Churchill, Serious Money
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Churchill, Serious Money
This 1987 play was exceptionally topical — “The City” is England’s Wall Street — and critics who thought it would therefore become obsolete quickly did not anticipate the economic ruination of the world at the end of the G.W. Bush years and beyond. At the time, Churchill kept up with the economic news, intending to use her scrapbooks for the development of this play until it became too much like a research paper (qtd. in Fitzsimmons, File on Churchill 84). The play’s details and authenticity make it nearly incomprehensible in some ways if we get caught up in trying to follow the plot(s).
The events take place within a 24-hour period, with flashbacks. Speedy pacing is essential, appropriate, and helped along by the verse. Beneath the breezy rhyming and the intentional musical-theater cheesiness, the play works as “a socialist critique of capitalistic greed gone wild” (Despenich, Diss. 247). Marlene’s blindness in Top Girls is now rampant. There’s no possible opportunity for perspective due to the frenetic activity — and this is true for the characters too: “the adrenalin of trading [translates into] the adrenaline of performance” (Gussow 26) and of watching the play. And it’s all about the style rather than the substance: remember the ’80s?
We start with a scene directly from a 1692 Thomas Shadwell play, a traditional Restoration comedy: The Volunteers, or The Stockjobbers (196-197), in which the characters speculate on patents. What are the effects of this, and what is the purpose?
The main plot focuses on Corman Enterprise’s attempt at a take-over of Albion, spearheaded by American banker Zac Zackerman. A second (or sub-?) plot is the murder mystery. Jake Todd, the brother of Scilla (of L.I.F.F.E. — London International Financial Futures Exchange) and son of stockbroker Greville, has been making “serious money” (243) selling insider information; but he has been found dead. Was it suicide or murder? Scilla doesn’t even trust their father Greville. DTI (the Department of Trade and Industry) is set to investigate, tipped off by the disgruntled Frosby who had been made obsolete by “Big Bang.”
In Top Girls, thinking a bit about the name of the character Win makes one realize that Win must be short for Winifred; the more common nickname would be Winnie. Win vs. Winnie — interesting, no? In Serious Money we have Scilla, whose name must be Priscilla, right? The more common nickname: Prissy. Prissy vs. Scilla! What other names of characters in this play are significant (perhaps in less intricate ways)?
Identify a few rhymes (words conspicuously paired) that may have special significance.
* * *
“Look thee Lamb, between us, it’s no matter whether it turns to use or not; the main end verily is to turn the penny in the way of stock jobbing, that’s all” (196).
“I can offer you a million shares, they’re 63 to 4 in the market, I can let you have them for 62 1/2 net. At the moment the profits are fourteen million pretax which is eleven million, the shares pay 4.14 with a multiple of 13.3. With the new hotels we expect to see a profit of twenty million next year paying 5.03 with the multiple falling to 12, so it’s very attractive” (197-198).
After scenes involving a “cacophony of numbers” (Despenich 255), the power goes out (204). What is the significance of this?
“Think of the ones at the top who can afford
To pay us to make them money, and they’re on the board.”
“They’re for the chop.”
“I’m on the board.” (205)
“Partners should be willing to risk their own capital.
I told them, man is a gambling animal” (208).
“Since Big Bang the floor is bare,
They deal in office on screens.
But if the chap’s not really there
You can’t be certain what he means” (215).
What does Big Bang seem to refer to in the play, and why is this the term chosen?
Corman: “The deal’s in no way affected by his death” (217).
Scilla: “He won, he lost, he cheated a bit, he treated it all as a game.
Can you really imagine him killing himself for shame?
(He didn’t know what honour meant.)” (218)
Why does Churchill include a family (218-224)?
What is Churchill up to in the portrayal of Duckett (234-235)?
Zac: “You don’t make money out of land, you make money out of money” (231).
“Like he [Boesky] said about his own amazing wealth.
‘Greed is alright. Greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.'” (234)
Duckett: “It’s very unfair to be attacked like this. I run a highly efficient company. I’ve sacked the finance director and the chief of marketing who’d both been with the company ten years. I’ve closed two factories and made five hundred people redundant. No one can say I’m not a hardhitting management” (235).
