Interview with Katharine Farmer

Katharine Farmer is currently directing the revival of Jerry Sterner’s play, Other People’s Money, which is running at the Southwark Playhouse. I caught up with Katharine to find out more about her latest project.

Can you tell me a little bit about Other People’s Money?
‘Other People’s Money’ is about the seduction of money and the lengths people go to get what they want. For some, morality doesn’t really come into it. Lawrence Garfinkle, a powerful Hedgefund Manager who makes his money by putting businesses out of business, has discovered that New England Wire and Cable is worth more dead than alive. He begins to buy shares of the company with the goal of a hostile takeover. His goal: to liquidate the company and make money from selling the company’s assets. But CEO Andrew Jorgenson wont let this happen. Jorgenson and Garfinkle become embroiled in a fight over the value of the company and the price of it’s stock. What occurs, is an important story about values, tradition and loyalty. ‘OPM’ is a surprisingly entertaining drama about how people are impacted by greed and the damage it can cause to your relationships and the ones you love.

How does the play differ from the film adaptation?
‘OPM’ was originally written to be a play and premiered off Broadway in ’89. It was later adapted into the film and starred Danny DeVito as the Wall Street tycoon, reimagined as Garfield. The film was a romantic-drama with the plot line developing further between Garfield and the lawyer Kate Sullivan, rather than focusing on the family like it does in the play. In the play we see Kate’s fraught relationship with her mother and Jorgy. Dealing with grief of her father and the pain caused by her mother’s new relationship, the play is a complex web of fragile relationships that all get thrown into chaos when Garfinkle decides to take over the company. Mother, daughter, romantic partner and business partner are all forced to confront whether values have their price.

What attracted you to directing the production?
Initially what attracted me to directing the production was the play’s comment on greed and materialism in the modern world. It felt rather apropos to the times and a way to keep the conversation going about how we treat others in the workplace. But when I interrogated the play further I was really caught by the family drama that sizzles underneath the hostile takeover and the miscommunications and betrayals that the characters are dealing with. I was taken by the fact it’s more than just a story about business, but one about people and aspirations.

How have the shows been going?
Because of the Easter weekend we ended up with seven previews, which was an amazing way to learn more about the show in-front of an audience. These preview performances went down really well and reinforced the comedic moments and emphasised the more poignant moments. The cast are now in their stride and are at a stage where they’re able to relax and have fun now! We’ve had a mixed audience of finance professionals and a more traditional theatre going audiences and it’s great to feel how audiences react differently to the dilemma presented in the play.

What can audiences expect from the production?
To become active spectators in a comedy-drama about the dangerous side of making money and the implications it has on everyone involved. The play asks audiences to confront what they’d do if they were in a similar position to the stockholders and who they’d support – the Wall St tycoon who’s deal could result in making them millions, or the CEO of the company in crisis who could save the jobs of 1,500 people. What unfolds however is a balanced and surprisingly entertaining look at both sides of the argument.

How do you think the story relates to today’s society?
Garfinkle has a great line that relates to the “me-first” mentality that seems to have become dominant in today’s thinking. He says “we’ve come from “Ask not what your country can do for you” to “What’s in it for me?” to “What’s in it for me – today!”. The play’s message about instant gratification is a cautionary tale about putting individual needs first and not considering the impact it has on the wider community who’ll be impacted by unemployment as a result.

What would you like the play to achieve?
I hope that the play tackles issues of mortality in the workplace head-on. Not just considering the morality behind the business deal itself, but also of the treatment of one another in the process. The play raises some problematic issues around misogyny and I hope audiences leave thinking about sexism and considering if things have changed for women in the workplace in the past 30 years.

Other People’s Money is running at the Southwark Playhouse until 11 May.

Photo credit: Craig Sugden

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