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Other People’s Money review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘an intriguing snapshot of an era’

Rob Locke as Lawrence Garfinkle in Other People's Money. Photo: Craig Sugden

Written in 1989, Jerry Sterner’s Off-Broadway hit play is as 1980s as shoulder pads and Wham. The central character, played on screen by Danny DeVito, is a bloated, pin-striped financier named Lawrence Garfinkle (nicknamed Larry the Liquidator), who sets out to buy a New England family firm he considers to be “worth more dead than alive”. You can practically smell his Old Spice.

There are some shocking attitudes on display – notably Garfinkle’s predatory approach to Kate, the hotshot lawyer defending the firm owned by her father-in-law Andrew Jorgensen. In one scene he asks for sex in return for shares – “easy come, easy go”, he jokes. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say it is problematic.

Sterner’s play is peppered with financial jargon – “greenmail”, “shark repellant” – and at times the various transactions are difficult to follow. But fundamentally this is a human story, set at the watershed of America’s industrial decline and technological revolution.

Rob Locke is convincing as Garfinkle, his appetite for money matched only by that for doughnuts. In fact the most troubling thing about the play is that he is by far the most attractive character. As Jorgensen, the epitome of old-fashioned republicanism, Michael Brandon takes time to get going but does a great job with his rousing climactic speech to shareholders. And there’s strong support from Amy Burke as the power-suited Kate, Lin Blakley as Jorgensen’s loyal spouse, and Mark Rose as the frustrated manager of the firm.

Katharine Farmer’s production plays out on a traverse staging, with Jorgensen and Garfinkle’s offices at appropriately opposing ends, effectively creating an almost courtroom drama feel. The plot feels quite thin to sustain two hours, but nevertheless this is an intriguing snapshot of an era that created many of the issues we’re dealing with today.

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Intriguing revival of Jerry Sterner’s 1980s finance drama