Corman: “A deal like this, at the start you gently woo it.
There comes a time when you get in there and screw it.So you get the stock. And I don’t care how you do it” (236).
Scilla: “Trading options and futures look tricky if you don’t understand it.
But if you’re good at market timing you can make out like a bandit.
(It’s the most fun I’ve had since playing cops and robbers with Jake when we were children.) (243)
Scilla: “I love it because it’s like playing a cross between roulette and space invaders” (244).
The take-over attempt fails at the point of government intervention but only in place of a deal by Corman for the future business of business. The murder investigation is abandoned, becoming info used in trading again: Scilla “pursues Jake’s death only to find a bargaining tool for herself. Her interest in murder suspects such as Jacinta and Nigel becomes strictly financial…. At the end of the play, Scilla uses the information she has gathered to blackmail the arbitrageur who bought inside information from Jake and secure herself a position with her company” (Despenich 257).
* * *
Zac: “You’re the kind of loose thread, Jake, that when they pull you the whole fucking City could unravel” (256).
Jake: “Greed’s been good to me. Fear’s a bitch” (257).
Jake: “Bob Geldof was a silly cunt.
He did his charity back to front.
They should have had the concerts in Zaire
And shipped the money to banks over here.” (261)
What is the point of all the foul language in this play?
Nigel: “One thing one learned from one’s colonial masters,
One makes money from other people’s disasters” (261).
Duckett: “What’s this about art?”
Biddulph: “You don’t give a fart.
You know it, I know it, but you mustn’t show it” (274).
Greville to Frosby: “There’s no one else I’m sure his word’s his bond” (279).
Grimes: “We’re only doing just the same
All you bastards always done.
New faces in your old square mile,
Making money with a smile,
Just as clever, just as vile.” (283)
Scilla: “Would either of them be likely to kill
Jake? Or more important still
Could they tell me about his bank account?
Which bank is it in? And what’s the total amount?” (284)
Starr: “He sponsors provincial
Orchestras. You need the National
Theatre for power, opera for decadence,
String quartets bearing your name for sensitivity and elegance,
And a fringe show with bad language for a thrill.
That should take care of the spiritual.” (286)
Starr: “There’s ugly greedy and sexy greedy, you dope.
At the moment you’re ugly which is no hope.
If you stay ugly, god knows what your fate is.
But sexy greedy is the late eighties.” (287)
Soat: “I’ve hardly got out from under my last creditor
And now you’re trying to turn me into a predator” (296).
Gleason: “Whenever you businessmen do something shitty
Some of it gets wiped off on the City,
And the government’s smelly from the nasty stories” (298).
Gleason: “Exactly, and the game must be protected.
You can go on playing after we’re elected.
Five more glorious years free enterprise,
And your services to industry will be recognized.” (299)
Frosby: “My word is my junk bond” (301).
Scilla to Marylou: “I had been wondering if you killed Jake, but now I hardly care.
It’s not going to bring him alive again, and the main thing’s to get my share” (304).
“pissed and promiscuous, the money’s ridiculous
send her victorious for five fucking morious
five more glorious years” (308).
What is the effect and purpose of the rousing musical number at the end of the play?
Churchill said, “You can respond very easily to the adrenalin and excitement that they have in doing the deals. I think a thing that does happen is that people confuse attractiveness and goodness. They think that if you show something as attractive it must mean you think it’s good…. We wanted to create that paradox in the play — that tension between it being an attractive world and a dangerous one” (qtd. in Cousin, “The Common Imagination” 16).
“Verse keeps the characters properly two-dimensional. Completing a rhyme takes precedence over perspective. We begin to see that characters adhere to the rules of verse just as they adhere to the rules of the business game. They are comfortably contained within structures. Theatrical language here makes a compact political statement about the characters’ values” (Despenich 251).
Churchill, Caryl. Serious Money. In Plays: Two. London: Methuen, 1990. 193-309.