Monopoly – Steve Hopley brings the dollar to the room. (Theatre Review)


Hot Room Theatre Group

Blood Moon Theatre, 20 and 21 October.

You can grab your tickets here. 

There is much fuss and carry on about interesting theatre in Sydney at the moment, but as very often happens, while we are all focused on productions with access and means to information distribution, smaller very clever productions get side lined in the talk on the town. One such production is Monopoly by Steve Hopley, a very funny, witty examination of behavior under capitalism; or more importantly, privileged left-wing behavior under capitalism.

Writer Steve Hopley makes a direct correlation between drive (in a Lacanian sense) and the marketplace. Drive is a keeping on beyond pleasure, beyond use, beyond desire. In the reflexive turn of the drive, drive’s loop back round upon itself, activity becomes passivity and a state of un-movement in a circuit. Here, played out in the monopoly board between privileged, comparatively wealthy Sydney-siders, the market takes on the tropes of desire, in that reflexive loops, un-movement and ruptures of drive manifest themselves in the dynamics of capitalism’s booms and busts. Over the Monopoly board, we discover within ourselves the impersonal compulsion to engage in the endless circular movement of expanded self-reproduction. Steve Hopelys unsuspecting liberal protagonists are confronted with a true capitalist, both in the form of a newcomer (and outsider) and also through the Monopoly board itself. The self-propelling circulation of Capital thus remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that can’t be controlled (by definition) since it itself controls our activity. Monopoly and the Outsider are just the Other in the room, until money itself is introduced (as opposed to play money) and then the game of life is taken over by capitalism as Big Other.

Capitalism, in the object form of money, then invades the space, relationships and psyches of the protagonists of Monopoly as an almost ahistorical force that necessarily exceeds any attempts at regulation. The imposition of capital into the room, presences Capitalism in a way it only existed as a theory earlier in the evening. The protagonists instantly acquiesce to the compulsive will of capitalism as a ceaseless circuit entrapping us within its need to accumulate. Even protagonists with no desire for money, are caught up in the endless circuit of creation and destruction, the inescapable drive to profit and grow. When Steve Hopley (as writer and director) presents Capitalism to us in this fashion we are available to understand Capital’s compulsive force without reiterating liberalist and capitalist claims for an inevitable economic logic. Even Hopley’s capitalist representative (very well played by Jasper Garner Gore) is forced to succumb to the overriding force and forge his own sense from the chaos of destiny. If you like, Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand” enters the room, but not as a regulating force for fair prices and reasonable distribution of goods, but rather for the exploitation of advantage. In other words, on behalf of The Monopoly. As the group succumbs to the will of capital, even the principles of capital itself are sacrificed for the undiagnosed pathology riding into the room on the back of the bank note.

Real existing neo-liberalism involves neither free markets nor free competition. Capitalism’s tendencies toward monopoly, the social and control conditions establishing many presuppositions for what can be bought and sold and mainstream economists’ own acknowledgements that the suppositions of their models don’t hold in real-life conditions, reveal that the free market is a myth – with powerful effects. Likewise, contemporary financial markets might be blood-thirsty and cut-throat, but they aren’t competitive, not if by ‘competitive’ we imagine some kind of open air contest with clear fair rules, level playing fields, will pitted against will – and if we think that competition has disciplining effects. In Steve Hopley’s play, the addition of capital into the room causes this small group to question everything about themselves and the others they sit with and the power of this move cause chains of events that change and control lives. Transparency is no antidote to the intrusion of capital, neither is a will to knowledge. Ideology and political position cannot save Steve Hopley’s protagonists as they cannot wield capitalisms drive.

This wonderful little production is in its final run at The Blood Moon Theatre this weekend. It stars Benjamin Kurya, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou, Alison Lee Rubie, Diego AR Melo and Jasper Garner Gore as the friends gathered around the Monopoly board and is based on a real-life game that involved many of the actors. It’s a fantastic little play, particularly pertinent when coupled with Sydney’s naive and embarrassing preoccupation with real estate. Steve Hopley has taken this to small theatres around the inner-city suburbs of Sydney, and if the world was as it should be, it would be running for many more days, as this play exemplifies precisely what great theatre should be – immediate, ephemeral, intimate, made for friends and properly engaged with a relevant conversation. You have only another couple of chances to catch this production. Don’t miss it.