Sunday Times and Irish Theatre Mag picks of the year for Slattery’s Sago Saga

Castletown House Sneachta 2010
21st December 2010
Full house for Swampoodle development
10th January 2011

“The pick of the bunch, though, was a play that seemed to take itself less seriously. The unfinished and largely forgotten novel Slattery’s Sago Saga is a “classic” only in the sense that the word applies to anything penned by Flann O’Brien. The Performance Corporation and the playwright Arthur Riordan turned it into, among other things, a hilarious allegory for contemporary Ireland, first with a summer production in Rathfarnham Castle, then a winter tour.”

The day after the EU-IMF bailout was announced, I went to see Performance Corporation’s Slattery’s Sago Saga, which was playing for one night only at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway. It’s an adaptation by Arthur Riordan of an unfinished Flann O’Brien novel and, as you’d expect from both authors, it is very, very clever – and completely mad.

Yet it also seemed surprisingly topical – almost prescient, in fact. The idea at the centre of the plot (such as it is) is that acres of Irish land are being bought up by a foreign power – someone who claims to be acting in Ireland’s national interest, but who is in reality determined to wreck the country for her own ends. Her dreadful schemes are aided by the local gombeen politician, who happily sells away Irish independence in exchange for personal enrichment.

Added to this story is a barmy metatheatrical subplot, in which all the characters gradually realise that they’re not real people, but are actually themselves characters in a play – a truly atrocious play, being written in “real” time by a mysterious author figure.

Sitting at home afterwards, I watched TV interviews with Ajai Chopra, Brian Lenihan, and many others. And it seemed like Slattery’s Sago Saga had already said everything that needed to be said. The play was telling us something about the loss of sovereignty – about the politicians we elected, about the lies we told ourselves. And it was also giving us a marvellous metaphor for the way we live now. After all, to be an Irish citizen today feels exactly like being trapped in a bizarre drama – one where we’re helpless to do anything except follow a script being improvised by an incompetent lunatic.

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