Contemporary Irish Theatre

Transnational Practices

by Kao Wei H. (Author)
©2016 Thesis 244 Pages
Series: Dramaturgies, Volume 35


This monograph is one of the first to examine a collection of Irish plays from a transnational perspective in today’s era of globalization. The works dealt with in this study dramatize how foreign cultures are integrated into contemporary Ireland. In addition, they focus on the experiences of immigrants and marginalized people living on the fringes of Irish society. The aim of this book is therefore two-fold: first, it highlights how specific theatrical productions reflect the global factors at work in modern Ireland; second, it seeks to document how Irish dramatists exert a profound impact on theatre practitioners from non-English speaking countries and enrich their stage aesthetics. Accordingly, the works discussed in this book have not been authored by Irish playwrights only. They are set in the Middle East, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, the UK, and the USA. This monograph concentrates both on canonical and established playwrights, such as Dion Boucicault, Edward Harrigan, Eugene O’Neill, Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett, Frank McGuinness, Sebastian Barry, Tom Murphy, Marina Carr, and on lesser-known writers, including Jimmy Murphy, Dolores Walshe, Damian Smyth, Colin Teevan, among others.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • I. When Incest Is Not A Taboo: Desire and the Land in Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms and Marina Carr’s On Raftery’s Hill
  • II. Remaking the Stage Irishman in the New World: Dion Boucicault’s The Shaughraun, Edward Harrigan’s The Mulligan Guard Ball, and Sebastian Barry’s White Woman Street
  • III. Migrant Workers on Stage: Tom Murphy’s Conversations on a Homecoming and Jimmy Murphy’s The Kings of the Kilburn High Road
  • IV. A Russian Mirror to Ireland: Migration in Tom Murphy’s The House and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard
  • V. South Africa, Racism, and Irish Sectarianism in Dolores Walshe’s In the Talking Dark and Damian Smyth’s Soldiers of the Queen
  • VI. Transnational Ireland on Stage: America to Middle East in Three Texts
  • VII. Peace and Beyond in the Middle East: Colin Teevan’s War Trilogy
  • VIII. Voices from Two Theatrical Others: Labor Issues in the Theatres of Ireland and Taiwan
  • IX. Samuel Beckett in Taiwan: Cross-cultural Innovations and Significance
  • X. The Irish at Home and Abroad: Transnational Practices
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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It is a pleasure to acknowledge the many debts I have incurred during the course of researching and writing this monograph on Irish drama.

First and foremost I would like to extend my gratitude to Professor C.L. Innes, whose abundant knowledge of postcolonial literature has led me to view Irish drama in a global context, following on from my doctoral studies at the University of Kent. Although my thesis was mainly on the Irish novel in the mid-twentieth century, many ideas and observations accumulated that led to the inspiration for this book. Her constant encouragement and friendship are the foundation stones of the current work.

I am also in debt to many colleagues and friends who have long supported me in ways that took one form or another. The discussions I had with them during different phases of the writing, as well as the laughs and parties that occasionally came my way, have added profoundly to enriching this book in many thought-provoking ways. My inspirers (as well as cheerleaders) to whom I owe many thanks are Li-ling Tseng, Kun-liang Chuang, and Yu-chen Lin, Cecilia Hsueh-chen Liu, Belen Sy, Joseph C. Murphy, Raphael Schulte, and Luisa Shu-ying Chang. My graduate students at National Taiwan University and Fu-Jen Catholic University contributed to developing ideas during class discussion and individual consultations. Eamonn Hughes’s encouragement of my research in Irish studies has been uplifting.

I am particularly indebted to John Welford, who read most of the early drafts of my articles and patiently helped me with more than just the language editing. I always benefited from the critical comments that he generously made on the drafts.

Participants in the annual conferences of the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures (IASIL) and at the JM Synge Summer School for Irish Drama are to be credited for their inspiring remarks on my research.

