Ibsen and Chekov on the Irish Stage

by Ros Dixon (Volume editor) Irina Ruppo Malone (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection XVI, 222 Pages


Ibsen and Chekhov on the Irish Stage presents articles on the theories of translation and adaptation, new insights on the work of Brian Friel, Frank McGuinness, Thomas Kilroy, and Tom Murphy, historical analyses of theatrical productions during the Irish Revival, interviews with contemporary theatre directors, and a round-table discussion with the playwrights, Michael West and Thomas Kilroy.
Ibsen and Chekhov on the Irish Stage challenges the notion that a country’s dramatic tradition develops in cultural isolation. It uncovers connections between past productions of plays by Ibsen and Chekhov and contemporary literary adaptations of their works by Irish playwrights, demonstrating the significance of international influence for the formation of national canon.
Conceived in the spirit of a round-table discussion, Ibsen and Chekhov on the Irish Stage is a collective study of the intricacies of trans-cultural migration of dramatic works and a re-examination of Irish theatre history from 1890 to the present day.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • A Note on Transliteration
  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction (Irina Ruppo Malone)
  • Irish Ibsenites
  • 1 | Is There a Norwegian Ibsen? Ibsen at Home and Abroad (Tore Rem)
  • 2 | Shaw’s Ibsen and the Idea of an Irish Theatre (Christopher Murray)
  • 3 | Ibsen in Inish: Lennox Robinson, Ibsen, and the Censorship of Publications Act (Christopher Morash)
  • 4 | Denis Johnston’s Ibsen and Post-Revivalist Ireland (Irina Ruppo Malone)
  • 5 | Artists and Users in the Later Plays of Ibsen and Friel (Patrick Burke)
  • 6 | Frank McGuinness’s ‘Only Ibsen of the Western World’ (Helen Heusner Lojek)
  • 7 | Directing Ibsen in Ireland: Round-table Discussion with Maíread Ní Chroínín, Lynne Parker, and Arthur Riordan
  • Chekhov In Ireland
  • 1 | Making Foreign Theatre or Making Theatre Foreign (Cynthia Marsh)
  • 2 | Rehearsing the 1916 Rising: Theatre Politics and Political Theatre (Robert Tracy)
  • 3 | Chekhov and the Irish Big House (Nicholas Grene)
  • 4 | ‘All of Ireland is Our Orchard’: Maria Knebel’s Production of The Cherry Orchard at the Abbey in 1968 (Ros Dixon)
  • 5 | Tom Murphy’s The Cherry Orchard in the Context of Irish Rewritings of Chekhov (Zsuzsa Csiskai)
  • 6 | Playwrights Speak Out: Round-table Discussion of Translation and Adaptation with Thomas Kilroy and Michael West
  • Appendix: List of Previous Works by Ros Dixon
  • Bibliography
  • Contributors
  • Index

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This book, dedicated to the memory of Ros Dixon, is also her legacy – the result of her meticulous work as well as her knowledge of the Irish academic and theatrical worlds.

Several of the opinions represented in this volume belong to Ros’s close friends and colleagues. In thanking them for their support of the conference and contribution to this book, I acknowledge their friendship with Ros and their dedication to her memory.

The book began with a conference on ‘Ibsen and Chekhov on the Irish Stage’ that was held at the Moore Institute, National University of Ireland Galway in November 2009. I would like to warmly thank Adrian Frazier. The idea of a joint publication on Ibsen and Chekhov belongs to him, and he remained a wonderful source of advice and support throughout the project.

I am grateful to Lionel Pilkington and Sean Ryder, Riana O Dwyer, and Patrick Lonergan. Special thanks also go to Dearbhla Mooney and Irene O’Malley. I thank Miglena Ivanova, Kathleen Heininge, and all of those who contributed to the conference, the authors of the essays, and participants of the roundtable discussions. Special thanks are due to the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Öyvind Nordsletten.

I would like to mention with gratitude the writers and theatre practitioners – Thomas Kilroy, Michael West, Máiréad ní Chróinín, Lynne Parker and Arthur Riordan – as well as the moderators of the round-table discussions, Kurt Taroff, and Adrian Frazier. I thank Linzi Simpson. Excavation Director (Margaret Gowen & Co), whose lecture on 'Dublin's Smock Alley theatre, 1662-1788: Lost and Found’ was a particularly anticipated and exciting event on the conference programme. I thank Shelley Troupe whose professional handling of key administrative matters ensured the smooth running of the conference. ← xi | xii →

The conference and the ensuing publication were enabled by the generosity of the following institutions: the Embassy of Norway, Dublin, the Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway, the Discipline of English National University of Ireland, Galway, the MA in Drama and Theatre, National University of Ireland, Galway, and the NUI Galway Aid in Publications Grant.

