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Dry Powder
"Who in the world takes the New York Times seriously?" — Jenny
Dry Powderv
Hayley Atwell as Jenny, Tom Riley as Seth and Aidan McArdle as Rick (Photo: Alastair Muir)
In 2016 Hampstead Theatre put on Beth Steel's Labyrinth directed by Anna Ledwich about the credit crisis of over extended loans in South America. Ed Hall's programming at Hampstead has now included another play about the New York markets with Sarah Burgess's Dry Powder. Ledwich knows how to direct these taut company dramas starring the "Masters of the Universe".

Aidan McArdle plays Rick the CEO of a finance company raising private equity for eligible companies who wish to expand via a capital buyout. Dry Powder is the term for the remaining capital in a private equity firm. Rick's company has just laid off American employees in one of the firms they have bought out and this bad news has coincided with news of Rick's lavish engagement party in Bali with elephants (actually just one elephant, he protests). Of course the press will make the most of the contrast between the sadly now jobless and the luxurious entertainment of those deciding to make them unemployed. This bad publicity has affected the people who are what they call LPs, the Limited Partners who invest in Rick's company without whom he cannot trade.

Rick's top employee is Jenny (Hayley Atwell), a bright Ivy League graduate with an ability to make money. She defends Rick saying he is entitled to an engagement party with elephants after working excessive hours for thirty years in dedication to the firm. The company they are now looking at is Landmark Luggage, a bespoke luggage retailer which makes its suitcases in Sacramento, California owning real estate there and employing 650 people. Jenny would like to maximize their profit even if this means laying off the Californian workers and manufacturing in Bangladesh and selling the Californian property but Rick doesn't want any more bad publicity deterring investors.

Standing against Jenny is the man who has brought the deal to the company. Seth (Tom Riley) has been building a relationship with Landmark Luggage's boss Jeff (Joseph Balderrama) and is looking out for the luggage employees as he brokers the deal with Rick. Jenny and Seth will battle it out in a comedic battle, with her hawk to his dove.

The acting performances are really excellent. All three equity firm employees are believable and Hayley Atwell has an acidic, steely personality determined to get the better of her nemesis Seth. I noticed also how many times Jenny says "I apologise" to Rick as if what she has to say might offend him, but she says it anyway quickly followed by "I apologise". By contrast she never holds back her ball breaking powers in dealing with Seth. Rick's role is to waver, listening to both Seth and Jenny before deciding which course of action to take and McArdle as Rick carries the weight of the final decision on his shoulders.

I loved Andrew D Edwards' rotating, tall, glass panelled set which conveys the opulence and prestige of the New York offices. Jenny combines high heels and trousers as a part of her power dressing.

Playwright Sarah Burgess says her play Dry Powder is a comedy and there are many funny lines but the issues are also important as a choice is made between maximum profit and retaining onshore employment. Hampstead Theatre's new play repertoire has these refreshing plays about the ethics and realities of business. For my editor's review of this play in New York in 2016go here

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Dry Powder
Written by Sarah Burgess
Directed by Anna Ledwich
Starring: Hayley Atwell, Aidan McArde, Tom Riley, Joseph Balderrama
Design: Andrew D Edwards
Lighting Design: Elliot Briggs
Sound Design: Max Pappenheim
Video Design: Ian William Galloway
Running time: One hour 45 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 3rd March 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th February 2018 performance at the Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 3EU (Tube: Swiss Cottage)
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