Invisible Hand“There’s one thing that doesn’t change. What money does to people. When you get a taste, you want more.”

The Invisible Hand, written by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, receives its UK premiere at the Tricycle Theatre; the final production before the theatre closes for a £5.5million capital development project. The Tricycle never shies away from challenging works and this is no exception. Indhu Rubasingham, Artistic Director at the Tricycle, was keen to bring this play to Kilburn for the UK premiere; happily, Akhtar agreed.

The dark side of the world of finance has inspired many plays; Akhtar moves the tale out of the shiny towers of Manhattan and into rural Pakistan. Nick is an American banker, held hostage in a small cell. His captors have a ten million dollar ransom on his head; Nick knows they will never get it; he knows his boss should have been in the car the day he was taken.

The play begins with Nick in conversation with Dar, a young guard; they seem to have some rapport until Bashir bursts onto the scene with his London accent and talk of executions. Nick brags to Bashir of a trade he made for a rich Pakistani family which made them twenty million dollars. He plays on this to persuade his captors to let him trade to make his ransom. In return, he will teach Bashir all he knows about the markets and how to play them. Cue explanations of futures, puts, options, bulls and bears and why the dollar became and remains a globally accepted currency. As the play reaches its climax we realise quite how diligent a student Bashir has been. You don’t need to know much about trading or the political position in Pakistan to follow the plot, you might even learn something.

The cast work well together and are all convincing in their roles. Daniel Lapaine plays all-American Nick, switching between terror, confusion and the invigoration of the return to what he knows best; making money. Parth Thakerar is impressive as Bashir; it is he who tells the audience so much about the situation outside the cell walls through his conversations with Nick. In an especially powerful moment he says: “The Taliban? They don’t like us any more than they like you”. Sid Sagar is young, impressionable Dar, taking his orders from the master of the day. Imam Saleem is played with gravitas by Tony Jayawardena; lecturing Nick on the evils of money yet happy to use the funds he generates for his own purposes.

The play is set in one room, Nick’s cell, appropriately sparse. The scene changes are carried out in blackout while the audience is blinded with bright lights shining into our eyes. It’s not comfortable, but it’s not supposed to be. We have no idea how much time has passed between scenes, but neither does Nick. The actors appear and move position swiftly between scenes in almost disconcerting fashion.

This play addresses many current issues and feels important and relevant yet has more humour than you might expect. The actors keep the tension high throughout and the final scene leaves you wondering what happens next. The Tricycle is going into its capital development on a high; I’m interested to see what they’ll come back with when it reopens in summer 2017.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Mark Douet

THE INVISIBLE HAND plays at the Tricycle Theatre until 2 July 2016