated like children. Riann is quite sympathetic to the kidnapper’s woes, as we are meant to be; sadly, the truth is that the Kidnapper’s method and presentation make him as unsympathetic as the evil banker man, despite the tragic story that underpins this desperate act. Quinn is not convincingly desperate enough to carry the message through.

The Kidnapper’s story is a story that is sadly believable: families everywhere are being torn asunder by this economic climate, and it has, at its heart, a message that people are meant to be served by their financial institutions, not to be the servants of them. Despite all the information that the Kidnapper embodies, it’s only words and stats and facts. They are meant to express a heartbreaking subtext, given what has driven him to this moment, but they overwhelm and distract, just as did those black plastic thingies.

Susan Conley is a cultural critic and author. Her latest book is That Magic Mischief (2013). 

  • Review
  • Theatre

Bankers by Brian McAvera

Produced by Focus Theatre
In The New Theatre

Directed by Brian McAvera

Set Design: Phillipa Kavanagh

Lighting Design: Ilo Tarrant

Costume Design: Maria Tapper

With: Tara Breathnach, Cathal Quinn, Michael Bates and Evelyn Lockley