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  1. Luxury
December 15, 2009

Making a Drama out of a Crisis

By Spear's

Financier Scott Rudmann describes how he ended up spending a surreal evening watching himself on stage in Sir David Hare’s story of the credit crunch

Financier Scott Rudmann describes how he ended up spending a surreal evening watching himself on stage in Sir David Hare’s story of the credit crunch

WHAT A FEELING — on stage at the National Theatre, under blinding hot stage lights, applause thundering, time to take a bow along with George Soros; FSA chairman Howard Davies; Jon Cruddas MP; Apax founder Ronnie Cohen; FT journalist Gillian Tett; and Harvard Business School professor Myron Scholes, who invented the options pricing model and was a partner in the famous Long Term Capital Management hedge fund that imploded in the 1990s. What a group. What energy! Scintillating! Electrifying! What fun!

Except it wasn’t me on stage, it was a professional actor playing me (rather dashing fellow, I thought). Actors were also playing the rest of this iconic cast. In truth, I was in the audience clapping, and trying to hide the outpouring of sweat accumulated over two hours as my character played out his role in Sir David Hare’s The Power of Yes, a comedic drama about the credit crunch.

This tale began earlier this year amid the general mayhem of the financial crisis, when I received a hesitant call from my secretary asking me if I would take a meeting with one David Hare. ‘Don’t know him!’ I barked. ‘What does he do, and why does he want to meet?’ A few days later, my secretary let me know he was sort of the UK playwright laureate, and he was writing a play about the credit crunch, and my dear friend Masa Serdarevic had suggested to him that he talk to me to get the perspective of an American investor living in London.

Masa is a great pal whose job as an investment banking analyst at Lehman Brothers simply evaporated overnight when that fine specimen of a leveraged institution went belly-up. She got an interim job working for Sir David as a research assistant while he wrote his play, and ended up becoming something of his muse. ‘Fine, fine, let’s carve out an hour next week,’ I replied.

A week later, a calm, nattily attired, humbly charming fellow showed up at the office and introduced himself as David. We ended up talking for nearly two hours, as he asked me question after question about finance, banking, investing, the credit crunch and the financial markets.
IT WAS AN astonishing dialogue. Here was this incredibly urbane man, oozing talent, owner of numerous awards ranging from Baftas to New York Film Drama Critic prizes, author of 26 plays, knighted writer (not to mention married to the fashion designer Nicole Farhi) listening to me talk, taking copious notes, but staring at me as if I were from another universe.

The words I was using might as well have been spoken in the vacuum of space. Derivatives? Mortgage-backed securities? Securitisation and syndication? Systemic risk? Options? Bonds? Keynesian animal spirits? Public goods? Risk appetite? Those of us in finance sometimes forget that we speak a magical language that parses our world.

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As our conversation ended, Sir David ever so gently let me know that he was writing a play, and perhaps my comments would form part of it, and if so, would it be acceptable to quote me? Hmm, I thought to myself, I was having one of those private-equity-hates-management days, and did a lot of swearing in our interview, but I said ‘sure’, so long as he let me have a look at the script ahead of performances.

A few months later, the meeting mostly forgotten, I got an email from Sir David, script attached. He had sculpted my various utterances into a cogent sequence. I noticed that he had chosen most of the particularly juicy quotes, including a great deal of colourful cussing. Must have been an edgy day. ‘Who says these lines?’ I queried urgently in an email. ‘You do!’ was the reply. ‘You’re a character in the play. There will be someone playing you. On stage. At the National Theatre. Opens in October.’

I had a moment of kick-in-the-stomach panic. Could I allow myself to be seen on stage in London hammering away at credit-fuelled folly, swearing like a sailor? What would my fund investors think? I begged Hare to take out the swearing, and he acquiesced. A few weeks before opening night, Masa called. ‘Are you sure we can’t have the swearing? David likes a bit of healthy swearing.’ Fine, I agreed. Let’s do it. You only live once, I figured.
FLASH FORWARD TO opening night. I knocked back a couple of stiff belts in the bar to calm my nerves, and found myself sitting in the front row with my girlfriend, who bravely held my hand, herself petrified over the upcoming potential public shaming. On stage out strode my character, introduced as me with the name of my firm! I can’t remember being more nerve-racked. It got worse when he spoke my/his first line, right in the opening moments of the play — ‘That Fred Goodwin, he’s a fucking cowboy!’ — and away we went.

The play is a two-hour white-knuckle ride through the last two years of UK and American finance, particularly if you are sitting in the audience with your senses hyper-attenuated to the reaction of the audience to every word uttered by your doppelganger on stage. I must hand it to Sir David. Every line my character says is practically word-for-word from our conversation.

If he has been as true to the words of the other characters as he was to mine, the crafting of the interwoven dialogue is sheer genius. He did ‘amp up’ a bit the chap who played me, Peter Sullivan, and gave him a sort of New York accent whereas I am from the west coast. When I spoke to the actor at the party afterwards (another surreal experience), he let me know that it was all done purposefully and with great detailed intent, to add some drama.

For weeks now I have fielded calls and emails from friends, ex-colleagues from old firms, and friends in London. Generally, all who have seen the play have found it entertaining and informative, edgy, and a bit of an exposé of the ridiculous practices that enriched a small number at the expense of a great many and changed the world for a generation. The moral of the story: the next time a seemingly charming, innocuous playwright appears asking for an interview, don’t swear, and call your agent.

The Power of Yes is at the Lyttelton Auditorium in the National Theatre

Top: Malcolm Sinclair as Myron Scholes
Middle: Peter Sullivan (far left of stage) as Scott Rudmann

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