Several years ago, while on vacation in Cornwall, theater manager Seth Honnor persuaded a group of 18 friends to join in on a bizarre experience. He locked them in a trailer with a pot of money and asked them to decide what to do with it. Several hours of intense discussions later, they emerged with a solution. “I think some of them haven’t forgiven me yet,” he jokes.
This experience became the seed of Money, the hit show that has traveled the world and now arrives in London’s majestic County Hall. Halfway between drama and acting, the play (edited by the Honnor Kaleider theater company) gives audiences 60 minutes to decide what to do with a stack of cash. You can enter as a ‘player’ – your £ 20 ticket price goes into the prize pool – or watch as a ‘silent witness’, but your decision must be unanimous. If the players do not reach a common agreement within the allotted hour, the money is transferred to the next issue.
The structure emerged after the intense and unregulated session in the trailer. “I realized you had to put in place rules to give people freedom and take care of them,” says Honnor. “Now there is a time limit, you have to be unanimous and you can leave if you want. If you are a silent witness you can buy and become a player, and if you are a gamer you can hit a gong and you are eliminated.
Considering the complexity of dealing with a simple vacation kitten, you can expect an evening of fights and punches. In fact, says Honnor, the opposite tends to be true. The atmosphere can be fun, but the discussion is genuine. Money usually goes to charities and good causes – anything goes, as long as it’s legal. And, while the feelings can be deep, bettors bring care, humor, and diligence to the task of awarding the money.
“Before doing the show, a friend asked me, ‘Are you going to have ambulances outside? », He remembers. “But it’s not like that, because what people really want in the world is cooperation. People care about each other. You are also a witness, so there is an interesting idea of accountability. And if the conversation is going in a direction you don’t like, you can join in and change it. “
It’s a show that delves deep into the nature of money: the power it bestows, its meaning, the interplay between value, price and value. For Honnor, it is important that the participants play with their own money: this small but real stake brings a personal investment in the result. And while the amounts are relatively small (£ 300-600, rather than thousands or millions), conversations still quickly turn to relative values and the impact money can have.
“On one show, there was someone who worked with a village in Namibia,” says Honnor. “They said, ‘That money would go a long way out there, so could we split it into £ 1 denominations and make a lot of people’s lives different?’ And on this show, they all agreed to double the money.
Money joins other recent performances that have fused drama and game show to explore moral and political issues. In Bullet capture, Rob Drummond examined the nature of free will by convincing a spectator to shoot him; he also deployed public interaction to examine the pros and cons of democracy in The majority. £ ￥ € $ (LIES) Belgian company Ontroerend Goed encouraged participants to invest in global markets; METIS Global factory groups of foreigners tried to run a clothing factory in an ethical manner.
While not straightforward plays, they all used elements of the theater to make their points. The same is true of Money: there is no writer, no plot, no cast (apart from two “Hosts”). Still, says producer Eleanor Lloyd, there’s a lot of excitement and drama in the night. “It’s a bit like watching a sports game,” she said. “The last few minutes are like shortly after the weather turns red in rugby.”
Witnesses can make quite an entrance by intervening, and unexpected interventions can introduce a major twist to the plot. On one occasion in Australia, a participant left the table, then came back and deposited $ 3,000, literally raising the stakes. Such an incident raises multiple ethical questions. What influence can an individual buy with such a large personal sum? Could they make a rash decision that they might regret later? Should the company intervene?
Honnor says such moral dilemmas are built into the show. On the night in question, the players themselves faced the issues, discussing whether to return the money. “For me, it’s about handing over responsibility to these people,” he says. “It’s about integrating that ethics and dealing with this ethical dilemma rather than preventing it from happening. The show is more about shared values and finding common ground than about money. “
In London, the show will run for eight weeks in County Hall, an imposing civic building just across the river from the Houses of Parliament. It’s a smart framework for a play that delves into power, accountability, transparency and democracy, and for a format that emphasizes consensus over confrontation.
“The art of great leadership is knowing when and where to compromise,” Honnor adds. “We are trying to find a way to disrupt the feeling that [leadership] is about power and control and ask yourself how you leave the field to the imagination of others. “
For Lloyd and Honnor alike, the prospect of discussing priorities and action in a room with other people seems important after the traumas of the past year. The imperative to strike a deal also offers a welcome change from the spiteful divide that can plague social media. You might have different opinions, says Lloyd, but you can try to find common ground. “In general, most people can agree that they want to make the world a better place.”
And perhaps the greatest attraction of Money it’s that it offers the opportunity to make a tangible difference in real life. A group in the United States has created a charity to allow police officers to donate teddy bears to children involved in violent crime. A year later, Honnor received a touching email from the Connecticut Police Department with a photo of a small child holding a bear.
“He just said, ‘There was a terrible incident today, but luckily my cops are armed with teddy bears from your project.'”
‘The Money’, County Hall, London, May 26-July 18 www.themoney.live