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LONDON (Reuters) - A new play set on the bond trading floor of a leading British investment bank examines how clashing egos, greed and vanity can push people to take huge risks with money that is not theirs.
"Roaring Trade," written by Steve Thompson, was completed by mid-2008, before the worst of the credit crisis hit markets.
But it hints at the trouble to come, helps audiences comprehend how so much money can be lost so quickly, and puts a human face on the financial meltdown.
"There was a sense in the market for about a year that things had reached the top," Thompson told Reuters. "That sort of inhabits the play a little bit," added the 41-year-old playwright, who spent time on a real trading floor as research.
The play centers around four main characters. Donny is a cocky, successful working class trader who boasts of his triumphs and thrives on excessive risk-taking.
Spoon is a young, well-to-do newcomer to the team, and the rivalry between them quickly turns into a costly grudge match.
PJ is an older dealer disillusioned by the fast-living, heavy-drinking lifestyle, while Jess uses feminine charms and financial acumen to stay ahead of the game.
Thompson said he was keen not to judge his characters, despite the growing unpopularity of so-called "city slickers" who some people blame for the banking crisis.
He includes a scene where Donny explains to his son the concept of short selling using a tub of ketchup in a fast food restaurant.
Short sellers sell borrowed shares or other instruments in the market in the hope of buying them back more cheaply later. The practice has come under close scrutiny in Britain recently as businesses are jeopardized by tumbling share prices.
"When we had the crisis in October and November everyone was looking for someone to blame, and that is who I have written about," Thompson explained.
"I am not making any moral judgment, but people behave very strangely under the influence of money. It is very difficult not to because the system forces you to."
The phenomenon is not limited to bankers, he said.
"I am trying to teach my kids about money at the moment, as it is affecting the way they behave. I asked my son to set the breakfast table and he said: 'How much?'"
According to Thompson, the atmosphere on some trading floors is "gladiatorial," and individuals are encouraged to compete, underlined in the play by the extreme anxiety and bravado surrounding the size of each character's end-of-year bonus.
He spent several hours with a friend on a bond trading floor in London, and watched two dealers in action who became Donny and Spoon in his play.
Thompson confessed to feeling a certain admiration for the kind of people in Roaring Trade.
"I only ever write about things I would quite like to do. I find appealing people who are very good at their job."
Reviews of Roaring Trade, which is on at the Soho Theater in central London until February 7, have been generally positive.
"This is a play about people rather than an anti-capitalist lecture. And it is performed with great style," wrote Michael Billington of the Guardian, giving it four out of five stars.