Last night I saw David Hare’s “The Power of Yes” at the National Theatre. It’s subtitled “A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis”.
In the playwright’s own words, spoken by Anthony Calf as he takes the stage at the beginning, playing David Hare:
“This isn’t a play. It’s a story. It doesn’t pretend to be a play. It pretends only to be a story. And what a story! How capitalism came to grinding halt. Where were you on September 15th 2008. Do you remember? Did you even notice? Capitalism ceased to function for about four days. This summer I set out to find out what happened.”
The huge bare stage is then flooded with characters, although the actors are playing real people – some anonymous however – and for the next two hours, you are gripped by, as one of the characters describes it “…a Greek tragedy”.
It’s funny, informative and through the eyes of Hare – the ‘fool’ who can ask stupid questions of the financiers – you get a complete picture of the financial crisis of 2007-2009 both in terms of the abstract-big-picture of what went wrong with the system, and the human-scale – what went ‘wrong’ with the people.
Here and there if you like.
“The Power of Yes” is a macroscope for the financial system – as Webb called for in his talk at Reboot this year.
This was the first time not only that I felt I’d really understood ‘credit default swaps’ (despite enjoying songs about them) and the other arcane instruments at the heart of the situation, but also the motivations behind the actors (if you’ll pardon the pun) involved in the real-life drama.
Thinking of all of the newspaper and tv news coverage that there’s been, it’s remarkable to me at least that a dramatist not a journalist, economist or political scientist did this.
But then I think of another favourite macroscope, another Greek tragedy, about a favourite subject of mine: cities – which was created by a dramatist who was a journalist, David Simon – and recall Oliver Sachs saying
“…sometimes the stories are the science”