Irish musical satirises bank collapse

Published Nov 11, 2012 08:01pm

WHILE the Greeks trash their banks in rage against austerity, the Irish, it seems, are happier to laugh off their troubles by writing musicals about their busted financial institutions.

The story of the bank that almost bankrupted Ireland is about to be retold as a stage show, with the villains of the piece — from greedy bankers to politicians such as the former taoiseach Bertie Ahern — played by puppets. Or, according to its writer Paul Howard, could that be muppets?

Anglo: the Musical, opening at Dublin’s Bord Gais theatre, recounts through songs and drama how the Anglo Irish Bank fuelled the property boom and then collapsed, costing the Irish taxpayer up to 30 billion euros to date.

“There is a lot of doom and gloom out there,” said the co-producer Donal Shields. “So the idea of the show is to try and put on some form of entertainment, and spread some sort of happiness in the situation that we are in. We are not trying to trivialise it but at the same time it’s still an opportunity to laugh about it all.”

Shields accepted that the Irish appeared more inclined to send up their grim fiscal situation than go out and riot.

“We have a great history of satirists, going back to Jonathan Swift, and we like to send ourselves up. It’s in all of us. We have this ability not to take ourselves too seriously,” he said, as young men and women passed by with their hands up the insides of Enda Kenny, Brian Cowen and Angela Merkel dolls.

Howard was forced to make late changes to his script and score for legal reasons. He wrote the original version in March, before the arrest and charging of key figures in Anglo Irish such as its former chief executive Sean Fitzpatrick, whose characters had to be taken out of the show.

“I never thought I’d be writing a musical about a bank but the producers came to me with the idea,” Howard said. “Anglo Irish Bank is after all the biggest episode in our country’s history since independence…. it was a huge challenge to mine the laughs out of all that.”

The storyline revolves around a young Irish couple living on the fictional island of Innisdail, off the Irish Atlantic seaboard. Set initially in the time of the Celtic Tiger boom, Anglo Irish arrives on the island and offers the pair an 890 million euros loan to develop their home. The subsequent property crash leaves the couple — and the rest of the island, and indeed the whole state — bankrupt and near destitute.

Among the songs is Put Another Nought on the End — He’s a Friend. The use of puppets in the production raises the question of who was pulling whose strings during the boom years in Ireland — the politicians or the builders and bankers.

Asked whether he envisaged writing a musical about global financial scandals such as the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Howard said: “No, something closer to home. The rise and fall of Sean Quinn. Call it Quinnasty!” — The Guardian, London

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