Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fishamble, 'Guaranteed!': A Boardroom of One's Own

Photo: Pat Redmond
Civic Theatre, Tallaght
Jul 1-2

My review of Guaranteed! by Colin Murphy coming up just as soon as I ask for another latte ...

Anglo executives John Bowe and Peter Fitzgerald had us nearly taking a blowtorch to our ears last week when the infamous 'Anglo Tapes' leaked a phone conversation between the petulant-sounding frat boys, suggesting that they gravely misled the Central Bank about the funding required to stabilise their bank.

For journalist-turned-playwright Colin Murphy, the timing couldn't have been better.

Born out of Fishamble's Tiny Plays for Ireland showcase, this performed reading of Guaranteed! began its tour last week, coinciding with the tapes' release. It opens with a disclaimer: a play based on true events that does not always relay the literal truth. Scenes where characters speak in public are transcribed from recordings. Scenes where they speak in private receive a dramatisation inspired by witness accounts. Ultimately, a timely, informed and acute portrait forms that relays events leading to the momentous night of September 29th 2008 - the night of the bank guarantee.

Taking us from prestigious ceremonies announcing industry awards to Anglo Irish Bank, to the strategy meetings of a hedge fund in London sniffing around for another Northern Rock, Murphy's narrative, infused with extracts from politicians' speeches and news reports, finally arrives at the pivotal scenes in the Departments of Finance and the Taoiseach. It's the story of how one little bank brought an entire financial system to the brink of destruction.

An exceptionally sharp cast dressed like professionals, wielding scripts like official documents, busy themselves around the stage, flipping scenes under Conall Morrison's sweeping direction. Murphy's script can be cutting satire, especially with Darragh Kelly's portrayal of a fumbling Brian Cowen, who during the growing crisis in September 2008 is seen prioritising his time to the official openings of handball alleys and childcare stores in his homeland of Offaly.

The play also contains an element of media criticism. Peter Hanly's portrayal of a Brian Lenihan constantly on the defensive explodes when a reporter asks him what would happen if the guarantee doesn't work. While it's a perfectly fair question, we also see the desperate need for the media to perform sensitively and not superficially in such a delicate time.

And Guaranteed! does ask all the right questions. Caitríona Ní Mhurchú is one searingly intelligent voice as an advisor during the eleventh hour discussions on the night of the guarantee, and proposes the possibility of cutting off Anglo, containing the damage, and saving the other banks. It's a question we've all been asking ourselves.

Of course, when Peter Daly's David Drumm comes to the Governor of the Central Bank with the figure of seven billion to save Anglo, it raises more than a light laugh from the crowd. Similarly, whenever the pension reserves are brought up as a possible source of government funds it elicits a sigh of disgust.

It's political theatre with sharp resonance. It may have took a while but somebody's finally writing about the money. The dramatist can lead us behind the shut doors, into the secret boardrooms, to the negotiations that we have been duped from seeing. That we are entitled to see.

What did everybody else think?

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