Vol. 23 No. 1 (2017)

Published June 30, 2017


Editor's Notes


  • The Plays of Enda Walsh: An Interim Report

    Ever since Disco Pigs hit the headlines at the Edinburgh Festival in 1996, Enda Walsh has achieved major success at home, on the Irish stage, and worldwide. This essay acknowledges that the body of his work to date, comprising nineteen plays plus collaborations in musicals and operas, still represents work in progress and that it is not feasible yet to provide anything like a definitive assessment or interpretation. It is argued, nevertheless, that the work may be situated within the Irish dramatic tradition and contemporary modes of performance. While Walsh seeks always to entertain through meta-theatre, his plays owe much not only to Beckett but also to youth theatre, especially to the style of Passion Machine, to story-telling techniques, and to clowning, farce, and rock music. Certain serious themes recur, such as alienation, private versus public space, and death, which place Walsh in a category beyond “just play.” As scriptwriter for David Bowie’s last show, Lazarus, staged in New York in December 2015, he may be moving towards a synthesizing of ideas, style, and theme, thus moving collaboration to a new level. (CM)

  • “. . . ultimately alone and walking around in your own private universe”: Metatheatre and Metaphysics in Three Plays by Enda Walsh

    This paper analyzes Enda Walsh’s three major new plays between 2006 and 2014: The Walworth Farce (2006), Penelope (2010), and Ballyturk (2014). In this period Walsh’s work shifts from being primarily linguistically oriented to becoming much more attentive to the shape and modalities of performance. Bedbound, Misterman, The Small Things, and The Walworth Farce share a focus on aberrant and confining narrative performance, but a fault line lies between The Small Things and The Walworth Farce. The frenetic pace and surreal tone of the plays remains constant; however, there is a crucial difference in emphasis between carrying on and carrying out such a performance. In this new phase in Walsh’s dramaturgy an elaboration of ritualized, repetitive, and carefully choreographed action in symbolically charged spaces is accompanied by the fragmentation of mimetic and diegetic readability. At the heart of this work is a fundamental set of anxieties. The Walworth Farce, Penelope, and Ballyturk, each in different ways, are plays about performance and performativity vis à vis creativity and death. (CW)


  • Lapsed, Augmented, and Eternal Christmases in the Theatre of Conor McPherson

    Most commentators agree that many forms of theatre evolved from the ceremonies and rituals that existed across different societies and cultures at various historical moments. How ceremony and ritual might deepen, add significance or give substance to dramaturgical and performance practices remains one of the hallmarks of theatre traditionally and historically. No contemporary Irish writer has been so obsessed, fearful, trapped by, and even dependent on the idea or concept of this season of goodwill as Conor McPherson, in its anticipation, occurrence, and passing. His characters are often in fear of, trapped, or overwhelmed by Christmas and need to contest the hold of a funerary consciousness, predominantly a disposition of destructiveness, and counter-balance it with something more open and celebratory.

    In McPherson’s theatre, events surrounding Christmas become the manifestations of dream spaces, where nothing is predetermined, where chance can trump certainty, where chaos can trump order, where time is anything but linear and causal, where there is neither regulation of nor limits on the possible. McPherson’s dramas manipulate patterns, cycles, seasonalities, and rituals in order to suggest the possibility of other sorts of life rhythms, alternative consciousnesses, sensibilities and registers of collective and mutual aliveness. (EJ)

  • The Sound and the Fury: Verbal Pre-texts in Vincent Woods’s A Cry from Heaven

    Vincent Woods’s play, A Cry from Heaven (2005), is an interesting and provocative rewriting in the twenty-first century of the old legend of Deirdre and the Sons of Uisneach, mainly following the Old Irish version, Longes mac N-Uisleann. Unlike the Deirdre plays of the Revival, it stages and exploits the dramatic cry of Deirdre from her mother’s womb.

    The play has a mixed nature, it is both a pre-text and an after-text, since Woods manipulates the sources and provides twists and variations recounting his own alternative conclusion. At the same time, the play sheds light on language, words, and speech acts as structuring principles. The essay examines the multiple sources of Woods’s play in order to focus on the structuring power of language which characterises the old legend and which plays a relevant role in A Cry from Heaven. (GT)

  • "The Very Seeds of Fire”: Chris Lee’s The Map Maker’s Sorrow

    Chris Lee’s The Map Maker’s Sorrow (1999), produced at the Abbey Theatre only six years after Ireland decriminalized suicide, proved prescient in focusing on this national health problem among the young. The very structure of the play mirrors the fragmentation and messy aftermath that suicide almost inevitably produces. The abrupt beginning, where a character that the audience does not know and cannot know kills himself, leaves the audience in a position similar to that of survivors who find a suicide. Drawing on the work of Ludwig Binswanger, Kay Renfield Jamison, and national studies of suicide the essay argues that young Jason’s suicide represents a direct challenge to life understood as an orderly progression from birth to death and as an attempt to deny the very premise of lived life itself. (DEM)

  • Performing on the Razor’s Edge: On the Aesthetics of the Theatre of Martin McDonagh

