Banker Preaches Greed, Princess Chases Power: U.K. Stage

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Photographer: Johan Persson/Royal Court via Bloomberg

Johnny Flynn, center, as Jim Trumpett with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as John Blanke, at Flynn's right, and the ensemble in "The Low Road" by Bruce Norris at the Royal Court Theatre. Jim Trumpett upsets a group of charitable and unworldly Puritans with his harsh views about labor and wealth.

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Photographer: Johan Persson/Royal Court via Bloomberg

Johnny Flynn, center, as Jim Trumpett with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as John Blanke, at Flynn's right, and the ensemble in "The Low Road" by Bruce Norris at the Royal Court Theatre. Jim Trumpett upsets a group of charitable and unworldly Puritans with his harsh views about labor and wealth. Close

Johnny Flynn, center, as Jim Trumpett with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as John Blanke, at Flynn's right, and the ensemble... Read More

Photographer: Johan Persson/Royal Court via Bloomberg

Natasha Gordon, from left, Johnny Flynn, Elizabeth Berrington and Bill Paterson as One-Eyed Tizzy, Jim Trumpett, Mrs. Trumpett and Adam Smith in "The Low Road" by Bruce Norris. The play, set in the last years of colonial America, explores the philosophy of early modern capitalism. Close

Natasha Gordon, from left, Johnny Flynn, Elizabeth Berrington and Bill Paterson as One-Eyed Tizzy, Jim Trumpett, Mrs.... Read More

Photographer: Johan Persson/Royal Court via Bloomberg

Ian Gelder, right, as a farmer with the ensemble in "The Low Road." Trumpett, seated at the desk, makes his first fortune running his adoptive mother's bawdy house. Close

Ian Gelder, right, as a farmer with the ensemble in "The Low Road." Trumpett, seated at the desk, makes his first... Read More

Photographer: Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House via Bloomberg

The Act 2 quintet-finale from Verdi's "Nabucco" at the Royal Opera House in London. Director Daniele Abbado places the principal singers in a line at the front, and the chorus in a row at the back. Close

The Act 2 quintet-finale from Verdi's "Nabucco" at the Royal Opera House in London. Director Daniele Abbado places... Read More

Photographer: Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House via Bloomberg

Leo Nucci, center, in the title role of "Nabucco." Abbado updates the story, about persecuted Jews, to the 1940s. Close

Leo Nucci, center, in the title role of "Nabucco." Abbado updates the story, about persecuted Jews, to the 1940s.

Photographer: Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House via Bloomberg

Leo Nucci as Nabucco at the Royal Opera House. Placido Domingo takes over the role later in the run. Close

Leo Nucci as Nabucco at the Royal Opera House. Placido Domingo takes over the role later in the run.

The 18th-century founder of modern capitalism was Adam Smith, not the Marquis de Sade.

You might be forgiven for getting confused after seeing Bruce “Clybourne Park” Norris’s new Hogarthian satire at London’s Royal Court Theatre.

Jim Trumpett, the energetic anti-hero of “The Low Road,” is a young merchant on the make in colonial America.

He praises the works of Smith and believes that self- interest is a divinely ordained “invisible hand.”

Trumpett is also a pimp, liar, thief, patricide, swindler, murderer, and slave owner. Like de Sade, he takes his own self- interest to philosophical heights of coldness.

There’s a short fast-forward to a modern conference at Davos. The anti-hero’s descendant, Richard Trumpett of TrumpettBank Global LLC, is on the panel. He groans and shivers when he hears the word “regulation.”

“If you really want to make the world a better place, first thing you gotta do is help yourself,” he says.

The satire is heavily underlined, and anti-free-market fingers are jabbed moralistically.

What gives it its zip is the author’s obvious pleasure in pastiching 18th-century language (the story is a hybrid of “The Beggar’s Opera,” “The Rake’s Progress” and “Tom Jones”).

Johnny Flynn hits the right note of swagger and dissociation as Trumpett, and Elizabeth Berrington is amusing as both his brothel-keeping mother and his wealthy patron’s wife.

Director Dominic Cooke picks up the slack, and keeps the pace energetic and the jokes lively.

The production is his farewell show as the Royal Court’s artistic director before Vicky Featherstone takes over later this month. If “The Low Road” is no masterwork, it’s not a bad way to bow out. Rating: ***.

‘Nabucco’ Chorus

Verdi’s “Nabucco,” about a king who tries to destroy the Jews, is not quite a masterpiece either, even if it has one of his most famous tunes in the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.

It also offers some good opportunities to a baritone who can hold a stage with authority, and a soprano who can pump out fast scales and meaty top Cs while looking haughty.

It gets both of those at the Royal Opera in the persons of Leo Nucci (Placido Domingo takes over later in the run) and Liudmyla Monastyrska as his power-hungry daughter Abigaille.

It also gets just about the most cack-handed director Covent Garden has seen in recent times in the form of Daniele Abbado, son of conductor Claudio Abbado.

He sets the piece among dull gray monolithic slabs, and dresses the chorus in drab gray 1940s clothes. How you’re meant to tell when they’re being Jews (goodies) or Babylonians (baddies), heaven only knows. Since they stand stock still in long lines for a lot of the opera, it doesn’t matter much.

Dead victims of oppression get up and walk away; video projections wobble; the chorus runs in a circle when Nabucco appears; and on it goes, a catalog of directorial horrors.

It’s so bad, it makes the fine conducting of Nicola Luisotti, and some good singing, feel an utter waste. Rating: *.

“The Low Road” is at the Royal Court Theatre. http://www.royalcourttheatre.com or +44-20-7565-5000

“Nabucco” is in repertory at the Royal Opera. http://www.roh.org.uk or +44-20-7304-4000

Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater and Jeffrey Burke on books.

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Warwick Thompson, in London, at warwicktho@aol.com or https://twitter.com/ThompsonWarwick.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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