Sovereign debt, bad credit, riots and scandals – the Euro, and the sky, is falling. With eerie accuracy, Andrew Taylor and Desmond O’Connor foresaw the current climate in enough time to write this musical exposé. With anti-establishment feelings running high, and with a poster depicting a banker-spider-monster looming over Canary Wharf, I’d expected this show to be a sharp and witty polemic against the capitalist system. Toxic Bankers turned out to be an office rom-com with an economic twist.
The central character Fiona is a sweet-but-shy data analyst who has to set aside her self-doubt and ‘family issues’ to save the day. Ably and heartbreakingly performed by Hazel Gardner, her problem was that her constant whining made her an unsympathetic character. The contrast between her and the boss of an ‘ethical’ hedge-fund was huge – Jonathan Dryden Taylor’s bolshy performance as Tony steamrollered Gardner’s weepy character. Tony had the energy, the charisma, and the laughs – Fiona had the sobs, the interiority, and the ‘issues’. Ultimately, the audience preferred the banker.
The scenes were fast-paced and really quite funny, often drawing belly-laughs, tempering the heavy subject matter. Taylor as script-writer and director managed to race through the necessary Economics lectures without losing us or being patronising – quite a feat. A nice touch was the video screen, offering handy graphs and documentary-style interviews with the office-workers.
Such was the charm of the book-scenes that I found myself fearing the lurid lighting changes which signalled the start of the songs. The problem with the musical numbers was that they rarely went anywhere – we’d stop for three minutes in a fuschia or cyan emotion-world where Fiona would sing about how sad or lonely or in-love she was. The intricacy of the lyrics showed a certain wit and wry humour, but musically it was static and, appropriately, derivative.
What do we learn? Admirably, Toxic Bankers presents both sides of the argument for and against unbridled capitalism. The morality of the fiscal sector, mental health, self-harm, suicide – these are perhaps unconventional themes for a musical comedy. Somehow Taylor and O’Connor manage to entertain and enlighten despite the subject matter. Toxic Bankers humanises the economic crisis and provides an entertaining evening.