The feel of Guaranteed was summed up by a woman leaving the theatre just in front of me: ‘Oh I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it. But it was fantastic!’ As political theatre, using the actual words spoken wherever possible; Guaranteed could not be described as entertainment: nothing involving the Department of Finance (particularly in 2008) could be. But the play’s presentation of the run up to the bank guarantee is nonetheless enthralling. Moments of humour come with a sense of disbelief, as Mark Lambert’s departing head of Anglo announces ‘The real thing in life’s not to be bright, but to be lucky’; or as Ali White admits that ‘Out by a bit’ actually means ‘Out by a Billion’. It’s funny because it’s true, just as it’s appalling because it’s true. As writer Colin Murphy explains in the show’s programme: ‘It is not the whole truth, and it is not always the literal truth … but it aims to capture the essence of real events.’
The factual basis of Guaranteed is constantly emphasised in this stripped-back production. The staging is beautifully simple, with scene changes marked only by the positioning of furniture, and a screen announcing the date and location; and the only ‘decoration’ comes from the cardboard boxes propping up some of the source material.
Reminding us further, each new character is identified, and the actors read from scripts; reinforcing how these are someone else’s words. Most of the time this is used to great effect, evoking the political speeches, and endless financial reports surrounding the characters; but there were times when Darragh Kelly in particular seemed to hide behind the script, rather than using it as a prop.
However, these brief moments only stood out in contrast to an otherwise confident ensemble cast: Peter Hanly’s Minister for Finance was beautifully precarious, particularly in his outburst toward the reporter; and a special mention must be given to Peter Daly, who moved seamlessly between characters, and seemed to enjoy himself in a way that really took the audience along for the ride. The challenge of presenting real events must be in catering to an audience with different levels of prior knowledge: A viewer who isn’t aware of the events presented and their consequences might struggle to keep up, but if you followed the gory details as they happened, then this portrayal may not necessarily tell you anything new. However, moments like the Department of Finance deciding the country’s fate by moving polystyrene cups around the table with a call of: ‘There are no wrong answers’ must be seen to be believed. I may not want every play to be in this style, but I’m certainly glad that this one was. Guaranteed is nearing the end of its tour, but if you have the opportunity I’d urge you to see it.
Guaranteed is on at 8pm in the Civic Theatre, Tallaght until November 27th
The Dock, Carrick on Shannon on the 28th and 29th
Review by Emily Elphinstone