I would like to thank Maura Campbell and Máiréad Delaney for making available the photographs of Abbey Theatre productions; I thank Kathleen Barrington for her advice during my search for some of the images. For the Royal Court images of The Seagull, I thank John Hayes and Eleanor McKeown of the Lebrecht Music and Arts Library. I am grateful to the staff of the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway and would like to specially thank Kieran Hoare and Margaret Hughes for their kind assistance and for making it possible to use images from the archive of Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe.

I would like acknowledge with gratitude the help of the anonymous peer-reviewers. I am very grateful to Carysfort Press for their steadfast support of the project. Special thanks are due to Eamonn Jordan, Dan Farrelly, Lilian Chambers, and Margaret Hamilton.

I am grateful to all my friends and family, especially Marina Ruppo, Paul Malone, and Alice Malone.

This book would not have been the same were it not for the support of Ros Dixon’s partner, Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, and the work of Victor Dixon, whose careful copy-editing of the manuscript was a labour of love for his beloved daughter.

My greatest debt of gratitude is to my friend Ros Dixon whose memory I will always cherish.

| xiii →


There are several deviations from the Library of Congress transliteration system used throughout the book. Original transliteration is retained in all quoted material. Articles dealing with Tom Murphy's translation of The Cherry Orchard adopt, in the main text, Murphy's transliteration of the characters’ names. In addition, standard anglicized version of Stanislavsky’s name is used. Similarly, the soft sign at the end of Maria Knebel's name is omitted.

| xiv →


Cover The Cherry Orchard, Abbey Theatre, 1968, directed by Maria Knebel: Máire Ní Ghráinne as Duniasha and Harry Brogan as Firs.

p.45 Lennox Robinson, Dramaidheacht in Inis [Drama at Inish], Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe 1946: Walter Macken, Peig Ní Mhaicín, Neans Ní Laoi, Laim Ó Floinn, Idé Ní Mhathúna. Courtesy of Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe

p .76 John Gabriel Borkman in a version by Frank McGuinness, Abbey Theatre, October 2010, directed by James Macdonald Cathy Belton (Mrs Wilton), Marty Rea (Erhart Borkman), Lindsey Duncan (Mrs. Ella Rentheim), and Fiona Shaw (Mrs Gunhild Borkman). Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

p.91 Namhaid don Phobal [An Enemy of the People], Moonfish Theatre 2006, directed by Máiréad Ní Chróinín: Brendan Conroy (Dr Stockmann), Padraic Ó Tuairisc (Aslasken), Dara Ó Dubháin (Hovstad). Courtesy of Moonfish Theatre.

p. 96 Namhaid don Phobal [An Enemy of the People], Moonfish Theatre 2006: Brendan Conroy (Dr Stockmann), Séamus Ó hAodha (Billing), Peadar Ó Treasaigh (Mortan Cíl ), Dara Ó Dubháin (Hovstad)Courtesy of Moonfish Theatre.

p. 98 Peer Gynt, translated by Arthur Riordan, Rough Magic Theatre Company, October 2011, directed by Lynne Parker: Fergal McElherron (Dark Self) Rory Nolan (Peer Gynt), Karen Ardiff (Aase/The Green Clad One), Peter Daly (Light Self). Photograph: Ros Kavanagh. Courtesy of Ros Kavanagh and Rough Magic. ← xiv | xv →

p.102 Peer Gynt, Rough Magic Theatre Company, October 2011, Sarah Greene (Solveig/Female Troll), Rory Nolan (Peer Gynt), Will O’Connell (Writer/Troll), Hilary O’Shaughnessy – (Ingrid/Green-Clad One), Arthur Riordan (Mountain King). Photograph: Ros Kavanagh. Courtesy of Ros Kavanagh and Rough Magic.

p.105 Peer Gynt, Rough Magic Theatre Company, October 2011: Fergal McElherron (Dark Self/The Devil).

