Toxic Bankers

by

Can one woman prevent the collapse of the world’s financial system? If investment banking is a gamble, the odds couldn’t be any higher in Toxic Bankers, a ballsy, uncompromising musical satire that brings to the West End the vile exploitation of the neighbouring Square Mile.

Amidst a spiralling bout of depression, junior analyst Fiona probes deeper and deeper into the dark secrets of the investment bank she works for, an allegedly ethical operation that shies away from liabilities like tobacco, gambling and Greece. When a consultancy firm hired to maximize productivity starts to infiltrate every department of the company, her personal and professional lives collide in a whirlpool of switched allegiances, peer pressure and insider trading.

Bankers are an easy target these days, but the musical goes beyond tabloid rant in its attack. Penned by playwright Andrew Taylor and cabaret maven Desmond O’Connor (the same partnership behind 2007’s acclaimed show Failed States), Toxic Bankers exposes the arcane workings of financial markets for the simple games of rumour-mongering that they are. Like stage magic, there’s not much to it once you know how it’s done – which only renders the catastrophic consequences of the trade more pungent and dramatic.

The music of Toxic Bankers is its most reliable asset. Written and arranged by Desmond O’Connor, it is performed live by a quartet comprising cello, violin, electric bass guitar and the composer himself on piano. Fans of O’Connor will recognise his witty wordplay and rapid-fire delivery from London hits like Sideshow and The Double R Club, and find it elevated to new heights of musical spectacle when performed by a seven-strong cast (especially one with the delightfully crisp voice of Jonathan Dryden Taylor, the unscrupulous banker in the piece).

In every other respect, the writing vacillates between farcical absurdity and straightforward drama, with a pronounced slant towards the latter. The musical doesn’t settle on a tone until well after the interval, when gags and twists come out hurried and haphazardly. For most of its duration, the humour is tame, making the stock characters (overworked single mother, promiscuous homosexual, etc.) even flatter. The show concretely illustrates the toxicity of our City, but very rarely accomplishes the outrageous buffoonery suggested by its atomic horror pastiche poster.

Part cautionary tale, part tragicomic satire, Toxic Bankers offers a sharp and entertaining take on a corrupt industry almost too bizarre for lampooning. Though uneven, its timely indictment is utterly engrossing, much needed and most welcome.

Toxic Bankers. Written and directed by Andrew Taylor and Desmond O’Connor. Leicester Square Theatre, London. 7 March-14 April, 16:00, 19:00 or 21:00 (check website). £10-17.50. www.toxicbankers.com

Photos courtesy of the producers