The bank guarantee: a farce restaged as a tragedy
Colin Murphy’s play of the events leading up to the 2008 bank guarantee contains the tensions of his dual identities as journalist and dramatist, and a new run introduces the coarse voices of the Anglo tapes
Mark Lambert and Peter Daly in Guaranteed!
‘In the course of my journalistic work, I found no smoking gun. Look for the most simple answer. It’s likely to be it.’ Photograph: Fergal Ward
It is a sunny Saturday in late September 2008, and the chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank is nervous.
In the preceding months, the global financial crisis has spiralled out of control: Northern Rock has been nationalised, Bear Stearns wiped off the map, Lehman Brothers bankrupted, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG have been nationalised. Now, after years of astonishing growth, Anglo is on the ropes. The share price has plummeted, hedge funds are circling the overvalued company like vultures, and the commercial bank is losing €1 billion a day in deposits.
David Drumm has arranged an emergency meeting with the Financial Regulator to ask for an emergency credit line. He needs €7 billion. “Where did you get that figure from?” the regulator asks. Drumm pauses. “I had a team working on the numbers.”
This is a scene from Colin Murphy’s Guaranteed!, a lucid and even-handed account of the events leading up to the fateful 2008 bank guarantee, which – speaking of fate – was first performed on the same day the Anglo Tapes emerged. An invented scene, based on fact, it naturally became one of the funniest and most galling moments of the play as the audience heard another answer still echoing from the day’s news: “Just as Drummer would say, ‘I picked it out of my arse’.”
Murphy’s play is diligently researched and cautiously imagined, and prefers to avoid cheap laughs and pot shots, seeking neither to rouse the rabble nor to vilify. Instead, Murphy wants to understand how it had all happened. The shock of the news, though, which his play absorbed, was that you really couldn’t make it up.
In many ways that discrepancy sums up the tensions between Murphy’s approach as a journalist and a dramatist. His play began as something more slanted; a four-minute satirical sketch for Fishamble’s Tiny Plays For Ireland in which the bank guarantee was ultimately decided with the toss of a coin.
Farce remade as tragedy
For this version Murphy has reworked his farce as a tragedy, relying on official transcripts of public events, books and investigative reports by other journalists, and off-the-record interviews with sources close to the events. The resulting piece, which begins with a careful disclaimer stating which elements are real and which are fictionalised, is a sober and swift chronology with a wide scope of inquiry of four years leading towards calamity.
The journalist’s credo – comments are free but facts are sacred – could underpin its writing, to the extent that one might anticipate Murphy’s reluctance towards discussing his feelings about the bank guarantee. It’s nothing personal.
He considers the question for a while. “You’re right, I’m not wildly keen talking about it. It’s an absolutely valid question . . . I don’t know any more. It’s gotten increasingly difficult for me to separate fact from fiction.”