Enron (Theatre Royal Newcastle, November 2010) and The Apprentice (BBC1)

Lucy Prebble’s play, Enron, utilises visual imagery from fantasy fiction to tell the story of the collapse of the American energy company Enron.  Not knowing much about the Fantasy genre, I was still able to recognise that the imagery comes from sources  such as Marvel Comics,  Star Wars and children’s cartoons.  For example, Chief Financial Officer Andy Fastow (Paul Chahidi) seems to turn into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. There are also the three blind mice representing the board and lizard like creators (raptors) working as the hedge companies, which are set up to hide/consume the debt.  If felt as if instead of progress the characters in the play were regressing back to a prehistoric era.  There is even a reference to Jurassic Park.    There’s a really interesting image of  Fastow on the treadmill, and falling off, but this becomes ironical because  he is energised by being sent down to the basement where he doesn’t have to interact with people, and is constantly trying to find ways to hide the company’s debt.

In the play, there is also the theme of if you work hard you can play hard, but the irony is that it is all playing.  One of the ideas that is emphasised  is that Enron thought that they were employing the brightest graduates and this made me think a little bit about The Apprentice. Having watched each series of The Apprentice, except the first one, I am convinced that instead of selecting the brightest applicants, the programme’s producers are selecting some candidates who don’t really get it.  What I can’t understand is if any of the contestants had watched the programme in the past they would have been able to devise some strategies based on previous programmes. When selling the place, product, promotion, and price are some of the key things to think about but in the clothes episode these things seemed beyond some of the contestants. I realise that the programme is edited in a particular way to take the audience down certain paths and to believe a particular narrative, but the contestants seem to provide lots of opportunities to look like they just haven’t a clue. Lord Sugar has this thing which is are the contestants a one trick pony ie sales people?  However, that’s all they seem to do is sell.

The traders at Enron were also selling, but they were not sure what they were actually selling in a strange fantasy world created by those running the company.

Coronation Street (ITV, Monday 8th November 2010)

I thought that the death of the character Jack Duckworth was a lovely piece of television drama.  British soap is usually supposed to be a reflection of gritty reality.  This week, the programme moved the audience from a familiar situation to the unfamiliar without the audience having an immediate awareness that this had happened. Coronation Street is often blurring boundaries, especially in playing the comedy of a situation which can be dark at the same time, and this week’s episode was a really good example of this taking place.

Normally a character exit happens on a Friday, so knowing Jack’s death was coming on the Monday felt a little strange. In building up to the moment, we are in the Rover’s Return with many of the regular cast members. There’s Audrey constantly questioning why all the fuss for a seventy-fourth birthday party. Kevin is getting drunker and drunker, and we wonder whether he will reveal his secret.  In contrast to Kevin, we see Tyrone being the proud dad, though we are aware of the irony around this. We also witness Emily discussing insomnia with Rita. There is also Betty, the barmaid, reminding us that she’s 90. In the midst of this mix of Jack’s sadness at hearing baby Jack is Kevin Webster’s child and the humour in the bar, we realise that this is the character Jack’s goodbye and the actor’s goodbye. There was a moment when we shifted out of the soap world and into the real world of the actors on set doing their job when we saw the actor Bill Tarmey gesture farewell to actor William Roache.

Jack’s passing, as it turned out to be, was extremely well done and not knowing that there would be a surprise made the scene very moving.  Suddenly we had transferred out of the everyday, but don’t realise we have at first.  Jack sits in the chair that Vera died in, and is about to read a newspaper. We hear Vera (played by Liz Dawn) say ‘put down the newspaper’.  The vision of Jack’s death is presented to us as in the familiar soap world, and in the way we experience the soap week in week out. Vera says she’s coming to take Jack with her on the bus.  The two characters dance to the music we’ve just heard playing on the record player. The camera panning upwards is such an unusual shot for this programme and as the viewer we find ourselves looking down directly over the couple’s heads and at that point, we realise that we have witness the moment just after the death itself.