The story of DeLorean is a big one. In the 1970's, former General Motors Vice President John DeLorean used vast sums of taxpayers' money to set up a factory in Belfast to build a stainless steel gull wing sports car. It's now iconic thanks to the Back to the Future movies, but the venture failed spectacularly in the early 80's, amid drug busts and massive job losses. Unfortunately, this production never gets to grips with the story it is telling.
it opens with three former DeLorean executives discussing the project, and it does succeed in portraying the macho environment of the business. We witness the bragging and alpha-male behaviour of the protagonists, and the vicious misogyny in their treatment of DeLorean’s PA, Marion Gibson. She's given steely resolve here by Victoria Otter, fitting for someone who walked out on DeLorean and handed over copies of all his documentation to her MP and the press.
Later, the action is primarily moved along by journalist and DeLorean communications director Bill Haddad. Mark Barrett tries to bring some humanity to the role, but the script gets bogged down in exposition, seemingly detailing every single financial transaction. The process of deciding where to build the factory seems interminable; Detroit, Spain, Puerto Rico, the Republic of Ireland, Puerto Rico again, Northern Ireland – it demonstrates DeLorean’s cavalier attitude and ruthlessness, but eats up so much of the play.
John DeLorean himself is played with style by Cory Peterson, suave and confident, full of huckster attitude and over-promising with a dreamer’s fatal confidence. But like so much else good about the production he is overwhelmed by detail, as the meatier themes are skirted over.
This is a big production, but handles big issues clumsily. For example, the backdrops are strikingly green, white and orange, the unmistakable tricolour of the Republic of Ireland. Yet this was very much a Northern Ireland story. The chairs are red, white and blue, so perhaps this is this a nod to DeLorean’s attempt to pull in opposing traditions – but lip service is paid to that aspect of the story.
At the end, the three execs discuss what the real story is. They can’t agree, and that symbolizes this production. It never decides on the story it wants to tell: is it John DeLorean, villain or visionary? Or Marion Gibson, the overlooked whistleblower? Or £17m of untraced money that disappeared in a deal between DeLorean and a legendary car designer? Or is it about Northern Ireland gaining hope or being exploited? The list of subjects touched on – but not properly addressed – goes on and on.
In the end, too much documentary faithfulness gets in the way of telling the story. We end up knowing far too much about the financial chicanery and not enough about the human stories. Interestingly, the programme states that this is a condensed version of what will become a longer play; hopefully that will find the space to get into the stories that need to be told.