HOW TO BUILD A SUPERTOWER BBC Sounds/BBC Radio 4
How to Build a Supertower, the latest play (2019) by acclaimed playwright Paul Sellar, is presented in four parts on BBC Radio 4, each approximately 45 minutes and directed separately by Jessica Dromgoole, Jonquil Panting and Sasha Yevtushenko. A drama centering on the raising of an iconic new London Skyscraper (The Hourglass) in the City of London's Lombard Street, to stand as a symbol of strength and power in times of uncertainty. This is an underworld thriller about greed, fear and fraud, where outward appearances count for everything but where assured investment is essential and success rests on key connections. Prophetically, the higher you build, the further you fall!

Mirroring the complexities of the four stage development of London's Gherkin and the high rise debate of London's skyline, the Hourglass is a building heavily criticised for marring the London landscape, for its countless health and safety problems, its reliance on high-powered commercial and residential investment and considered an architectural folly that overspent and over borrowed in times of uncertainty.

Self made tycoon, Max Silver (portrayed superbly by Robert Glenister) is inspired by The Shard and The Gherkin and wants a slice of the architectural London landscape. He must rely on his streetwise know how and ruthless deal making to achieve financial victory in his battle to make a tidy profit as well as to secure a safe future for his family. Foremost a businessman but up there with his priorities are his wife, daughter and brother.

It is Max who must make the decisions, Max who must take the risks and the weight of this burden shapes his every waking moment. He is well connected and will call on his contacts to rescue the business from the brink of catastrophe. But problems are relentless and against the avalanche of those who would seek his downfall, those who put obstacles in his path, those who fabricate the reality for their own gain and those who seek revenge for past deeds, we share the turmoil of Silver's mind. 

Breaking the fourth wall, Glenister draws us into the character of this tycoon, sharing with us the minutiae of the project, intensely researched by Sellar, so that we might gain insight and understanding into his wheeling and dealing. As patriarch of a family who are so reliant on him, from daughter Zara (Katherine Press), wife Carol (Catherine Cusack) and brother Teddy (Sean Baker), he will take them under his wing and bring them into his dynasty. The central lynchpin, all depend on him. With more juggling than a circus performer, Max must keep the balls spinning and up in the air. At each step forward, there is a potential setback and shortcuts will cause disaster, as we know from recent experience in London's high rise towers.

His iconic new skyscraper, the London Hourglass, has passed through the stages of design but investment is lacking security. Finance must be top dollar but his international investors own reputations which are somewhat murky. Will ambitious politicians put the brakes on; will fabricated journalism sacrifice his success for the sake of newspaper sales; will Max be beaten? More than a challenge, this exciting new building represents power but at a high personal cost. Sources must be chosen with care, collecting only those which can be trusted and avoiding others who delight in deception. Surprisingly moral in some respects, overtly ruthless in others, Sellar has created a character in whom we can empathise and that must be attributed to his skills and artistry.

Max is engaged in a fight of complexity where seemingly impossible challenges pop up at every turn. Political intrigue, constant opposition, resentment payback (Paul Hickey), building problems, cloak and dagger, international reputation and, of course, an economic downturn - a fair sized melting pot that gathers ingredients as the play progresses.

Is the London Hourglass another Gherkin, accused by many as a magnet for trouble, public scandal, corruption, a white elephant, a symbol of private failure and hubris, a political folly or, conversely, is it a piece of magnificent architecture with a bad financial deal attached to it?

Deserving of the accolade accorded to him as an innovative playwright, Sellar has achieved a play of international intrigue, business corruption and credibility with a cast who engage fully.

Sure, be well connected, gain funds from those whose own successes will attract the confidence of future investment but be careful to ensure damage limitation, which is nigh on impossible. An economic downturn or unforeseen circumstances can, as we all know, bring the whole pack of cards tumbling into a scattered heap of confusion. No such thing as loyalty here, each man for himself. 

The art of the deal is knowing when to give in and Max is fully aware of that fact. He will seek ways to keep his business out of administration, settle old scores, remove enemies, make his own deals and safeguard those dearest to him, whatever the cost.

And did he achieve this? Ah, that is for you to find out, no spoilers here. Having tuned into the first episode, I was hooked and was impelled to go straight on to episode 2, and from there both 3 and 4. It was compelling - no mean feat for a three hour radio drama. A stellar cast coupled with dramatist Sellar's insight and play construction, portraying reality with its twists and turns, is no less an achievement than the building of the Supertower itself.

Catch it on BBC Radio 4 (first aired in 2019)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00082dj