I wish to record my gratitude to the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan and National Taiwan University for their financial support over the years. Without that support, my research could not have been properly carried out.

Alongside many library staff at Trinity College Dublin and my own university, my student assistants, Che-wei Wu, Tak-kei Lai, Chun-wei ← 9 | 10 → Tsai, Chen-wei Han, and Pei-hsuan Chen, significantly facilitated my research. Further, I wish to thank Prof. Marc Maufort, general editor of the series, as well as Emilie Menz, commissioning editor, and Alice de Patoul, Audrey Louckx, Gregory Watson for their editorial advice.

In this book, some of the chapters of this book have previously been published in journals. The comments received from the anonymous reviewers have significantly helped in sharpening my arguments and ideas. I therefore gratefully acknowledge the editors’ and publishers’ permission to reprint these works: “Transnational Ireland on Stage: America to Middle East in Three Texts” from Transnational Literature 6.2 (2014); “A Russian Mirror to Ireland: Migration in Tom Murphy’s The House and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard ” from Fu-Jen Studies 46 (2013); “South Africa, Racism and Irish Sectarianism in Dolores Walshe’s In the Talking Dark and Damian Smyth’s Soldiers of the Queen” from English Studies in Africa 54.2 (2011); “Peace and Beyond in the Middle East: Colin Teevan’s War Trilogy” from War and Cultural Studies 7.2 (2014); “When Incest Is Not A Taboo: Desire and the Land in Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms and Marina Carr’s On Raftery’s Hill” from Journal of Theater Studies 5 (2010); “Voices from Two Theatrical Others: Labour Issues in the Theatres of Ireland and Taiwan” from Taiwan in Comparative Perspective 4 (2012); “Samuel Beckett in Taiwan: Cross-cultural Innovations and Challenges, and Controversies” from Journal of Beckett Studies 15.2 (2006). Part of “Migrant Workers on Stage: Tom Murphy’s Conversations on a Homecoming and Jimmy Murphy’s The Kings of the Kilburn High Road appeared in Notes on Contemporary Literature 44.4 (2014). Part of the critical introduction was translated from “The Irish Theatre in the Era of Post-globalization,” published in Chinese in Reflexion 20 (2012).

Finally, I would like to extend special gratitude to my parents and sister whose gracious support and assistance gave birth to this book. Janet Hui-chuan Kao and Adam Pettit, my brother-in-law, have been great hosts whenever I visited the USA for conferences and research – on both the eastern and western coasts of the country.

Ultimately, this book is dedicated to Jihwen Wu for the most open-handed care that I have been privileged to receive.

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Migrations and cultural fusions have characterized Ireland for centuries. Before James Joyce introduced Leopold Bloom as having been born in 1866 to the mixed parentage of a Hungarian Jewish father and an Irish Protestant mother, the Emerald Isle had already accommodated generations of migrants.1 Although it is impossible to trace in detail how the Celts, Normans, Vikings, English, Spanish, Scots and Huguenots affected the development of the island’s culture, these historical newcomers probably created, over some length of time, ethnic quarters similar to what is now dubbed Little Africa in Moore Street and Parnell Street in Dublin.2 These people became settlers and contributed to a culture that is distinctive if not positively outlandish in the eyes of outsiders.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Ireland sheltered many asylum seekers who left their home countries out of fear of being slaughtered, including many from Hungary in the 1950s, Chile and Vietnam in the 1970s, Iran in the 1980s (members of the Baha’I faith), and Bosnia and Uganda in the 1990s.3 Regardless of whether they arrived in smaller or larger numbers, they have quietly yet significantly diversified Ireland into a multi-cultural state, and their descendants have prompted the island to reach out to many parts of the globe through mixed marriages, wars, religious missions, commerce and migration.

