Fishambles’ “Guaranteed!”, written by Colin Murphy, telling the partly-fictionalised (although ringing true) story of the run up and night of the 2008 bank guarantee, is both informative and entertaining.
Watching it, I was struck by the atmosphere of the audience, who reacted to certain events and statements within the play in a way that a non-Irish audience would, I suspect, never grasp. For example, during the run up to the night, Murphy has his cast, in a wide range of real and imagined roles, read out actual public statements on events (such as “the fundamentals of the economy remain sound”), which on paper sound perfectly reasonable, but in an Irish context cause the audience almost to sneer.
The 2007 election, where the parties compete in an ever spiralling race to promise greater spending increases and bigger tax cuts, when looked at in this context and within the play, comes across as surreal, yet during the election itself was regarded by most people as perfectly reasonable. During the build up to the crisis, Murphy injects Brian Cowen in a series of comical scenes either singing in public or opening things in his constituency. There is a Nero fiddling air to it, yet one can’t help remembering that certainly the people voting for him (and most Irish TDs) were far more motivated by that sort of activity than the careful surveillance of our financial system.
As it happens, I personally felt that Cowen and Lenihan, and indeed even the Central Bank and the Regulator, come out of the story far better than you’d expect. As the options are laid out to the two politicians, every one of them comes with almost horrific side-effects. Faced with time running out, a serious chance of ATMs actually running out of money, both men come to the dawning. realisation that we are in fact a tiny insignificant nation afloat in a vast global financial system. For all the talk of the EU having too much power, the problem on the night is that Europe is (deliberately) just not integrated enough to deal collectively with the crisis, leaving pretty much every man for himself.
The other eye-catching nugget is how irrelevant our political system is, with the rest of the cabinet reduced to being rung by a civil servant and asked how they vote on a plan that could potentially burden the Irish people with a half-a-trillion euro liability. Sadly, watching the scene, you can’t help thinking it would not have made any difference if any more of the sort of people who make up the Irish political system were in the room or not. Christine Lagarde they weren’t.
Where Murphy really succeeds is in that difficult Sorkinesque task of taking a mass of very complex material and turning it into an engaging narrative.
Banking Inquiry? I’d give Colin Murphy an Arts Council grant and access to the DPP’s files. We’d get a much better return for our money. You can check it out here.