Originally posted on Theatre Bristol Writers website
Ever been to see a piece of theatre and left £790 richer? No, me neither. Far poorer after an interval gin and tonic and a packet of poppets. But that’s what happened to one conflicted audience member in The Money, a deliciously evil theatrical experiment reminiscent of a psychological experiment from the 1970’s about pack mentality.
Here’s the setup. £780 on the table. Ten audience members, called the “benefactors,” have two hours to decide unanimously how to spend the money, whilst being watched by the remaining members of the audience, called the “silent witnesses.” If the Benefactors could not agree on how, when and where the money would be spent, it would be rolled over to the next performance, and the next group of Benefactors would decide. Simple, and obviously a world of trouble.
Kaleider, the showrunners, were barely present, as though not to contaminate their subjects, only appearing at the beginning and end to officiate. They gave the group the rules, and remained God like and powerful at the back, offering no reassurance to their meandering children.
The benefactors put on their noblest of coats and started with the obvious – let’s give it all away to charity. The first hour then felt like a Radio 4 panel debate entitled, “Adults Politely Dissect What Constitutes a Worthy Cause.”
Some of the older members leant towards using the money to change one persons life, handing it to a homeless shelter or buying a deprived child an instrument, whilst some of the younger members wanted to give something back to Mayfest by commissioning a piece of art or theatre. The arguments got circular, people tried to defend theatre, define culture, strong personalities emerged, and cries of ‘I hate to play devils advocate,’ were frequent just as decisions seemed imminent. Every once in a while someone would suggest blowing it all on lottery tickets and pizza, and everyone would laugh. Nervously. They were being watched, who would consider such a thing? Some of them would. There was quiet dissent. One woman suggested randomly mailing it to people or leaving £10 in envelopes across the city, Amelie style, whilst another though a sculpture would be nice. I wanted to cry, “that’s a lovely idea but it sounds like a logistical nightmare involving the support of the council.”
I bit my tongue, sat on my hands, but thanked my lucky stars I was not on this council of elders. Force of personality in these situations will often get you further then offering a viable practical decision, and as evidenced by the group, hierarchies are exhausting to be involved in.
The second hour felt like a Radio One reality show called “Adults decide YOLO,” as one brave woman stepped up to the plate and drove the plot forward, making for a exhilarating third act. She started as a Silent Witness, but bought in as a Benefactor for £10. She asked the group why they were being so noble. It was free money, fun money, fascinating money that could be spent on anything, so why not enjoy it? Go wild. She was the voice of unreasonable reason who gave everyone permission to decide not to decide, to see the money as monopoly notes rather then a sacred cow. As a silent witness I was morally conflicted about this sudden change of tact, because essential £780 might change a needy persons life, but as a theatregoer I wanted them to pick a benefactors name out of a hat because, well that was more fun! As this is a show, you feel you have more permission to relinquish what you should do as upstanding citizens, and give into base values. Or maybe not. Maybe that’s why the money had rolled over so many times already. Maybe we failed, where others had won. In the end they picked a name out of a hat, and that benefactor got all the money.
It was the woman who came up with the Amelie suggestion, and she promised to do a variation of the theme once she had thought it out better, but by that point masks were off. People were honest. They told her to do what she wanted. They didn’t care.