There’s no such thing as a free lunch – something the characters in Roger Hall’s newest play will find out when they take to The Court Theatre’s mainstage this March for the world debut of Easy Money.
Adapted from the 17th Century play The Alchemist, Easy Money is a hilarious romp which follows two Australian con artists, Trudi & Stephen Sharp, as they try to fool their prestigious Auckland neighbours into giving them enough money to pay off their debts and hightail it to Ecuador.
Since first seeing The Alchemist performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, Hall wanted to adapt the script into a contemporary setting. “I have not attempted to match The Alchemist scam for scam, but I’ve been longing to do this since 1992.”
In the original script, a rich merchant leaves his home to avoid the plague, setting the scene for his servant to use the house as a base to defraud as many people as possible. The scammers peddle ‘the elixir of eternal life’ and the idea that they can turn base metal into gold.
In Easy Money, the sell is much more corporal. Trudi & Stephen attempt to trade shares in the Auckland Harbour Bridge, telling their wealthy neighbours they have insider knowledge of a congestion toll that will send shares skyrocketing… If, in fact, there are any shares to sell.
Ross Gumbley, the director for Easy Money and Artistic Director at The Court couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough. “When Roger rang me about two years ago and said, ‘I’m thinking about adapting Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist,’ I almost climbed down the phone in my eagerness to say, ‘Yes, you must!'”
After a two-year process of working with Hall as he developed the script, Gumbley wasn’t going to let anybody else take the directorial reins: “Frankly, I wouldn’t let anybody else direct this play.”
A laugh-a-minute satire about greed, Easy Money is a plot driven farce that Hall describes as having, “no moral, no message – just entertainment.”
Gumbley agrees, but believes there is a message to be found within Easy Money’s fast-paced and lively plot. “If we think we’re going to get something for nothing, as human beings we are very vulnerable.”
Hall says that he’d like audiences to walk away wondering, “…would we have been taken in by them?” While Gumbley would like the audiences to walk away “with a smile on their face, having had two hours of escapism that might just give them pause to think the next time they open an email from overseas, telling them to put twenty million dollars in their bank account...”
Finding a quick and funny cast was essential for staging Easy Money. With the wealth of experience brought by Roy Snow, Luanne Gordon, Lynda Milligan, Bruce Phillips, Geoffrey Heath, Jared Corbin, Gregory Cooper, Susannah Kenton, Melinda Joe and Albany Peseta, Gumbley has unquestionably assembled a dream cast. “I’ve got a cast who are wonderful actors and packed with funny bones. They’re amazing and it’s such a joy to be spending my days in the rehearsal room with them.”
As Gumbley describes it: “The characters in this play look like they’ve stepped out of The Real Housewives of Auckland – more bling than common sense.” Supporting that sense of opulence is set designer Harold Moot, costume designer Deborah Moor and lighting technician Giles Tanner, who have created a lavish playground for Easy Money’s wealthy – and aspiringly wealthy – characters.
Hall and Gumbley aren’t worried about the relevancy of a production based off a 17th Century script. “People can’t resist a bargain or the chance to make a lot of money. Right now, I notice more and more finance companies offering higher than current rates of interest or chances to invest in schemes for high returns. Haven’t we been here before?” Hall says.
And Gumbley agrees. “We’re all susceptible to greed. That’s what the play’s about and what’s extraordinary about that, is that the idea hasn’t changed in 400 years.”
Easy Money opens at The Court on 17th March and runs through until 14th April.