Runny for Money: a weird name for an off-beat, shaky, but funny and rewarding show. A one-woman character piece from journalist-turned-actor Angela Yeoh, it takes the form of a seminar hosted by a "famous" Chinese businesswoman called Manyi – who appears on stage resplendent in fur coat, the very image of nouveau-riche consumerism. There's plenty of audience participation and a few economic lessons, as Manyi lurches from lecture to games to live-streamed TV show.
Manyi makes an interesting and bold choice of character. She's recognisably a parody – but she's a parody of a Chinese self-help guru, something few of us in the West have ever actually seen. It's disconcerting at first, but over the course of the hour I came to accept and then embrace her, along with her strange mix of showiness, imperiousness and charm.
About half of Yeoh's material worked for me, which isn't a bad ratio for a show that's still quite raw. When it works, it really works; an early discourse on egg production explodes into physical mayhem, conjuring a remarkable amount of comedy chaos from an apparently-straightforward idea. Yeoh's improvised responses to questions from the audience are always on the money too – she fishes a little too hard for interaction, but she's never wrong-footed by it when it comes.
The script is informative as well as entertaining, particularly on the topic of enterprise in China (a subject which Yeoh, a former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, is eminently qualified to talk about). Without ever interrupting the humorous flow, Yeoh subtly dispels some outdated expectations about Chinese policy – and even explores some complex economic theory through the medium of paper money and finger-puppets.
But she falls, I think, a touch below her stated intent of posing hard questions; the stories she tells come across more as anecdotes than as things we should be angry or ashamed about. An early device to split the audience into rich and poor works well, but it's largely just the set-up for a couple of (excellent) jokes. Perhaps there's an opportunity to do more with that concept, to build some tension and discomfort in the room.
Still, my main criticism of Runny For Money is simply that it's faltering – uneven and sometimes hesitant, visibly not quite the finished product. I'm sure it'll tighten up as time goes on, and if Yeoh can raise the whole show to the level of the best bits, then there's huge potential here. For now, it's an eccentric and unexpectedly likeable show; not yet a market leader, but worthy of investment of your time.