Anglo: The Musical
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre **
Taking its lead from Avenue Q, this satirical musical by Paul Howard has puppets at the heart of its parodic narrative of recent events in Irish history. The oversized marionettes bear exaggerated features and are used to animate the villains of the piece: the Anglo Boys and their female entourage.
The natural result is to dehumanise them, but also, curiously, to exonerate them of responsibility: their folly and arrogance is unreal, yes, but to what extent are their strings being pulled by someone else?
Anglo: The Musical charts the last days of the economic boom, as the “the bank that won’t say no” makes its final, fatal gamble: they invest in a diamond mine in Roscommon and open a branch in Inis Dull, the last bastion of pre-modernity in Ireland, “where the roads are bad and so is the dentistry”. As Anglo moves in, some of the locals get carried away, while others maintain the moral high ground, waiting for the inevitable crash. A love story between two innocents caught up in the madness anchors the action with an emotional heart.
The plot is moved along with jazzy musical numbers such as Property Porn, There is Nothing Wrong With Bacon and Cabbage, and I Hate to Say I Told You but I Did, composed by Tony O’Sullivan and Dave McCune. The narrative, however, is inevitably unsatisfying; we all know the real villains – the symbolic Mephistophelean head banker Rich (Mark O’Regan) and his valet Bertie (David O’Meara) – get away with it.
Maree Kearns’s set is dominated by those iconic doors but director Michael Barker-Caven fails to use it effectively in a very uneven production. There are a few good vocal performances, from the un-puppeted Aisling, played by Stephanie McKeon, and Kathy Rose O’Brien, who also most successfully animates her alter-ego Fuschia. For the most part, however, the puppets obstruct the actors, interfere with audibility and diction, and render the ensemble numbers in particular incomprehensible and make choreography impossible.
Howard’s writing is always sharp and he has fun in particular crafting lyrics from material absurdities: what to rhyme with gravlax, indeed? Despite some well-publicised legal interventions, the satire remains pointed, and there is a definite pleasure in recognising familiar faces – some named, some indicated only by visual cues – amid the cartoonish grotesquery.
However, there is nothing too politically dangerous about Anglo: The Musical, and the lampooning of contemporary events already feels dated: a case of preaching to the converted.
Runs until November 25