The machine is the undisputed star of the production, which, after a few deliberately confusing false-starts, eventually reveals itself as a parable about the dangers of stock market speculation.

The machine fills the New SHUNT Space from floor to ceiling. It clanks, rumbles, whooshes steam and gushes water. The specifics of how it works and what it does are stubbornly obscure from within as well as without. In that regard, it’s a bit like investment banking.

Bear with the comparison. Provided you’re willing to risk a few unaided leaps of logic, it does eventually make a surprising amount of sense. (In that regard, it’s a bit like the production staged inside the machine: Money, a SHUNT event inspired by Émile Zola’s novel L’Argent .)

The machine is the undisputed star of the production, which, after a few deliberately confusing false-starts, eventually reveals itself as a parable about the dangers of stock market speculation. As a performance space, the machine is constantly, wondrously surprising; just when it seems it has nothing left up its sleeve, whole new rooms emerge from under ingenious camouflage.

Its steampunk pistons and flywheels also drive the plot, such as it is; we, the audience, are speculators suckered by the smug Saccard into investing in the machine, despite neither him nor us knowing what it does. SHUNT’s playful sense of humour goes to work here, as we’re shown a gallery of ‘artist’s impressions of the future’ – Photoshopped images of the machine in the desert, coasting along railway tracks or perched halfway up a mountain.

The production itself is a series of disjointed scenes and encounters, ranging from the Kafka-esque (as Saccard pitches his ‘vision’ to eccentric business moguls who entertain guests only in the sauna, or travel only by footcycle) to the Python-esque (as Saccard turns a board meeting into a blackly comic game of condolence one-upmanship) to the weirdly voyeuristic (as we sip champagne and observe events occurring two storeys below, through two layers of plate glass).

Each individual scene is entertaining, often humorous, but it’s difficult to identify the purpose of the whole by examining the parts, and a certain amount of imagination is required to fill in the blanks. In that regard, it’s a bit like the machine itself; and the machine itself, as I’ve mentioned, is a bit like investment banking. It’s inhabited both by presentable official staff and by unacknowledged, sinister unknowns. It has levels and mechanisms that aren’t revealed until the very end. And as it barrels towards disaster, the obvious exits are sealed off, forcing those foresighted few to abandon ship by less conventional means.

The Machine in Shunt's production of Money‘The Machine’ & SHUNT cast members in Money. Photo © Chris Sims.

Nigel BarrettNigel Barrett in Money by SHUNT. Photo © Chris Sims.


7 comments. Add your own »

  1. John Sargant says:

    The piece sounds great! The image of the machine is incredibly powerful, it’s directly linked to Popova’s 1922 constructivist design for Meyerhold’s The Magnanimous Cuckold, the model and implementation of which are outlined here:

    It’s interesting how the resonance (in a Western European context) of the all-encompassing machine has changed over time. Whereas in 2009 we might see a cold, alienating mass, oppressive in its sheer physicality, symbolically oppressive in the working conditions it relates back to, in 1922, it was still very much a reality of the working man/woman’s life, simultaneously the life-blood of those who toiled over its conveyor belts, and the prospect of a brighter future in which the machine removes part of the drudgery of working class life — despite the very real dangers it presented in factories across the world.

    Playing with this anachronism in light of the collapse of the machine’s progeny, the virtual network, the banking machine, is a clever move.

    I haven’t seen the show and I haven’t read the novel by Zola either, but for anyone who has, I’d love to know what Zola brings to this show. If I can get a ticket then I’ll likely answer that question myself, but in the meantime…

  2. Roland says:

    Went to see this last weekend — my first time attending a Shunt performance. From the Banksy-esque riot police handing out coloured balloons at the entrance, to the immersive, constantly-changing set inside the machine itself, this was a feast for all the senses (including the champagne handouts, and rubber ball-fight with the rest of the audience!).

    The only disappointments were the sometimes overly whimsical dialogue, and an unnecessary, crass, caricature of jewish bankers, that felt out of place in an otherwise witty and imaginative production.

    The actors and production team are clearly a very enthusiastic lot and it will be interesting to see what they come up with next…!

  3. I don’t remember the riot police with balloons – they must be a new addition for the new run!

  4. steve says:

    I thought this was puerile tosh. Yeah, the set was great. As was the sound design. But the script, acting, drama, narrative, interest and empathy had long gone.

  5. This sounds like rather an excercise in self indulgence. I very well might give it a miss if it were still running.


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Info and Credits

Money is on at SHUNT's new space 42-44 Bermondsey St until December 22nd 2009.

For tickets and more information visit the SHUNT website.

Read Émile Zola's novel L'Argent (original French language version) via the excellent Project Gutenberg.

Cover photo and inserted photos by Chris Sims.

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