Leaving cynicism at home when attending theatre aimed at young people might be seen as a bit of a prerequisite. After all it’s worth letting the younger generations develop their own presumptions and bitter expectations. But Theatre Rites; latest production, Bank On It, stretches this requirement to unimaginable lengths: this is a show which features a Bank Manager character who is not only a good guy, but also as philanthropic as your average fairy godmother.
To make matters slightly worse, the show starts off with a six strong cast bursting into a generic bank, having been refused access to their money in various ways. The audience follows them through the corridors of the adapted Rose Lipman Building in east London as they try to chase down the escaping and – it would appear – panic-stricken manager. The space is filled with the kind of memorabilia everyone is faced with when confronting the labyrinth of modern banking (leaflets bursting with promises and smiles are duly included); at one point the troubled bonus receiver even confronts his clients with the latest headlines – a copy of the local Hackney paper releases one of those long and completely baffling quotes about impending economic doom.
For the first half hour, everything – from the words heard and sung to the very last prop – points to the fact that Bank On It is in fact a show about the misguided trust put in banks (whose managers are bound to disappear at any given moment) and the responsibility involved in managing personal finances (it quickly transpires everyone involved in the bank siege has been overindulging in one way or another).
Having established however that their show takes place in a bank, and having insisted on financial paradigms that may have well gone over the slightly shorter heads in the audience, Theatre Rites then take a very unexpected and paradoxical turn. The manager lets everyone into the safe, where there’s no money at all, but all sorts of things more important than that – bees, running water, trees, mineral resources. This of course is where Bank On It is meant to be educational, although the sheer speed at which the mostly environmental lessons are delivered, make it verge on didactical. The baffling consequence of this u-turn is that the Manager emerges from the safe an absolute winner; while everyone was concerned about getting the new iPhone, he was trying to save us from ourselves. The money, he confesses, is gone, but at least now everyone will turn off the lights in their living room. The problem of course is that he wasn’t trusted with saving planet Earth in the first place; perhaps it’s just that over aged cynicism that induces a misbelief at the fact that yet another, even if fictional banker, got away without answering some of the basic questions.
It’s not entirely clear whether Bank On It presumed no kid in the UK has overheard their parents hating banks, or whether it decided to overlook the entire set of connotations contained within the very word ‘bank’ in favour of creating a new set – of a bank as a safe place to store things cherished and relevant. Either way Theatre Rites have gotten themselves into a bit of a syllogism. For adults the notion of a bank storing energy instead of their money might seem like propaganda; the kids (like their adult companions) will enjoy the playfulness, characterful puppets, interaction and the promenade nature of the piece. Having said that, when the (imaginary) curtain goes down on one of the last scenes in the piece, a chant celebrating community and well wishing in general, both age groups might remember Bank On It started with a faulty ATM hiding a seemingly fraudulent manager, and wonder how they arrived at this optimistic end point.