Tuesday, July 5

The Invisible Hand – Kiln Theatre

“Money is the opiate of the people.”  This is the over-arching theme of Pulitzer Prize-winner Ayad Akhtar’s clever and thrilling play, The Invisible Hand. The hand in question is the international money market with the immense power of global finance and the machinations of futures trading. Caught up between this world and that of poverty, civil war and drone strikes is American banker, Nick Bright.  He’s being held for ransom in Pakistan, a ransom that his US bosses refuse to countenance paying under their policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Instead, Bright realises that he has a valuable asset for his kidnappers, his knowledge of the financial markets. The fate of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, is much in his mind. Frantic to save his life and get back to his wife and son, his only hope is to use his expertise to raise the ransom money himself and negotiate his release. What though, will sharing that knowledge do to his captors?

The Invisible Hand played to sold-out houses in 2016 and has now been revived by Kiln Theatre’s Artistic Director Indhu Rubasingham as a rehearsed reading. This current format is 2020 writ large – no set, four chairs spaced COVID-securely six feet apart, the actors mostly sitting and keeping their distance from one another. Yet this talented cast and director make this work brilliantly, with the audience-at-home focusing on the text and the intricacy of the story which highlights the extreme nature of the situation both Bright and his captors are in. 

Daniel Lapaine is perfect as Nick Bright. His fear and desperation are palpable as he comes up with his scheme to make money for his captors. Lapaine doesn’t make him a weakling though. Bright is frequently sharp-tongued as he trains former Londoner Bashir, played by Scott Karim with precisely the right mixture of hotheadedness and eagerness to learn. With Bright needing Bashir for his survival, and Bashir depending on Bright to make money to support his people and his cause, the two men develop a relationship which is carefully crafted and played with total believability by Lapaine and Karim. There are also unexpected moments of kindness from Bashir which, while possibly not entirely altruistic, keep Bright believing in a positive outcome and focused on his goal of drawing in millions of dollars to secure his release. 

Silas Carson plays Imam Saleem, the ruthless leader of the group, who rails against the corruption in his country which he sees as being fuelled by American banks. As he says, they are all “prisoners of a corrupt country of our own making”, encompassing both Pakistan and the US and emphasising the symbolism of Bright, the capitalist, at the mercy of the impoverished. The fourth character, Dar, the Imam’s henchman, is played convincingly by Maanuv Thiara, alternately looking after Bright but reluctantly willing to kill him if ordered to by the Imam. 

A special shout-out must go to the production team of this thought-provoking piece for finding innovative ways of bringing theatre to the audience until the audience can come back to the theatre. https://kilntheatre.com/

Reviewer: Carole Gordon

Reviewed: 18th December 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★