Writer: Kieran Lynn
Director: Dan Ayling
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Payday loan companies such as Wonga, once criticised for their high-interest rates and their coercive debt-collecting methods, no longer appear to hit the headlines, but they have not disappeared. Easy to find on the Internet, they are also increasingly familiar on the high street. Kieran Lynn’s The Trap is set in a fictional payday loan company called Debt Duck, but the play has more than usury in its aim.
Tom and Clem have just broken into their workplace in the middle of the night in order to steal some money from the safe, but their boss has just walked in and they can’t disable the alarm system. It’s an electric start, and the heist plot, the backbone of this play, is both exciting and fun. Indeed, the chemistry between gauche Tom, engagingly played by Jahvel Hall, and the worldly-wise Clem, a forceful Sophie Guiver, is so infectious that you almost wish the play would become a theatrical Mission Impossible with our duo dodging alarms or ducking laser beams à la Tom Cruise. Or perhaps they could star in a version of Dog Day Afternoon where a bank robbery is carried out not for greed but as a means of survival.
What unravels is less Hollywood, and instead, at its heart, The Trap is a serious play; It’s an attack on neoliberalism. As the play flashbacks to the previous day, where we discover the reasons for the heist, we meet Meryl, the regional manager of Debt Duck, and most of the play’s anti-capitalist polemic comes from her. Sometimes the exposition of economic philosophy into the story is a little clumsy, but Wendy Kweh as Meryl does well to absorb these ideas into her grotesque character, who, like a politician, will speak in metaphors instead of plain language. Ironically, Meryl who’s most supportive of the neoliberal system (‘we’re just a shop…and we sell money’) is also the one who sees clearly its inequalities – ‘the government is no longer the protector of the people, it’s the protector of the economy. They don’t care about you, me, or any of us. They care about the markets and indices and the companies and the currency.’
Dan Ayling’s zippy direction makes sure that the politics of the play never overshadow the plot, and Sarah Beaton’s promenade stage, with its dismal work desks and water coolers half-heartedly decorated with Christmas tinsel, adds grittiness to this comedy. Perhaps Lynn’s writing is too neat in places as every loose end seems to be tied off perfectly in this rapid 70 minutes, and the dog-racing similes become a little wearing as we learn of the problems faced by branch manager Alan, an effectively addled Andrew Macbean. The play premiered in Texas and that might explain the odd reference to the electric chair when surely the gallows would be more appropriate, and it would work better if insults such as ‘candy ass’ were given their British equivalents.
But quibbles aside, this is a sparkling comedy with sober undertones, and Lynn’s pointing finger of blame is never still. Like a payday loan company, The Trap is smart, quick and full of high interest. It’s definitely worth getting your fingers burned for.
Runs until 19 November 2017 | Image: Laura Harling