Sunday 16 December 2018

You clever old goat

THE travelling showbands used to have a saying way back: "They say that Naas is a terrible place, And Newbridge is just as bad; Ballinasloe is no place to go -- but f**k me, Kinnegad."

It was taught to me many years ago by a musician, and it came to mind last week at the world premiere of The Great Goat Bubble -- a co-production between Fishamble and the Galway Arts Festival at Druid Lane Theatre, set on the railway platform at Ballinasloe.

It's a bleak spot (a spare, almost whimsical set by Sabine Dargent) on the day in 1986 when Charles Haughey stands in pomp and ceremony in Dublin's Docklands to inaugurate the IFSC, more impressively known as the Irish Financial Services Centre.

In Ballinasloe, Somali economist Dr Ibrahim Bihi is battling the exigencies of the Irish rail service in order to get to the ceremony on time when he bumps into potential fellow passenger Jude, an innocent abroad from the orphanage where he grew up, and about to set out to make his fortune in the wide world.

And Dr Bihi sets out to "educate" the boy in the ways of finance. Jude likes stories, so he tells him the story of how he, the doctor, became a billionaire back in Somaliland by way of a single goat, creating a culture of futures and electronic trading of goats that swept the world markets, producing hundreds of billionaires in a free market dedicated to the theories of Adam Smith (born 1723), the recognised father of capitalism.

The explanation is blindingly simple, exquisitely obvious, and overwhelmingly rewarding (the good doctor explains it a lot better than my economics lecturers at university), in all its tempting lures. The bubble created ends up "earning" 14 trillion dollars profit for the United Nations before it bursts in the "invisible" hand of Adam Smith.

This benefactor of mankind is, after all, far greater than those who believed in a controlled economy and regulation, such as Stalin and Mao, his theories allowed to triumph in Somaliland where there was no government to speak of, and therefore trade was not overburdened with regulation. Just as will be the case in Ireland under Charles J Haughey, Dr Bihi enthuses to his young acquaintance.

"Money is desire, power, everything," he points out. Except of course, that he hasn't got any anymore.

If all this sounds evilly funny, intelligent and accomplished, it's because it is. Julian Gough's play is a wild allegorical fable. Its satiric quality, though, is as chillingly, pedantically real as any Fianna Fail politician should blush to contemplate. And we could do with some of his impishness among certain governmental ladies and gentlemen of today in driving home the "firm purpose of amendment" that we all need.

The performances from Wil Johnson, as Bihi, and Ciaran O'Brien, as the wide-eyed Jude are as devastatingly pointed and accurate as the text -- which is saying something. Mikel Murfi directs with restrained aplomb. As they would have said in the best Celtic Tiger journals: go see.

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Ten minutes into Bruce Graham's The Outgoing Tide, the author has already stated his case to the moral jury, which will decide between the two main protagonists. It makes for a less than tension-filled couple of hours.

It's a production from the Chicago company Northlight Theatre, has won numerous awards in the city of its birth, and has come to the Town Hall Theatre at Galway Arts Festival, one must presume, mainly because it stars John Mahoney, who has a long association with the festival and is now its honorary patron. Because, to be honest, while it is an extremely competent and accomplished piece of stagecraft and production, the quintessential "well-made play", it's no more than that.

Its plotline explores one of the major contemporary sociological problems, the curse of Alzheimer's Disease; the disease may not be as apocalyptic as AIDS was in the Eighties, but it is nearly as dreaded, and is certainly already of immediate relevance to a far greater percentage of the population of the developed world than was AIDS.

Mahoney plays Gunner, a physically active retired man who has moved from Philadelphia to live permanently in his one-time holiday home at Chesapeake Bay. His wife Peg, a not-very practising Catholic still has triggers of Catholic guilt (the shame of "having" to get married still haunts her) and is bolshie enough to resent what his speedy descent into Alzheimer's is doing to them, and will continue to do.

She has the conventional solution, and enlists their son Jack to help her talk Gunner into residential care. The retirement home has proper couples' accommodation, and a swimming pool. Yup.

It also, of course, has a high-dependency unit, where vacant old men and women "in diapers" live out their vegetative lives, and Gunner is having none of it.

His idea is the obvious, possibly the only alternative, and the play concerns the family argument between letting nature take its vengeful course, and pre-empting undignified disintegration.

The script is well-observed, with flashes of tenderness of memory interspersed with the mundane irritations of a 50-year marriage; but it does not have the moral indignation to get under the skin of anyone's views. Either you believe it's wicked and cowardly to kill yourself no matter what horror faces you, or you believe that suicide can be a moral choice and is the ultimate civil liberty. The play will not sway you either way.

The performances are a smooth sum of talented professionalism from Mahoney, Rondi Reed as Peg, and Thomas J Cox as Jack. They're directed by Northlight's artistic director BJ Jones in a set by Brian Sidney Bembridge, lit by JR Lederle.

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