Do you want to live the high life? It may seem like a daft question, particularly from a financial planner, but perhaps it is worth pondering a little longer. Most people’s instinctive reaction is to have more, not less. However in Britain we have an uneasy relationship with wealth. On the one hand we often celebrate the underdog and their success, yet quickly turn to mock error and flaw. I’m generalising of course and not speaking for everyone, perhaps anyone…(other than the British media) but I think that there is a phenomena within British media that quickly moves from praise to envy to criticism.
Any assessment of those that have significant fame and fortune will quickly reveal some common threads – feelings of isolation, mistrust and increased anxiety. The greater the wealth, the higher the gates. This isn’t particularly unique to Britain, as the story itself reveals.
We now have a new Government, which about 1 in 3 people voted for. I have clients with a wide range of views and am not about to make the mistake of upsetting anyone (I hope). We live in a democracy, an imperfect one, but a democracy never-the-less. It is tempting to reduce political ideology to a few descriptive words or even a single word. Compassion is one that has been mentioned of late.
So it is timely that an old musical returns to London at The Old Vic – High Society. You will recall the lead character (Tracy Lord) played in the 1956 film by Grace Kelly, is about to marry a man she doesn’t really love, she lost her true love (Dexter) and previous husband to alcoholism. Now reformed, he returns on the eve of his ex-wife’s marriage and we witness the warm charms, joys and dysfuntion of the Lord family and its desire to protect its own reputation (understandably) from the prying eyes of Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie who are reluctant undercover reporters caught in jobs to earn a living rather than following their passions of writing and photography. One might say that a lack of passion is the missing ingredient that all seek to fill through other means, yet it is a lack of compassion that prevents understanding one another, or indeed self. A sobering thought and one posed to Tracy.
Timed to Perfection?
The revised musical now resides at The Old Vic. Tickets are hard to come by which merely confirms the experience of some memorable melodies from Cole Porter and some very energetic, amazingly precise choreography and direction under the eye of Maria Friedman. The theatre is now in the round and Tom Pye makes quite brilliant use of a very small space with an impressive set. There are some remarkable performances, notably from Barbara Flynn, newcomer Ellie Bamber, Jamie Parker and Annabel Scholey. It is difficult for anyone to follow roles established by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby (Rupert Young) and Grace Kelly (Kate Fleetwood) which I imagine is an unenviable task for actors. Watch out too for Joe Stilgoe, clearly a “chip off the old block” in a role that will remind audiences of the great Richard Stilgoe, his father.
Time to Dazzle and Reflect
The show runs until 22nd August and watch out for a couple of dates, when audience are being encouraged to dress up appropriately (wedding attire I assume – though hats aren’t great in an auditorium). Being “in the round”, this enables some of the audience to be pretty “up close and personal” at the stage edge and whilst you may find yourself singing along to “Who wants to be a Millionaire” and “You’re Sensational” enjoying a thorougly entertaining evening, perhaps deeper reflections on the trappings of wealth without compassion may begin to stir.
Money and Power
Perhaps my age is showing, but it is only day 6 of the new year and I am already fed up with the election campaign. I ought to be celebrating our democracy and the opportunity to hear reasoned arguments, however inevitably we seem stuck in a cycle of who will tax or cut most, the prospect of genuine change and improvement for all seems rather unlikely with the inevitable tension around money and power.
In a more reflective moment, I remind myself that this is not a dictatorship and we at least get to vote and I don’t really think we are at the mercy of a despot who has anger issues and a twitching finger poised over an end-all button. This isn’t the case for millions of “voters” around the world who are marched off to vote for egomaniacs. This in mind, a relatively new musical to arrive via New York at the National Theatre “Here Lies Love” is based on a 2010 concept album of the same name, which gives musicals a nightclub injection. If you think that a nightclub is exclusively for the “young” perhaps think agains as, the creators Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook) is 51 and David Byrne is 62. The production has the flavour of community theatre, with the execution of high-end night club. A moving stage and audience, all combine to great effect and an entertaining, immersive experience.
This is the story of Imelda Marcos, her rise and fall from power. Byrne and Cook wanted to explore what makes powerful people behave the way they do. I’m not so sure that this was explored terribly well, whilst displaying a delusional, drugged up Imelda, she isn’t portrayed that badly – a little bit too vanilla in Manilla – little about her excessive flamboyancy and penchant for hundreds of shoes. The story is chronological, revealing the fragility of her marriage, her inability to cope with her rags to riches story and a familar narcissism of Heads of State that seem to believe that they “give their all to their people”.
