Power, corruption, anger and the bitter legacy of colonialism make for a heady brew in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar's latest drama The Invisible Hand (Tricycle Theatre), directed by Indhu Rubasingham.
The action is set 'somewhere in Pakistan in the very near future.' American banker Mick has been kidnapped and is being held for a $10million ransom in a shabby room by his British-born guard Bashir and his mentor Imam Saleem. Nick's bank won't negotiate with people they consider to be terrorists, but Nick has an ingenious idea to buy his freedom: with his trading skills, he will raise the money himself in the stock markets using capital he has stashed away in Grand Cayman. The money, his captors explain is needed not to line their own pockets but to be used for the benefit of the community and especially the education of local children.
Forbidden to use a computer himself, Nick has to instruct Bashir on the intricacies of the market. The plan succeeds initially, albeit at great sacrifice, but then greed makes things spiral out of control.
Akhtar uses the situation to explore all kinds of arguments about everything from the ethics of capitalism to whether the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement was a means of guaranteeing postwar stability or reinforcing American power. The economic and political arguments are fascinating and indeed, the premise of the play that markets can be manipulated for political ends is utterly convincing. But it comes at the expense of character development and does not prevent the piece veering towards melodrama, as Nick exploits divisions among his captors.
However, Indhu Rubasingham's production has a pulsating energy, even if credibility is strained at times, and performances are uniformly good. Australian actor Daniel Lapaine brings a mixture of arrogance, pragmatism and growing despair as the imprisoned banker, Parth Thakerar, is all twitch and sinew as his angry pupil/captor and Tony Jayawardena impresses as the weighty imam.
It is worth noting that the shifting power dynamics between all the characters is well conveyed.
In all then, this is a taut, tense play that explores the twisted relationship between money, morality and politics.
The Invisible Hand
Runs at the Tricycle Theatre until Saturday 2 July 2016
Box office: 020 7328 1000Last modified: June 22, 2016