p. 144 The Seagull, Royal Court Theatre, April 1981, directed by Max Stafford Clark: Anton Lesser as (Constantine) and Harriet Walter (Lily).

p. 151 The Cherry Orchard, Abbey Theatre, 1968, directed by Maria Knebel: Siobhán McKenna as Madame Ranyevskaia Cyril Cusack as Gayev, and Bernadette McKenna as Ania. [The original spelling of the characters’ names has been retained.]

p. 177 Thomas Kilroy, The Seagull, Royal Court Theatre, April 1981, directed by Max Stafford Clark: T.P. McKenna (Dr Hickey), Anna Massey (Isobel Desmond), Maggie McCarthy (Pauline), Alan Devlin (Cousin Gregory), Stuart Burge (Peter). Photo: John Haynes. Courtesy of John Haynes and Lebrecht Music & Arts Photo Library.

p. 184 The Seagull, in a version by Michael West, Corn Exchange Company, directed by Annie Ryan, June 1999. Photograph: Paul McCarthy. Courtesy of Corn Exchange Theatre.

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Irina Ruppo Malone

The names of Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) and Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) often appear together in English language theatre journalism, textbooks, and critical literature. In the public eye, they have been turned into near contemporaries by the proximity of the dates of their deaths and the processes involved in the cross-cultural transmission of their works. This perception exists in spite of the radical differences between the life stories and work of the two authors. These differences are frequently subsumed in a type of comparative analysis which ascribes, for instance, better insight into the ‘nature of the actor’s art’ to Chekhov and keener awareness of ‘the nature of the dramatist’s art’ to Ibsen – as if the two writers were in a kind of eternal competition.1 Whether as progenitors of modern drama, modern classics, or even ‘honorary British playwrights’,2 these authors appear to have a joint power, a power that depends, perhaps, on the friction between the two.

Rejecting the superficial (yet persistent) notion of Ibsen and Chekhov as barely distinguishable realist playwrights, Ibsen and Chekhov on the Irish Stage presents a collective study of the reception of their plays in Ireland and their influence on the development of Irish drama. The book is divided into two parts: Irish Ibsenites, and Chekhov in Ireland. These parts have a similar structure: an article on wider issues of cross-cultural reception is followed by articles which taken together provide an episodic history of the reception of each playwright; these are followed by articles dealing with recent adaptations. The round-table discussion on Ibsen features insights from Irish directors; the concluding ← 1 | 2 → discussion by Thomas Kilroy and Michael West is centred on The Seagull but ranges widely, referring back to the issues explored in the entire volume.

In 2008, when Ros Dixon and I planned the conference which led to this collection, it was already possible to speak of a tradition of Irish literary adaptations of Ibsen and Chekhov. Thomas Kilroy’s The Seagull (1981), Brian Friel’s Hedda Gabler (2008), or Frank McGuinness’s Peer Gynt (1988; publ. 1990) or John Gabriel Borkman (2010), to use but a few key examples, are not merely actable versions of the plays suitable for Irish actors. Possessing different degrees of reverence (and irreverence) toward the original, these works portend to claim Ibsen and Chekhov for Ireland and for its unique brand of English language. These adaptations exist in conversation with each other. Friel’s Hedda Gabler might be an answer to McGuinness’s version of that play (1994), while Kilroy’s The Seagull could have partially influenced Tom Murphy’s The Cherry Orchard (2004)). Moreover, they relate to other works of these Irish contemporary playwrights. Thus, as is pointed out in three articles in this volume, Chekhov’s influence on Tom Murphy is not measured by his The Cherry Orchard alone, but by the earlier The House (2000). Further, the cultural roots of these adaptations go back to the Irish Revival, when plays by Ibsen and Chekhov were premièred in Ireland inspiring a generation of Irish playwrights, and to the early years of the Irish Free State, when their plays were staged by the Abbey, and by the Gate, as well as by the Irish-language theatre, An Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe.


XVI, 222
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (June)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. XVI, 222 pp., 8 fig. col.

Biographical notes

Ros Dixon (Volume editor) Irina Ruppo Malone (Volume editor)

Irina Ruppo Malone is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Trinity College Dublin, and the National University of Ireland, Galway, where she teaches courses on Irish and European drama, James Joyce, and contemporary Irish fiction. She is the author of Ibsen and the Irish Revival (2010).


Title: Ibsen and Chekov on the Irish Stage
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