The Money – Battersea Arts Centre

How often do you go to the theatre and come home £80 richer than when you went in?

No, I haven’t been doing anything illegal or immoral.  It wasn’t even my idea for me to get the money in the first place.  Also, that money comes with conditions: I have signed a contract, promising to spend it in the way that the group has unanimously agreed.

Let’s go back to the beginning…

The Money is a piece of game-theatre constructed by a group called Kaleider. The premise is simple: you buy a ticket and the money from that goes in a pot.  The audience is split into Benefactors and Silent Witnesses, and the Benefactors have 2 hours to decide how to spend the money within the rules of the game.  They can spend it on anything they like – but their decision must be unanimous.  If an agreement cannot be reached in 2 hours, the group loses the money and it rolls over to the next show.  Silent Witnesses have the option to buy in at any point and become a Benefactor.

So what happens when 12 people – most of whom have never met each other – are given a pile of real money to spend, while 4 people quietly observe their decision-making process?

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Once we’re all seated in rows on either side of a table, there is a pounding at the chamber door and a security man walks in with a large sealed box and a hush descends.  A woman slowly lays items out on a tray, the silence only broken by the rifling of notes and the clanking of coins.  There is something about hearing the sound of money that adds pressure to the atmosphere – the responsibility of deciding how best to spend it.  We’re presented with £129.80 in cash, a pro forma and a set of rules.  A large digital clock on the wall stands at 2 hours and it begins its countdown.  Loads of time – or so we think.  The performers retreat to the back of the room and leave us to get on with it.  No guidance, no influence – it’s down to us.

Everyone is a little tentative at first, trying to establish how the show works, but slowly a conversation begins.  It doesn’t take long for one Benefactor to stump up another 20 pence to round it up to £130.  We relax and begin to talk more easily.  We’re fairly sure we want to do “something good” with the money – something charitable.  We’re sitting in a building which lost its Grand Hall in a fire just over 4 weeks ago.  But the words which keep cropping up are “a drop in the ocean” – how the value of money is relative to what it’s being spent on: a week’s worth of food shopping for a family, a pair of West End theatre tickets, a suit for a job interview.

Over the course of 90 minutes we meander through a very unstructured discussion – whether to try to do something with it as a lump sum, to split it between ourselves and each go and do something with it, how quickly it should be spent, who or what on, leave it for someone to find, spend it on ourselves, go and put it behind the bar downstairs (benefiting both ourselves and the BAC Scratch Bar), roll it over to the next group, do something silly and fun with it, donate it to charity, donate it to someone in the group (one person had recently had their bike stolen).  Many ideas and justifications were provided, but little in the way of consensus.

Ultimately you can draw parallels with many aspects of life and politics – how easily money can be wasted, how government departments have to fight over the same pot of money, how hard it is to get people to all agree, the desire to be the ones to decide how it is spent, because the next lot are an unknown quantity and the fear that they may be greedy with it, which is not how we as a group would like it to be used.  This is a very subtle piece of political theatre, which encourages you to explore what you really think, all the while being watched by your fellow Benefactors and the Silent Witnesses.  No one wants to be seen to be selfish or inconsiderate.

Before you know it, 90 minutes have gone and it’s heading towards crunch time – with an eye on the clock, we wanted to make a considered decision rather than a rushed one.  We go around the group with suggestions as diverse as giving to a charity which helps unemployed people to buy a suit for a job interview, paying for a balloon modeller to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital, throwing the money out the window and seeing who picks it up, and paying for the person with the oldest living relative in the group to go and see them and spend some time with them.

It was that last suggestion that struck a real chord with everyone.

After all that discussion, a suggestion mooted by BAC Artistic Director David Jubb in the last 10 minutes was THE ONE.  We had our consensus.  The pro forma was filled in, precise instructions written down and signed by all the Benefactors.  The performers struck a gong as the clock hit 00:00:00 and the decision was made.

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So, in an unexpected turn of events, the lovely people in the picture have paid for me (red skirt) and Katie (over my right shoulder) to go and visit our oldest relatives.  Her grandparents in Croydon and my grandmother in Devon, all in their nineties.  I have been planning to go down to see her, I’ve just needed to get it organised.

So Granny – I’m coming to see you.  I’m taking you out for lunch.  We’re going to go and eat ice cream on the seafront at Sidmouth.  We’re going to wander through the gardens at Jacob’s Ladder.  And if you dare to take out your purse at any point during my visit, you will have broken my contract with these 11 people.  I love you, and I don’t see you as often as I should.  Time with you is this money well spent.

I think you have to agree, I look pretty amazing for 90.

The Money is on until Friday 1st May 2015 at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 5TN. When you purchase your ticket, you will have the option to be either a Benefactor or a Silent Witness. Silent Witnesses can buy in and become a benefactor at any point during the 2 hours.  For tickets and more information, please go to https://www.bac.org.uk/content/35467/see_whats_on/whats_on/shows/the_money

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