These factors point out how Irishness has become a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and global concept since the turn of the twenty-first century, particularly as a result of the experiences of migrants and the returned Irish. Specifically, changes in the demographic landscape of Ireland and its economy – which has experienced many ups and downs in recent years – have given the country a brand new yet unsettling face. ← 11 | 12 →

However, the desire of Irish playwrights to tackle the implications of the evolving notion of what it means to be Irish has not abated. They have sought to capture them faithfully either through writing new works directly relating to those themes, by adapting foreign/classic works which are relevant to contemporary Irish experiences, or by setting their plays in overseas locations in order to appeal to a wider market. Significantly, globalization has favored the production of Irish plays in other countries, which has impacted local artists and audiences.

Although some researchers have focused on the inter-cultural, inter-ethnic and global factors found in contemporary Irish theatre, a more thorough examination of how Irish plays counteract or absorb exotic/foreign influences is called for.4 By comparing selected historical events and Irish experiences with their counterparts in other cultural scenarios, this book aims to offer an alternative historical, yet perhaps more inspirational, perspective that projects the Irish past and present on to the world stage.

Globalization and Drama

Although the term “globalization” has increasingly been used since the mid-1980s,5 its inception can be traced back to the Age of Exploration, in which Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) and his contemporaries ← 12 | 13 → set out to prove that the earth was a globe, so as to obtain spices and other commodities from the East by sailing west. Although Columbus and his crew never reached the East, his voyages opened up not only flows of capital and population but began a new era in Europe’s colonial development.

European territorial expansion, from the late fourteenth century onward, facilitated constant cultural and economic exchanges from one country/continent to another, with controversies arising over how it “facilitate[d] new forms of agency” and brought forth “oppressively homogenizing effects of cultural globalization … [which] can blind us to the nature of local circumstances, practices, and needs” (Jay 2). This is doubtless true to some extent, as the phenomenon of globalization has assimilated “the surface appearance and institutions of modern social life across the globe” (McGrew 74).

In other words, globalization has been even more influential than colonization in promoting not only the exchange of commodities (recent examples include the iPhone, MacDonald’s and Louise Vuitton) but also information/values through the operation of transnational media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp). While the protection of human rights and the practice of democracy, for instance, have become almost universal as values to be striven for, globalization also strengthens “an increasing concentration of power, knowledge, information, wealth and decision-making authority” (McGrew 75). Few countries can effectively resist the subjugation of this new world order, in which the flow of capital triggered by transnational corporations and global financial institutions can easily cross national boundaries.

Nevertheless, globalization also enables cross-cultural dialogues in the arts on a wide scale, given that such dialogues used to be silenced by former colonial empires through “established narrations of cultural practice” (qtd in Hall 558). Notably, by embracing “mutually opposed tendencies,” globalization has been “a contingent and dialectical process” that invigorates “contradictory dynamics” (Gidden 64).

In contrast to commodities that can be appraised and traded between one country and another, the stage can be both a mirror of relevant phenomena and a platform of resistance that “simultaneously encourages particularization by relativizing both ‘local’ and ‘place’” (McGrew 74). By particularizing selected fragments of life or incidents, the performative nature of drama boldly tackles the problematic nature of the power structure of a center/periphery model in an age of globalization, by unveiling the uneven rate of development between the first and the third worlds. In addition, drama, as a cultural artefact pertaining rather “to a hybridization than a homogenization,” showcases a platform on which the ← 13 | 14 → audience can witness or experience “the plurality of centres from which globally diffused cultural elements emanate and point to the great variety of their local adaptations” (Robertson 26-27).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
transnational theatre art
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 244 pp., 2 ill.

Biographical notes

Kao Wei H. (Author)

Wei H. Kao, who holds a doctorate from the University of Kent, now lectures at National Taiwan University. He is the author of The Formation of an Irish Literary Canon in the Midtwentieth Century (2007). His articles on Irish writers and culture have appeared in Journal of Beckett Studies, Irish Studies Review, Essays on Modern Irish Literature (2007), Iris Murdoch and Moral Imaginations (2010), and Irish Women at War (2010).


Title: Contemporary Irish Theatre