Trade – What is money rather than what makes money. (Theatre review)
Hurrah Hurrah Theatre Company at The old 505 Theatre
April 4-15 2017. You can grab your tickets here.
The difference of opinion in today’s political landscape is measured not by whether you are for or against capitalism, but by how you are for capitalism. It has long been my contention that liberals need to get their hands dirty with ‘the money question,’ because avoiding it, say by ideologically preferring socialism, the market is free to do as it will with no regulatory conscience. Pockets of investor activist groups exist, but ‘capitalism’ works best while its citizens are asleep, and the endless conversations about and searches for a replacement allow the problems of capitalism to fester. While this inertia is referenced as a product of the problem it should be solving, our main stream art in particular have distanced themselves from the ‘money question’ in preference for a focus on values. While this produces great and important works like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, it too regularly fails to hold its reflective mirror up to the question of money. Money; what it is separate from its function and what its language tells us about how we use it. It is this gap Trade seeks to address and does with a sharply observational lucidity. Built on the words of Melissa Lee Speyer, director Alison Bennett and her team have conditioned the work into a funny, movement and text obsessed observation of the world of corporate finance.
The question ‘I need to make some money’ is one we all engage with to varying degrees in society. However, as Ole Bjerg states in his book Making Money: The Philosophy of Crises Capitalism, this question can be read in two way. The first is usually defined either as a matter of survival (I need to eat and that will take money) or a question of emotional survival in the western world (I need to buy a house to establish myself and show who I am) and most often it is a combination of both. However, this question can also be seen as more literal; Where does money come from? Who makes the money that we use in our everyday economic transactions? It is these basic questions that rarely receive attention from the creative community (and therefore the broader community at large). According to Martin Heidegger, the most difficult things to think about and understand are often the ones that closest to us, the things we take for granted. This applies to language also. We see this rise in the 2007- 2008 description of the market crash as a ‘Financial Crises.’ Not only does this phrasing make a description of something, but it creates a particular framing of the situation, preconditioning certain interpretations and solutions. Trade highlights this problem with its emphasis on name transformation as a key component in the overarching conversational narrative. While ‘Financial’ implies a critical situation that came about was a result of the way that activities and assets in the economy were priced and the way that capital was allocated to fund them, ‘Crises’ suggests the situation was a deviation from the normal state. As Bjerg notes in his book, this led us to thinking greedy bankers, out-dated financial models and corrupt regulators combine to exploit ordinary people who lack the ability to restrain their desire for excessive consumption. While this explanation is true to a certain point, it deviates our attention from the inevitability of the 2007-2008 situation and the important question of how money comes into being in contemporary capitalism.
Herein lies the brilliance of Trade as a work of art, and its importance in guiding the way for other artistic projects. Trade makes complex connections between language, action and money, forging a natural pathway for the audience to map out the properties distinguishing the financial sector from other beings and explore its relations to other beings. The logical and rational progression of Trade is a clarion call to the intellectual left to ‘follow the money.’ When we ask ‘How can I make some money’ we think of money as being. We are interested in the deviation of money’s path to land either at our door or at the door of a charitable institution we feel deserves our attention. If we ask the question ‘How can I MAKE some money’ with a transferal of emphasis, we tap into Heidegger’s quote “behind the shift in tonality is concealed a leap of thinking.” Therefore, when Trade forces us to witness an inevitable end to the trajectory forged by the financial sector and its control of language, we as the creative left, as thinking artists (Nietzsche’s poets) are able to ask the question “How is it that money exists?” or “How IS money?” “Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word ‘money’?” (Bjerg Making Money: The Philosophy of Crises Capitalism)
What Trade states for its audience with clarity is, that we have not only forgotten that question, or forgotten to ask that question, but that we must reawaken an understanding for the meaning of that question. It is not enough (nor is it accurate) to answer “a barter system” when we are using money to sell unwanted born children to each other illegally. It has come to mean something else.
This call to an awake state is something Alison Bennett and Hurrah Hurrah theatre company successfully call forth in their audience. With remarkable ability, the company of Dymphna Carew, Alicia Gonzalez, Mathias Olofsson, Melissa Hume and Alison Bennett use dynamic movement (the faces and movement of Alicia Gonzalez and Mathias Olofsson are worth the price of the ticket alone) to alter the trajectory of the common language we are both familiar with and struggle to understand. As Trade develops it retains its one-step-ahead position such that the audience are constantly surprised by the narrative and the impossible to ignore face in the mirror.
Trade isn’t just one of the best productions in Sydney this year, it is one of the best productions I have ever seen. This is a remarkably clever show that awakens a deeper interaction with those we commission to control our money. Like the best art, Trade forces us to ask the right questions even when it comes at great personal cost.