Anglo The Musical

October 28, 2013

Speaking about Anglo: The Musical in his column earlier this week Fintan O’Toole said that ‘there are, in our present state, much worse things to do to audiences than agitate them’. Yes, you can bore them. Which is how I felt watching Paul Howard’s parodic puppet fable at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Aside from the lax singing and non-existent choreography (the trade mark of the form in Ireland) the whole thing simply wasn’t stage ready. On a technical, performative or satiric level.

It’s the last days of the Celtic Tiger and financial whizz kid Jimmy (Sheehy) has been sent to the ‘debt poor’ Inis Dull to open a branch of the bank that can’t say no. Pretty soon the islanders are losing their shit, borrowing beyond their means to keep up with the Joneses- envisioned here as a pair of gold digging tarts, the model Fuchsia (O’Brien) and estate agent Collagen (Sexton). And as the island rapidly develops from our postcard past to our more recent boom, Killian Watters smart video tracks the changes as Inis Dull gets nipped, tucked and sucked of its rural charm.

We jump back and forth between head office – where a chorus of Anglo Boys are showered in German cash, and this homestead come hovel, where the culture of excess takes its toll on the shows emotional core, the non puppet Diarmuid (Moy) and Aisling (McKeon). He bathes in this summer sun that shines on the once poor people. She smells a rat. And so the emotional journey taken by characters in both Bookworms and That Was Then is taken again, though this time far less engagingly.

When the shit we’ve long been stewing in finally catches up to the characters on the stage there are some laughs of recognition to be had at real life characters in puppet form. From a drunken Biffo to an absconding Bertie (who both play valet to Mark O Regan’s Rich, the head of Anglo) their is Enda, a literal lap dog, firmly on the leash of Angela Merkel and David McWilliams, freed from the closet to sing ‘I Hate to Say I Told You, But I Did’.

As seen in the snappy titles of his Ross O’Caroll Kelly books, Howard is good with a pun and broad caricature. But unlike his excellent script for Between Foxrock and a Hard Place, there aren’t any memorable zingers here. What he does is use the well-known facts of the financial crisis as punch lines without giving us any new insights or understanding of how we got where we are today. It’s just a series of general sweeping statements whose sentiment is watered down by the method of their delivery, the puppets.

They look great but the actors controlling them haven’t mastered the form enough to stop from pulling focus and while Avenue Q was an inspiration in style, that shows ability to sugar coat home truths with a catchy ditty sung by likeable characters is not found here. Instead the puppets act as muzzles so at least a third of what’s said and sung is lost.

The music is underwhelming, piped muzak that never moves the audience or interacts with the vocals, while the lyrics, though momentarily amusing, would be more suited to the Strawberry Alarm Clock than musical theatre. There is no real interaction between the characters as they’re all just signifiers for where we went wrong and who we became.

It’s not without its charms. Numbers like We All Partied and We Are What We Are (And What We Are Is Fucked) capture the national spirit well and the dying moments of the show provide us with some much-needed cathartic relief.

But reiterating the sad facts of our financial demise alone does not make for good satire. Combined with the poor sound quality, this left us rather unilluminated or entertained at the end of the evening.


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