The least worst option?
Colin Murphy’s new docudrama on the 2008 bank guarantee performs the role of a public inquiry
Peter Daly in Fishamble’s Guaranteed!
It’s hard to say whether the emergence this week of the Anglo tapes helps or hurts Colin Murphy’s detailed docudrama about the 2008 bank guarantee. The €64.1 billion guarantee has proven a catastrophe of such seismic significance we still feel its shockwaves, yet the tapes returned the subject to headline news. The challenge they pose to Fishamble’s earnest production is not in what they say, but how they say it, where misleading figures have been picked “out of my arse” or losses jocularly dismised as “another day, another billion”.
Nobody speaks anywhere as bluntly, contemptuously or cynically in Murphy’s text, which depicts public events and private meetings by combining meticulous research and cautious invention. Developed from a comic sketch, this version takes its events and players seriously, yet contains little human voice.
Partly that’s to do with Murphy’s scrupulous attention to the bigger picture, which allows for neither protagonists nor villains. Director Conall Morrison responds with a rough-hewn production, as though urgently assembled, where five cast members play a vast gallery of bankers, politicians, advisers and newsreaders. They cover a lot of familiar ground along a chronological summary of the global financial crisis: from a febrile Anglo during the bubble economy (“That’s the great revolution. We have democratised money”), to ensuing liquidity crises, the collapse of property values and US banking giants, the plummeting of Anglo’s share price, EU worries about letting any bank fail, and, finally, the long night of deliberation, panic and exhaustion on September 29th, 2008.
Murphy, a critic, journalist and documentary maker, never writes with outrage: even Brian Cowen’s portrait (wickedly mimicked by Darragh Kelly), singing at sports-centre openings while the crisis burns, is more sad than mocking. Instead, this is an effort to understand all that happened – for which post-show panels are an essential part of the experience – as though substituting for our long-delayed public inquiry.
To understand all is to forgive all, and some may find it disconcerting that the guarantee comes across as the “least worst” option available at the time. With the weary clarity of hindsight, though, one scene stands out sharply as the Department of Finance considers its options, representing the six Irish banks with polystyrene cups. On the night of my viewing, someone set Anglo aside, popped a pen into it and the cup collapsed completely without further mention. If only...
Guaranteed! is at Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, tonight, Garter Lane Arts Centre, Waterford tomorrow and Civic Theatre, Tallaght Jul 1-2