Written by Ayad Akhtar and presented by The Kiln Theatre
The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar is a thrilling exploration of capitalism, Wall Street and geopolitics set in the backdrop of rural Pakistan. Directed by Artistic Director of the Kiln Theatre Indhu Rubasingham, this revival of Akhtar’s 2014 play is deliciously exciting and thought-provoking, combining the frenetic pace of the financial world with the growing disillusionment of Pakistan’s working class against interference by Western nations.
The story centres around the unlawful detention of American banker Nick Bright (played by Daniel Lapaine) who is being held ransom by a local Imam (played by Tony Jayawardena) in a rural village in Pakistan. Supporting the Imam’s mission is the fiery Bashir (played by Scott Karim), a British Pakistani whose belief in the upcoming revolution is exceeded only by his hatred for Nick and everything he represents. Nick’s torture in captivity is overseen by the guard Dar (played by Sid Sagar), a soft-spoken young man whose fondness for the banker and a growing ambition to make a better life for his family puts him at odds with the gruesome job he’s been entrusted with. In order to secure his release, Nick must rely on his knowledge of the Pakistani financial market and his astute investment skills to raise funds for the Imam’s organization that seeks to rebuild the local community which has been ravished by militancy in the region. Aided by Bashir, Nick begins to leverage local socio-political incidents and crises to gain favourable positions and earnings in the stock market. What follows next is a series of betrayals, lies and deceit from all those involved as their individual self-interests gain precedence over the community’s needs – a fitting tribute to the play’s title inspired by the ‘invisible hand’ metaphor in economics which refers to the larger, unseen forces that move the free market economy and insulates it against the self-motivated actions of individuals acting in isolation.
The action and movement of the first ten minutes, wherein we are introduced to the titular character and the base of the premise, feels a little restrictive but soon gives way to rapid action in which each of the character settles into his own skin and we are able to ascertain their stakes in the situation. Lapaine’s multi-layered portrayal of a banker caught on the wrong side of a geopolitical war is captivating, especially moments where his character’s strokes of brilliance (that leads to them making millions in mere minutes) were juxtaposed with a haunting awareness that it’s this very brilliance that his captors will continue to take advantage of Jayawardena’s Imam is slick and suave in equal measure, balancing outsized personal ambitions with a cruel disposition. Karim’s Bashir is angry and vengeful, which comes through in his movement and presence on stage, but sometimes risks being too alienating (which works well for his character’s worsening relationship with the Iman). Sagar has an endearing presence as Dar, whose demeanour shifts in the second half to become more assured of his loyalty to the cause.
Whilst one can see the care put into representing the South Asian characters as authentically as possible, through Megan Keegan’s excellent costumes for Imam and Dar as well as Danielle Lydon’s overall voice work, as a native Punjabi speaker I found Bashir and Dar’s exchange in the local language difficult to follow. Herein, the Imam’s character shines through brightly with Jayawardena’s masterful command of a contemporary Pakistani accent, along with Sagar’s more pronounced version which makes us associate a sense of innocence and purity with his portrayal of Dar. Oliver Fenwick’s light design and Alexander Caplen’s sound design bring a lot of personality to the show’s dark and disarming tone, especially the use of contained floor lighting during scene transitions that made the passage of time more apparent for the audience. Lizzie Clachan’s set design, which puts us inside the dilapidated room with our captive banker, not only captures the staticness of his situation but also retains the economic aesthetics of rural Pakistan with a single-framed bed and mismatched furniture. The text by Akthar is sharpy written and well researched, keeping us on the edge of our seats as we immerse ourselves into the inner happenings of financial markets, regional terrorism and the varied lived experiences of its characters, whose visceral reactions to things as they go from bad to worse, is what makes the work such a thrilling watch.
To summarize, The Invisible Hand at The Kiln is a powerful portrayal of the complex geopolitics and power war in Pakistan, using the metaphors of money and identity to bring forth a larger argument about empowering a conflict-ridden community to take charge of its own destiny.
Playing until 31st July 2021 https://kilntheatre.com/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 9th July 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★