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Donald E. Morse (ed.), Irish Theatre in Transition. from the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century

Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015
Alexandra Poulain
p. 194-196
Référence(s) :

Donald E. Morse (ed.). Irish Theatre in Transition. from the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 265 p., ISBN 978-1-137-45068-5, 65.25 $.

Texte intégral

1The title of Donald E. Morse’s edited volume quotes the first sentence of the first essay in the collection, Christopher Murray’s “The Irish theatre: The First Hundred Years, 1897-1997”: “The best theatre is always in transition”. The whole volume is intended as a homage to Murray’s major contribution as a critic of Irish theatre, and more specifically as a response to this essay which was initially published in 1997, a hundred years after the inception of the modern Irish theatre in 1897. Murray’s essay proposes a re-evaluation of the standard narrative of the history of modern Irish theatre, offering not one foundational moment (the creation of the Irish Literary Theatre in 1897) but a succession of re-foundations and paradigm shifts – from the initial Ibsenite model of the Little Art Theatre to Yeats’s realignment with a Shakespearean model, after he visited Stratford-upon-Avon in 1901 and, argues, Murray, “misread Shakespeare’s history plays” as dissolving history into, as he phrased it, “‘something almost mythological’” (17). Another foundational moment in the history of Irish theatre coincided with the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922: only after this event can Irish theatre be “described as postcolonialist”, Murray claims, thus controversially enforcing a strictly chronological understanding of the term and countering most definitions of postcolonialism as offered by postcolonial critics themselves. Thus resignifying the term “postcolonialist”, Murray problematically hails O’Casey as “the first postcolonialist Irish dramatist”, whose demythologising, revisionist agenda was henceforth picked up by such major figures as Behan, Friel and Murphy. In the final section of his essay, Murray looks towards female voices as possible alternatives to the largely bourgeois, modernist model of Irish theatre. Making a convincing case for the importance of the insufficiently remembered Alice Milligan in the beginnings of the modern Irish theatre, he points out the relative scarcity of contemporary women Irish playwrights, with the exception of Marina Carr and Paula Meehan. Almost twenty years after the initial publication of this essay, just as it was re-issued in this volume, the “Waking the Feminists” campaign, triggered in November 2015 by the outrageous under-representation of women playwrights and directors in the Abbey’s programme for the centenary of the Easter Rising, revealed the extent to which gender discrimination still operates at every level in Irish theatrical institutions.

2The fifteen essays that follow, all written by eminent critics of Irish theatre, almost always reference Murray’s essay, though none of them really engages (critically or otherwise) with its revisionist agenda. Rather, they offer varied and often exciting insights about new developments in Irish theatre since the publication of the essay in 1997, and thus constitute a sequel to Murray’s appraisal of “the first hundred years”. In the first part, “Engaging with a Changing Reality”, two essays by Eamonn Jordan and Maria Kurdi look at Celtic Tiger plays, while Jose Lanters’ contribution offers an exciting reading of changing representations of queer sexualities in Synge, Behan, Kilroy and Friel. Finally, Donald E. Morse’s piece registers the dramatic ageing of Irish population over the last two decades and provides a sensitive reading of the dramatisation of dementia in Frank McGuinness’ The Hanging Gardens. The second part, “Enhanced Theatricality”, is concerned with formal experiments in recent Irish drama. Csilla Bertha looks at modalities of metatheatricality in McGuiness’ Carthaginians and Kilroy’s The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde. Eric Weitz analyses the complex activity of laughing in experimental dramaturgies which dispense with the convention of the fourth wall and thus reconfigure the spectator-performer relationship. Ondřej Pilný convokes the categories of the grotesque and the sublime in a stimulating reading of Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus. Part Four, “Reframing Transition”, is concerned with performance history. Patrick Lonergan provides a highly informative survey of productions of Shakespeare at the Abbey between 1970 and 1985. Nicholas Grene shares his experience as Theatre Judge in 2006 and offers a selection of twelve snapshot descriptions of productions he attended in this capacity. Peter James Harris contributes a survey of productions of Irish plays in London “from Independence to the Present”, and in the process usefully redefines what can be deemed an “Irish Play”. Part Five, “Inventiveness and expanding the Stage”, offers readings of experimental playwriting: Helen Heusner Lojek on Frank McGuinness and Joan Fitzpatrick Dean on Pat Kinevane’s monologic explorations of abjection. Other essays in this section look beyond the stage at Irish dramatists’ experiments with other media. Clare Wallace offers a compelling reading of Stewart Parker little known work for television, and Dawn Duncan writes about teaching Beckett on Film.

3In the inaugural essay of the book, Christopher Murray quoted Philip Edwards’ quip that Yeats had attempted to make Shakespeare “an honorary Celt”. The volume comes full circle with Stephen Watt’s elegant piece on Sam Shepard, which stands alone in the final part, “On the Re-Foundation of the Irish Theatre.” Paying close attention to Shepard’s 2007 play Kicking a Dead Horse, written for Stephen Rea, Watt argues that Shepard should be considered an honorary Irish playwright, and detects themes and patterns in his writing (like the focus on loneliness, the recurrence of regional speech patterns and the emphasis on storytelling) which place him in a venerable line of Irish playwrights from Synge to Beckett.

4The close attention paid to the book’s structure makes it more than a collection of disparate essays, and the volume constitutes an extremely valuable contribution to Irish theatre studies.

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Référence papier

Alexandra Poulain, « Donald E. Morse (ed.), Irish Theatre in Transition. from the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century », Études irlandaises, 42-1 | 2017, 194-196.

Référence électronique

Alexandra Poulain, « Donald E. Morse (ed.), Irish Theatre in Transition. from the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 42-1 | 2017, mis en ligne le 29 juin 2017, consulté le 23 octobre 2017. URL : http://etudesirlandaises.revues.org/5197 ; DOI : 10.4000/etudesirlandaises.5197

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Alexandra Poulain

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