The premise is this: a group of strangers have an hour to decide how to spend a pile of cash; if they fail, it rolls over to the next show. The audience can buy Player tickets for a seat at the deciding table, or be a Silent Witness, watching on from around the room. Silent Witnesses can join in any time by ringing the buy-in bell and paying £20, which is added to the pot.
In the grand chambers, a host laid out the ground rules: no charity donations, nothing illegal (boo!) and a unanimous decision backed up by all Players signing an agreement by the end of the hour. Clock ticking, the Players brainstormed causes with about as much excitement and intrigue as a pamphlet on industrial farming practices. One suggested donating to her daughter's hen party fund, rambling about glitter and novelty straws. We fidgeted with boredom.
Not one suggested anything fun, like blowing it all on ice cream for passersby, or daring (investing in the latest cryptocurrency) or indulgent (buying champagne to sink in the sun). Or, as I have often fantasised, causing gleeful chaos by flinging notes from a rickshaw, like Roger Moore in Octopussy.
Instead, they bandied about predictably worthy causes; the homeless, food banks, plants for a nursery. Noble, yes. Entertaining? No. They would make tedious jackpot lottery winners. But then, perhaps £200 is too small a sum to fire up the synapses - would more cash expand the possibilities, or lead to further dithering?
Relying solely on audience participation, the show is only as engaging as the players. Before I could put my money where my mouth was, the first Silent Witness bounded down to the buy-in bell.
On a dance school scholarship, Edie needed funds to pay for expensive ballet kit. The cash would help her dreams of becoming a prima. Her voice wavering in the grand setting gave away her age - with a mask over her face I guessed mid-teens but her mother, in the audience, later revealed she was just 12. I analysed every word for signs she was a stooge or swindler, but the courage it took to speak was clear. She felt a lot more compelling than hen party glitter, in any case. Here was a small but tangible chance to make a difference.
The Players weren’t convinced and debate returned to causes deemed ‘worthier’ than Edie, who sat, crushed. Twenty minutes left. Incensed, another Silent Witness rang the bell, and savaged the group’s quasi-altruistic crusade to save a faceless stranger rather than help the schoolgirl sitting before them. The socially distanced crowd roared its approval. The Players shifted uncomfortably. The underdog nudged forward. Finally, drama!
That’s the thing about The Money; every show chucks up a new dynamic, do-gooders transform into villains in seconds, and you find your views pulled in every direction as the clock closes in on the hour. I no longer wanted to bestow double scooped joy on random Londoners. I wanted Edie to carry on dancing.
In the end, so did the Players. Edie had won a pot that her supporters had grown to £340 by joining the table. A child's dream had been preserved, and my faith in strangers was restored. If this social experiment teaches us anything, it’s that fortune really does favour the brave.
The Money is on at the London County Hall until July 18. £20, themoney.live