Playwrights best placed to peak behind the corporate curtain

Colin Murphy has been back raking over the coals of the banking crisis, with his latest play, Bailed Out, in effect, the sequel to Guaranteed, the story of how Ireland toppled into insolvency.

Playwrights best placed to peak behind the corporate curtain

This second Fishamble production is slick and fast moving, with former taoiseach Brian Cowen being played largely for laughs while jarringly, then-finance minister Brian Lenihan grapples with the pressure from unfriendly European counterparts while coming face to face with the prospect of his imminent demise.

Inevitably, given time constraints, the play skates over the surface somewhat.

The European Central Bank head, Jean Claude Trichet, is pictured as unyielding while the US treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, comes across as slick and brutally effective, mocking the notion that the international financial system should be put at risk by a burden sharing deal for Ireland worth a paltry €12bn.

In a discussion after the production, the outgoing Governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, a central figure in the play, took issue with the depiction of Mr Trichet as a high finance panto villain.

Mr Honohan recalled his fellow central banker as a man who has a close affinity with Ireland, and as someone who was genuinely concerned to ensure that stability was restored.

Inevitably, one wonders what the great Brian Friel would have made of it all and one is led to consider that the wheelings and dealings of those at the top of the business and financial world have been insufficiently explored by the great writers of our age.

The collective memory of such events is usually shaped by those interested parties most adept at shaping public opinion in their own favour.

However, a great creative figure is best placed to offer a truly disinterested perspective and to generate in the mind of the public the greatest understanding of the forces that shape the powerful people shaping our lives through their actions.

The crisis at Volkswagen which exploded into public view on last month is just the latest case in point.

A great brand lies battered, along with its share price and the future prospects, perhaps, of thousands of people in an industry viewed as crucial to the German economy.

Eleven million cars will have to be recalled after Volkswagen executives were exposed as having set out to fool regulatory authorities in the US and Europe through the use of software designed to control levels of emissions at the time when the vehicles were being tested.

Behind these revelations we have plenty of personal drama.

The German publication, Der Spiegel, reports that the chairman of the VW supervisory board, Wolfgang Porsche, is effectively in denial, still insisting on the appointment of the group’s long serving finance chief as his successor.

Mr Porsche must be thinking ruefully that perhaps the sins of his ancestors may have finally caught up with him.

Over half of VW Group is controlled by the Porsche and Piech families, the original owners of Volkswagen worked closely with the Nazis during the 1930s.

Meanwhile, the former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, who was forced out a fortnight ago, is reported to be fuming at his betrayal at the hands of key executives who reported to him.

Armed with a sense of victim hood, he is pressing for payment of a multimillion-euro termination package.

There is plenty of fodder here for anyone interested, down the line, in a dramatic or novelistic exploration of the great human flaws of people who have reached the top branch of a mighty corporate oak.

When scandal and disaster engulfs a corporation whether it be Tesco in 2014, British Petroleum in 2010 , or Enron, in 2002, the damage engulfs thousands of innocent people, including many ordinary investors who thought that they were backing gilt edged companies.

The most dramatic example of this was the collapse in faith and in private incomes brought about in the crash of 2008.

Behind such catastrophes are stories of personal hubris, folly and stress and of the interplay between executives, many of whom end up feeling betrayed by less morally constrained colleagues.

This year, one novel has emerged which seeks to get inside the mind of one such key decision maker in the recent financial crisis.

However, Coup de Foudre, by relative unknown Ken Kalfus sets out to target an individual at the heart of global decision making.

The central story concerns an individual called David Leon Landau who drafts a letter (unsent) to a hotel chamber maid whom he has assaulted.

As one reviewer points out, the letter is notable for its pompous tone and for excruciating lines straight out of the Mills & Boon literary assembly line such as “I was casting my line mostly out of restlessness” and “For a moment after I fell on top of her, Claudette lay on the carpet stunned”.

It is made clear that David is the president of an international lending institution, a man with a well developed sense of his own importance who has been accused of assaulting a hotel chamber maid.

David bears a more than passing resemblance to the former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss Kahn, who lost office after he was arrested on foot of allegations that he assaulted a hotel employee.

The case was later dismissed. He was later acquitted of separate charges in France related to the use of French prostitutes.

Mr Strauss Kahn also has a part in Bailed Out as the IMF head who backed the Irish case for burden sharing.

Writers generally have shown a reluctance to step inside the shoes of such mighty men, leaving the legwork to biographers who prefer to deal in facts rather than embark on journeys of deep character exploration.

Such reluctance may not be unconnected with the fact that powerful people usually have access on top to teams of legal hired guns.

But there is a real need for this creative gap to be filled.

Increasingly, in this globalised world, our lives are being shaped by dynamic executives operating in finance, IT and in corporate empires like VW and Tesco.

It is important that we get inside the skin of these characters whose actions are increasingly dictating the pace of events.

Our great Irish playwrights have tended to focus on the lives of ordinary people, creating figures of legend such as the Bull McCabe, but perhaps they, or their successors could focus on some of the extraordinary driven characters in business who are shaping our lives in the here and now.

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