    Since the emergence of naturalism in the theatre in the last decades of the nineteenth century the reality of an action on the stage has been put into a new context. The previous tradition of performance characterized by artificial, schematic solutions in gestures and speaking was replaced by direct presentation. Performance pretended that real events were taking place in an artificial, stylized context; that is, within the framework of the theatre. The first part of the essay discusses the connection between theatre and violence, starting from a historical and philosophical context and arriving at an aesthetic perspective which regards violence as a challenge for the theatrical representation. The second part studies stage violence in the plays of Martin McDonagh with the primary example of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The third part summarizes the Hungarian reception of The Lieutenant of Inishmore and compares two productions which handle the staging of natural and brutal scenes quite differently. As the whole play has a metatheatrical feature, confronting theatre with the general problem of theatrical representation, it is relevant to see how this challenge is handled by the productions reviewed. (PPM)

  • “Fun, disturbing and ultimately forgettable”? : Notes on the Royal Court Theatre Production of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen

    The essay compares the reflections of a translator on the text of Martin McDonagh’s latest play, Hangmen (2015), with the impact of its first production by the Royal Court Theatre in London. It considers the response of multiple reviewers and of the Royal Court and West End audiences and argues that while this may be the first work by McDonagh that features a serious concern—this being the practice of capital punishment and its effect on society—the Royal Court production unduly obscured this aspect of the drama by mostly playing it only for the laughs. (OP)

  • Sensory Data and Performance Practice in Blue Raincoat’s 2015 Production of W. B. Yeats’s On Baile’s Strand (1904)

    From the topography of dolmens, cairns, passage tombs, sea cliffs, holy wells, and lakes of County Sligo, Yeats’s narratives continued to be strongly inspired by “the waters and the wild” of its landscape. In 2015, Sligo’s resident professional theatre company, Blue Raincoat, staged a series of events entitled “A Country Under Wave” honoring the celebration of the poet-playwright’s 150th birthday. This paper examines their production of On Baile’s Strand (1904) on Streedagh Beach in June 2015, which opened “A Country Under Wave,” and explores the ways in which the specific features of the location were key to ensuring that this ritual drama could play effectively because it penetrated its surroundings in different ways. Special attention is paid to examining how we might perceive and understand a performance in the outdoors without a designed stage, lighting, and technologically designed sounds. (RT)

  • “What stood in the Post Office / With Pearse and Connolly?”: Heroism, Timeliness, and Timelessness in Some of Yeats’s Plays

    The essay discusses a frequently recurring type of hero found in William Butler Yeats’s plays, including the last one, The Death of Cuchulain (1939). This hero-figure occurs quite early in Yeats’s oeuvre: The Green Helmet (1910), for example, already focuses on the definition of hero and heroism and different versions of this hero type also occur in other plays, such as The King’s Threshold (1904) and The Player Queen (1922). In dramas, where this motif plays an important role, his source is in part Nietzsche’s tragic hero completed with other features. As early as The Green Helmet, Yeats defines what makes a hero: apart from bravery, also gaiety, a kind of ecstasy is needed. Cuchulain’s goal to become the hero, smiling even in the shadow of death, is achieved in Yeats’s last play, and the Cuchulain-image emerging from the Anima Mundi binds past and present. (EB)

  • J. M. Synge’s Images of Society and Social Critique

    J. M. Synge’s artistic contribution to the revival of the Irish theatre remains an undeniable fact. However, his consistently developed and dramatized views on the condition of Irish society, on the social and economic problems facing the newly formed state, are issues which seem to have been sidelined by critical emphasis placed on artistic and theatrical issues of his writing. This essay traces the line of Synge’s social thinking and imagery to show its continued effort to critically review the conservative, patriarchal system of values that Irish society had developed in the first decades of the twentieth century. The main part of the article concentrates on presenting the figures of dramatic protagonists who oppose the conservative social order and who simultaneously develop their independent ethical and social consciousness. The article argues that by presenting strong, Nietzschean, individuals who are vehemently rejected by their communities Synge formulates his own critical views of the Victorian and patriarchal normativity of the Irish state. (ML)

  • The Translation of Contemporary Drama: McCafferty’s Quietly on the Italian Stage

    This article explores how spatial and temporal changes are considered as key features by both drama translator scholars and translation theorists and invites reflection on translation in general and the reception of contemporary Irish drama abroad. The comparison of Owen McCafferty’s Quietly and its Italian version demonstrates how the translation/adaptation, staging, and reception of the play in Italy must be considered against the contemporary backdrop of globalization. (MR)

  • “Telling My Side of Things”: Tolstoy Novellas into Monologue Drama


    The paper examines two drama adaptations of Tolstoy’s novellas, Nancy Harris’s The Kreutzer Sonata (2009) and Peter Reid’s Desire (2014), both recent additions to contemporary Irish theatre’s abundant number of adaptations as well as male monologue plays. The exploration of the adaptation strategies assesses how Harris and Reid engage with these nineteenth-century works so that the old narratives are endowed with new relevance. While Harris’s play, which often rises to a poetic quality, innovates with the use of on-stage live music, it remains set in Russia in the past, which makes it a powerful period piece with anachronistic treatment of the central theme of sexual jealousy. In contrast, Reid’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s novella with a similar theme actualizes and relocates the original, transferring it to Ireland in the present time, and through the changes introduced in the plot and character, the playwright creates a credible psychological landscape for twenty-first-century audiences. (ZsCs)


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