The grim excesses of the financial world are well documented, and particularly the abhorrent behaviour of one Jordan Belfort, the self-monikered “Wolf of Wall Street”, a 1990s investor who conned his way to millions before being caught by the FBI.
So, what is to be gained by staging a new version of his story in a disused building in London’s Square Mile? To educate bankers about the consequences of capitalism? Or maybe try to push boundaries and in doing so prick consciences? Don’t make me laugh. This is immersive theatre as corporate jolly, and it’s every bit as tawdry as you’d expect from such a venture.
“Get on your fucking knees!” bellows a Belfort employee while standing on a bar, initiating us new recruits into the vacuous environs of Stratton Oakmont. We meet Belfort’s right-hand man Danny, who enlightens us on the culture of “omertà” (complicit silence) and the imminent launch of a dodgy IPO (Initial Public Offering), which of course is completely illegal. “What’s your best asset?” he asks a woman in the audience. “My bum,” she giggles, and he invites her to give him a twirl.
After a brief introduction to Belfort himself, half of us are ushered upstairs to his bedroom where we meet his second wife Nadine, and their six year-old daughter. Here, any pretence that we are actual players in the drama quickly evaporates as we stand awkwardly around the room’s periphery and witness their stilted interactions.
The set is surprisingly budget, the aesthetic more squat than millionaire’s mansion. One room is decorated with CDs stuck to the wall, another with cheap drapes. There is a swimming pool the size of a bath, in which the actors attempt to stage a “pool party” at the interval.
Despite the billing, it’s more promenade than immersive, as you’re ushered from space to space. Chances to roam are limited, and several times I was barred from choosing my route. I spent the entire second half in the large ‘board room’ in the basement, watching the drama reach its protracted and predictable climax as Belfort’s operation is finally wound up.
At one point an audience member appeared to spank one of the actors. In another, ensemble member MJ Lee, an actress of Asian heritage, was mockingly called a “spring roll” by Danny, but rather than reproach him a heckler shouted at her (I didn’t hear exactly what was said, but it sounded like “you don’t look 32”). These incidents provided a grim reminder that many attracted to this experience are not here merely for entertainment, but to actively glorify in Belfort’s world. No wonder the actors have reportedly been given personal alarms – and the decision to include a child in the cast has to be questioned.
Ultimately, the biggest crime committed in Alexander Wright’s production is the criminal waste of a good cast. James Bryant makes a charismatic Danny, while the underused Oliver Tilney encapsulates Belfort’s bullyboy charm and Rhiannon Harper-Rafferty impresses as Nadine. But it’s never a good sign for any production when one’s overwhelming emotion is pity for its performers.