Ayad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand is an intense Homeland style financial thriller which raises economic and political arguments that linger long after leaving the theatre.
American banker Nick Bright has been taken hostage in rural Pakistan by an unnamed terrorist organisation that is looking to protect local community interests. With the threat of being sold to the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Ivy League economist convinces his captors that he’s an asset worth keeping alive, and he offers to trade for his life by playing the stock markets to raise his own $10 million ransom within a year.
As Bright is forbidden from using a laptop himself, he teaches his volatile captor-turned-colleague Bashir (a radicalised British man who has given up the ‘soft’ life in Hounslow to ‘fight for something meaningful’), how to work the market and convert erratic rupees into stable dollars.
Bashir is a quick learner, and despite his dogged rants against Western capitalist imperialism, he soon becomes addicted to market trading, and is more than happy to create profits from free-market capitalism.
As the money that is supposedly benchmarked for the people of Pakistan begins to flood into the terrorist organization, self-interest kicks in, and the local Imam Saleem starts to skim the profits to buy himself land and property.
Bright’s already precarious situation becomes increasingly fragile as he finds himself in the middle of a battle of conflicts within the group.
Despite the main themes of The Invisible Hand being monetary, Akhtar’s drama avoids becoming an achromic lecture. The constantly mutating power dynamics between the characters creates an unnerving dramatic terrain.
The script is blunt and unforgiving, with references to the beheaded journalist Daniel Pearl and the Charlie Hebdo cartoon attacks. Nevertheless, the dialogue also offers light and shade, and is dexterously interspersed with a snarky humour.
With The Invisible Hand, Akhtar seems to suggest that the equivocal ethics of current world finances and terrorism are not dissimilar, and begs the question who should we fear more – the bankers or terrorists?
Daniel Lapaine as the subjugated Nick Bright is constantly engaging to watch, while Scott Karim gives an assured performance as the braggart Bashir.
Indhu Rubasingham’s direction is suitably edgy, and she effectively interjects each succinct scene with a blinding white light and ear-splitting screeching that is so intense it feels like a form of torture in itself. This is bolstered by Lizzie Clachan’s claustrophobic set that perfectly encapsulates the mercurial world the characters live in.
The Invisible Hand runs at the Kiln Theatre until 31st July 2021.