Monday 19 February 2018

Theatre: I 'picked' the best lines from Anglo Tapes and wove them into my script

Colin Murphy

On the night that Newbridge Credit Union was in the High Court, attempting to argue that it wasn't bust, I was in Newbridge with my play about bust banks. Guaranteed! is the true story of the bank guarantee; and, with Fishamble Theatre Company currently touring it, it's clear that the issue of guarantees is as live as ever. But the response to the play has changed, and that has been fascinating to watch.

We had a short initial run of the play in June. The day we opened, I turned on the radio in the morning to hear John Bowe uttering the immortal line that he "picked it out of my arse". As the cliche goes, you couldn't make it up.

In fact, I had made up an Anglo scene that was very similar in tone, but had then thrown it out: it had looked like a bit of gratuitous comedy in a play that was intended to be a serious, factual account of the crisis.

Suddenly, the tapes were demanding to be included in the play. The irony was that I had fought hard to make the play not about Anglo. My intention was not to diminish Anglo's role but to make more room for examining the roles of others: AIB, for example, which lost in the region of €20bn; and the Central Bank and Financial Regulator, who failed to spot what turned out to be one of the deepest holes in a banking system in history.

The tapes didn't change this story: they revealed nothing substantively new about how Anglo had operated. But they took such a hold of the public imagination (and the language was such a gift to writers), I realised it would seem absurd to leave them out altogether – and so I sought of ways to weave them in.

I had a scene where David Drumm asked the Financial Regulator for €7bn in emergency liquidity.

From the tapes, we had learnt what John Bowe thought of the calculations behind this figure.

So in the scene, I gave the Regulator a new response to Drumm's request: "Is that a precise figure, David? Where did you get it from?"

For a moment, the play became a silent pantomime. You could see the audience chorusing, in their heads, "he picked it out of his arse!" And then they roared laughing.

This time, I sought to weave in a little more of Drumm's now iconic language, phrases like "bolloxology" and "moolah".

The odd word here and there works as a reminder of this parallel story, and that's all it takes.

We don't need to see the tapes on stage.

What's intriguing, though, is that the Anglo Tapes aren't quite so funny any more. Because people were visibly angry that week, and had a very immediate image in their heads of some of the people behind the banking crisis, their response to the play was very audible: they snorted, groaned, and laughed. In anger, absurdities can seem more acute; and laughter can be an outlet for that anger.

A few months on, and the anger is still there, but simmering rather than boiling over. There was a sense this summer of a new urgency about a banking inquiry. Now, progress towards it seems to be glacial.

There is, thankfully, some economic optimism in the air, but there is also a sense of grim resignation that we haven't held anyone to account and that we haven't learnt anything.

At the Pavilion, Dún Laoghaire, during the post-show discussion, somebody asked if I would write my next play about the future instead of the past.

He was suggesting, I think, that it was time for some hope.

Maybe it's perverse, but I find delving into this murky, recent past to be a source of hope.

If we can understand it, we can hope never to repeat it.

Guaranteed! is at the Lime Tree, Limerick, tomorrow, and the Town Hall, Galway, on Monday. After that, it tours to Letterkenny, Smock Alley in Dublin, Tralee, Tallaght and Carrick-on-Shannon. See for details.

Irish Independent

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