Greed, the profit motive and the economic maelstrom they can unleash are in the spotlight at France's Avignon theatre festival with a reworked classic and two new plays exploring the theme.
The repertoire at the southern fest ranges from Henrik Ibsen's "Enemy of the People" to the contemporary "15 percent" by Bruno Meyssat, based on interviews with a real-life traders, economists and victims of the 2008 US subprime crisis.
Germany's Nicolas Stemann also has a new offering: "The Merchant's Contracts. An Economic Comedy", based on a text by Nobel prize-winning Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, whose works are laced with social criticism.
Fellow German Thomas Ostermeier told AFP he reworked four-fifths of Ibsen's 1882 play to reflect contemporary times and question the "power of truth in a hyper-financial society" where profit is the dominant motive.
His play, which runs for a week until July 25, shows society's leaders in a poor light -- powerless puppets overshadowed by the power of big finance.
"The politicians in this play all speak of democracy but the real decisions are not taken by the people," he told AFP. "We face a fundamental question today over how we carry on with a system which is deep down diabolical."
Ibsen's play revolves around the efforts of a brave doctor who exposes the contamination of the local water supply by waste generated by a tannery in a small town in Norway.
Standing alone against politicians, journalists, shopkeepers, he becomes "an enemy of the people", in a play that explores the twin issues of mass hysteria and political corruption.
After finishing the play, Ibsen wrote to his Copenhagen publisher that he was uncertain "whether i should call it a comedy or a drama."
The financial world's clout is certainly no laughing matter for France's Meyssat who focuses on the mortgage-backed US securities market, whose implosion from 2008 has fuelled years of global turmoil.
His troupe headed to the United States to interview people whose lives were turned upside-down, as well as experts and bankers, working in visual elements from the world of finance and soundbites by political and economic leaders.
"We were working from pretty dry raw material," said Meyssat, who left his actors free to improvise to express the underlying emotions in the play, which runs from July 19-26.
The title's "15 percent" refers to the minimum return on investment demanded by pension funds to take a stake in a company. Anything lower, and firms will come under pressure to lay off workers.
"The world of finance loves to say that it is extremely scientific and dependable, but the economists we spoke to say it runs largely on impulses, as well as being an ideological game," Meyssat argued.
Likewise Stemann skewers the financial system by creating a "farce" out of a "tragedy", in a play written a few months before the US subprime crisis based on Jelinek's writings forecasting the meltdown.
"We think the monetary system is rational because it relies on figures," he said. "But without confidence it falls apart."
His "Merchant's Contract", which runs from July 21 to 26, is directed "live" by Stemann, and is left open to constant small changes.
Two choruses -- of small and big shareholders -- conjure the spirit of Greek tragedy, in a performance part reading, part concert, part TV show and part corporate meeting.
Iconoclastic subjects have always been a feature of the French festival, founded by the actor and director Jean Vilar in 1947 when he was invited to present his hugely successful version of T.S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral" in the Papal Palace in Avignon.
Other themes spotlighted this year include political violence and environmental hazards.
Source: AFP Global Edition