Saturday 24 March 2018

Story of how Ireland was 'Bailed Out' takes to stage

REHEARSALS: Director Conall Morrison at the first read through of the new play ‘Bailed Out!’ by Colin Murphy
REHEARSALS: Director Conall Morrison at the first read through of the new play ‘Bailed Out!’ by Colin Murphy
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

It was late November 2010, and the then doomed Taoiseach Brian Cowen called an emergency meeting on a bitterly cold, snowy evening.

Ministers travelled from all over the country to gather to formally sign off on Ireland's application for a Troika bail out and realise the country's humiliation.

In a classic example of pathetic fallacy, the treacherous conditions outside mirrored the dark mood in the Cabinet room and the country as a whole.

Indeed, the then attorney general, Paul Gallagher, slipped on the icy steps on his way in and fell hard, injuring himself.

Just two days later, the then finance minister would sit alone in the airport a broken man. Looking at the snow outside, he said it was "like hell was at the gates".

"This is terrible. No Irish minister has ever had to do this before," Brian Lenihan said in his last major interview before his death.

It was a dark, dark episode in the country's recent narrative and it is to be revived in dramatic form by a new play by the journalist Colin Murphy.

Murphy was the author of the highly successful Fishamble play Guaranteed, and that success spurred him into writing the sequel.

Recently, in Dublin, the play got its first read through by the actors who will shortly bring it alive on the stage of the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire. "There were many late nights to get it here," Murphy said.

Cast members Denis Conway, Peter Daly, Peter Hanly, Mark Lambert, Ali White Murphy and director Conall Morrison took their places at a table in the centre of a fabulous and grand old room in a Georgian house on Great Denmark Street and greeted their demanding scripts for the first time.

We observers sat on the edges of the room for almost two hours as we were swept along and gripped by the telling of the story of Ireland's sorrowful demise.

While only a read through, those of us lucky enough to be in attendance got to witness the skill of Murphy, who has, with some success, managed to capture the drama, farce and tragedy of that era, which to my mind still haunts the public psyche to this day.

Based on official accounts and off-the-record interviews, Murphy's creation will see the cast in a stripped-back production, attempt to embody a myriad of national and international figures as they wrestle with the crisis.

The five cast members take on several roles and characters each and, to their credit, they managed to overcome any potential confusion with aplomb. But the most striking aspect of Murphy's script is the politics of the country's downfall. He has managed to give a fresh insight to the kind of discussions that took place away from journalists' microphones or television studios. But he also cuts to the core of the dysfunctional relationship that existed at times between Cowen and Lenihan.

That relationship at the top of government became so toxic toward the end, with Lenihan under constant pressure to move against his leader, only for him to pull back at the last minute on several occasions.

The story also details how Cowen lost the confidence of his own party and the country, particularly in late 2010.

As it covers the period from the 2008 guarantee to 2011 when the new Government took over the reins of the country, Murphy's Bailed Out! will cover every tragic milestone along the way during that two-and-a-half-year period, from the creation of Nama to Lenihan's cancer diagnosis.

The play was co-commissioned by Fishamble and the Pavilion Theatre and will run as part of this year's Dublin Theatre Festival. It is due to run until October 4.

Daniel McConnell is co-author of an upcoming Mercier Press book on the Cowen government and the bail out.

Sunday Independent

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