The Price of Democracy
There was little in the musical that gave me reason to believe such behaviour was understood or how to spot it in others and take precautionary action…so no tips for our elections. The world seems to have done little during the period of martial law and assassination of the opposition including the shooting of Benigno Aquino on the steps of his ill-advised return flight to Manilla on 21 August 1983 (age 50) which you may remember. In the Philippines, the Marcos regime was eventually cast out by a peaceful protest, following a corrupt election (February 1986) against Aquino’s widow following which the public simply decided enough was enough. Marcos and his family took US advice and support then fled to Hawaii along with 24 suitcases of gold bullion and jewellery. Sadly for Imelda this took precedent over her 2,700 pairs of shoes. It is estimated that Marcos stole over $10billion from the country, much was invested into various family related businesses and Swiss accounts. The Swiss have so far returned about $684 million. So for me, this musical, whilst being entertaining does little to understand how and why power corrupts so absolutely. Indeed one might argue that the catchy tunes, flashing lights distract from the real story… but then, perhaps that’s the point.
Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
A timely new (2010) musical “Scottsboro Boys” has returned to London, currently playing at The Garrick off Leicester Square. It is the story of 9 black men… well youths really, aged 13-19. Who were in the wrong place (Alabama) at the wrong time (25 March 1931). You may know the story, which is also reminiscent of the Harper Lee novel “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. I didn’t know this particular story, but sadly it is all too familiar… a lynching and swift carriage of gross injustice. It is a depressing tale about stupidity, bigotry and racism in a world that one would hope was consigned to history, but is clearly alive and fuelled by the same misplaced and misinformed fears.
As you might imagine, its a provocative piece, which has some interesting ideas. The juxtaposition of black men playing white men (and women) in a parody of Minstrel Shows, further revealing how misguided and disrespectful such things were/are and culminating in a particularly disturbing “blacked up” segment. The creators draw on ideas from Cabaret and Chicago, using song and dance harmonies to hide but reveal the discord. A criticism I would have is that the show isn’t very energetic, rather “sedate” but then perhaps this is quite deliberate, given the restrictions of prison and a hot box… and the final scene of powerful protest.
The Truth Will Set You Free
This is not a hopeful story, in fact it wasn’t until 2013 that the Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley signed the Scottsboro Boys Act, which exonerated all nine of them. Today America, the “land of the free” is still a tinderbox with unresolved racial issues and it is little wonder that so many are concerned about what seems to be systemic racism, where it would still appear that white lives are worth more than black lives. Whilst it is now nearly 84 years since the original incident, I am left to reflect on a phrase that I use daily – tempus fugit. Time flies… well, whilst it certainly seems to, I guess in practice, it will be a matter of perspective. Whilst I enjoy freedom, without too much genuine concern that it could be curtailed, for those that live with daily prejudice and injustice, I doubt that time moves quickly at all… and if the current state of global politics is anything to measure, it would seem that attitudes certainly do not change quickly. A lifetime of injustice must make time “feel” rather different. A museum, which often acts like a time travelling device, is a reminder of the past, to their credit Alabama have opened a museum to this history. The hope that I take from this is that it takes a brave community to be honest about its past…as it does for us all. Truth is something that I uphold as a virtue and something I bring to my work with clients, but perhaps the greater truth is that truth sometimes takes a very long time to be exposed, sometimes too long is far too late and may not, in fact set you free.
Scottsboro Boys runs until 21 February 2015 at The Garrick, London.
Sadly there are many investment “opportunities” that are most definitely not in your best interests. Unfortunately these are not always easy to spot and it is important to have a good “fake detector” which is a polite way of putting things. Often, though not exclusively there will be a variety of investments that dress themselves up as one thing, when they are quite another. I don’t know the detail of the Icebreaker tax scandal involving members of Take That, but I suspect that they didn’t know what they were getting into… but someone did.
Too good to be true?
Invariably the sort of financial products that are prone to the excesses of the worst sort of marketing, are those that are fairly “exotic”. These often include Enterprise Investment Schemes, Venture Capital Trusts, Film Partnerships and Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes. That is not to suggest for a moment that all of these products are “duff” but clearly they need to be researched very carefully indeed.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Blink” which has received widespread coverage suggests that experts instinctively know when something is off. So it was with interest that I was at the very cosy Duchess Theatre last night to see Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid in Bakersfield Mist, which is currently still in previews. This is a Stephen Sachs story about authenticity and centres around determining whether a painting is a real Jackson Pollock or a fake, a mere $100m at stake. It is marvellously performed by two great actors and directed by Polly Teale. The set design by Tom Piper itself breathes authenticity. Many will have seen both actors in various films, I was lucky enough to see Ian McDiarmid many years ago in Bath, at my first Shakespeare live performance. Kathleen Turner returns to London following her highly acclaimed performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” You will be hard pressed to find two more authentic performances which are scheduled to run until 30th August and I would rate this highly.
As in the play, one of the questions posed is being clear about motives. When assessing investments, the main motivation for an investor is whether or not the investment being proposed is likely to assist you in achieving your goals. The investment itself may have different objectives, perhaps creating a gain for the investment management team and not the investor, this is where impartial advice is crucial, but of course you need to ensure that your adviser’s motives are aligned with yours, by having one that you trust, not to mention the relevant expertise. So how is your fake detector?
Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA