The world of high-level economics is no less mystifying after this one-man show by Jamie Griffiths, but he does at least shed some light on the individuals caught up in the financial system. Griffiths’ persona is that of a physics graduate turned investment banker, or “quant”. He lectures us “new recruits” on derivatives, leverage, and credit default swaps with vowels that are slightly too clipped and pronunciation that is slightly too received. This makes sense when the lights abruptly change and we see the human behind the banker – a lonely boy from Wales who dreams of changing the world. In any other context, he’d be a quaint figure, but this is business and quaintness is simply not profitable. Consequently, we see the two characters gradually merge, innocent ambition swallowed up by a money making machine.
The Quant is a gently fascinating window into another world and a show worth catching for anyone interested in the shadowy world of high capitalism.
Griffiths plays both parts well. His lecturing banker sneers in all the right places and explains economic principles to us with an amusing arrogance. His cautionary tales of previous traders who run foul of ‘risk’, in one form or another, are frequently engaging, eye opening and funny. On the other side of the coin, we see a desperate yet driven man who nearly makes us feel sorry for him – until you remember that he’s made his living gambling with billions of pounds of imaginary money – to potentially great human expense. The day-to-day life of Griffiths’ troubled trader is relatively unexciting – anyone expecting Wolf of Wall Street levels of debauchery will be severely disappointed – but that doesn’t stop the stakes from being intoxicatingly huge. In the end, both halves of the character become subservient to money and manipulation. As a result neither of them is especially likable. Whilst the show remains intellectually engaging (although the speed of the explanations mean that we’re left pretty much in the dark about the actual mechanics of the system) it can’t help but leave us feeling cold.
That said, there are more nice details here. As the lecturer, Griffiths wanders the auditorium, sitting in the audience and addressing us directly, all of which add to the seminar-like atmosphere. Otherwise, he performs in front of a projector screen showing a PowerPoint presentation, which works well as a visual accompaniment to his obtuse economic theories. Ultimately, The Quant is a gently fascinating window into another world and a show worth catching for anyone interested in the shadowy world of high capitalism.