(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/8.)
Beth Steel scored a big hit in 2014 with Wonderland, which examined thescars left by the miners’ strike 30 years earlier. In Labyrinth, she again goes back to the 1980s, this time to probe the Latin American debt crisis. The result is a racily exciting work that offers the most compelling theatrical study of high finance since Lucy Prebble’s Enron and which suggests chilling parallels with what is happening today in the eurozone.
Steel ushers us into a big subject by focusing on the fate of an individual. John Anderson is a greenhorn credit analyst who, in 1978, joins a Wall Street bank, anxious to expand its international portfolio. John, who has risen through merit rather than privilege, is assigned to work with the sharp-witted Charlie, who is off to Brazil to arrange a loan of $320m to its government. But although John has doubts about the deal, they are quashed as we witness his surrender to the corporate ethic and the biggest credit bubble in history. This climaxes in Mexico’s declaration of bankruptcy in 1982 and a massive Latin American debt crisis that the big banks, aided by the IMF, turn to their advantage.