Irish Drama

Local and Global Perspectives

by Nicholas Grene (Volume editor) Patrick Lonergan (Volume editor)
©2012 Textbook X, 198 Pages
Series: Carysfort Press Ltd., Volume 545


Since the late 1970s there has been a marked internationalization of Irish drama, with individual plays, playwrights, and theatrical companies establishing newly global reputations. This book reflects upon these developments, drawing together leading scholars and playwrights to consider the consequences that arise when Irish theatre travels abroad. Essays discuss some of Ireland’s major theatre companies – Druid, the Abbey Theatre, Rough Magic, Blue Raincoat, Field Day and others – while also exploring the presence of Irish drama in the UK, the USA, Germany, and throughout Ireland. The volume also presents the views of key playwrights, featuring essays by Elizabeth Kuti and Ursula Rani Sarma, and including a new interview with Enda Walsh.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Copyright
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction
  • 1 | Making Space: Towards a Spatial Theory of Irish Theatre
  • 2 | Field Day: Local Roots and Global Reach
  • 3 | ‘We’ll Be the Judges of That’: The Critical Reception of DruidSynge in the USA
  • 4 | Abbey Tours to London after 1990
  • 5 | Ireland Onstage at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre
  • 6 | ‘What’s the news from Kilcrobally?’: Notes on the Reception of Contemporary Irish Theatre in German-Speaking Countries
  • 7 | Blue Raincoat Theatre Company and Its Influences
  • 8 | Beyond the Passion Machine: The Adigun-Doyle Playboy and Multiculturalism
  • 9 | Audience Expectation and the Expected Audience – Writing for the International Stage
  • 10 | ‘The Words Look After Themselves’: The Practice of Enda Walsh
  • 11 | ‘Strangeness Made Sense’: Reflections on Being a Non-Irish Irish Playwright.
  • Texts Cited
  • Contributors
  • Index

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Since the late 1970s there has been a marked internationalization of Irish drama, with individual plays, playwrights, and theatrical companies establishing newly global reputations. Opportunities to travel internationally have led to a continuing re-invention of Ireland as it is represented on the world stage and, as a result, a growing number of theatre companies and writers are seeking to exploit and re-evaluate international constructions of Irishness. Simultaneously, the increased globalization of Irish society has led to a new awareness within the Irish theatre of international dramatists and practices – which have in turn have helped to shape and reshape Irish awareness of its place in the world. These new forms of cultural mobility, to and from Ireland, have also affected Irish dramatists’ and practitioners’ considerations of social and cultural identities within Ireland. Such developments have been widely celebrated and, following the collapse of the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy in late 2008 have (perhaps surprisingly) intensified, with the Irish government investing significant resources in promoting Irish culture abroad in the hope of restoring the country’s reputation.

In 2009, members of the Irish Theatrical Diaspora network gathered in Galway to discuss these developments. Our aim was to chart and analyse the growing presence of Irish drama on the world stage – but also to consider how the international success of Irish theatre was being reflected at a local level. It is often assumed that the success of an Irish play on Broadway or in London’s West End must be of benefit for theatre within Ireland itself, we had noted – and to a great extent we found that assumption borne out by the evidence. Yet we also discovered some evidence of an impoverishment of theatre in parts of Ireland: a homogenization of the kinds of plays being produced, a reduction in the number of new works by leading authors being premiered in Ireland, and a gradual decline or disappearance of companies with strong links to their ←1 | 2→localities. It seemed to us that our understanding of the health of Irish theatre could vary greatly, depending on whether one viewed it from a global or local perspective.

The conference was an attempt to consider these issues in detail. We invited contributors to explore specific case studies, most of them from the period 1975-2005. Those papers have subsequently been rewritten and reviewed, and are gathered in this book.

Immediately evident at the conference was the fluidity of terms that were used to speak about the movement of Irish theatre around the world. Some contributors spoke of Irish theatre as functioning in ways that might be termed international: that is, they considered theatre that involves a movement from one specific national space to another. For others, Irish theatre has become globalized: it is based on a conception of the world as a single place with one broadly shared culture – so that an Irish play can mean much the same thing in Ballina as it does in Bochum, Broadway, or Birmingham. We heard from some scholars who explored the increased multiculturalism of Irish drama, and from others who saw Irish theatre as having benefited from entering into intercultural dialogue with non-Irish practitioners and performance practices. Some speakers also sought to historicize Irish drama, and thus to consider it in its colonial and postcolonial contexts. In each case those terms were used precisely, but what was fascinating was the extent to which they converged, overlapped, and sometimes contradicted each other.

We do not promise to resolve those contradictions in this volume, but our hope is that by placing case studies in dialogue with each other we may reveal surprising affinities and new areas for investigation. For instance, we were aware when organizing the conference that there was already enormous academic interest in the 2007 Abbey Theatre adaptation of The Playboy of the Western World, which had been co-authored by the Irish writer Roddy Doyle and the Nigerian director Bisi Adigun. Christopher Murray’s paper in this book provides a detailed reading of the adaptation, but also situates it in terms of the work of the Dublin-based theatre collective The Passion Machine. He thus allows us to view the Doyle/Adigun production through several prisms: the local (that is, Passion Machine’s relationship with its Dublin audience), the national (the staging of the play at the Abbey Theatre), and the intercultural (the interrelationships between the Irish and Nigerian elements of the script). He also shows us how the treatment of race in 2007 can be mapped back on to the Passion Machine’s approach to social class in the 1980s and 1990s.

It has sometimes suggested that the Doyle/Adigun Playboy is one of the earliest intercultural productions on the Irish stage, but many papers in this book show that Irish theatre has drawn from non-Irish ←2 | 3→traditions throughout the contemporary period. Rhona Trench explores Blue Raincoat’s adaptation of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, showing how that Sligo-based group staged one of the most innovative Irish novels of the twentieth century. Trench reveals how that adaptation features many traits that can be construed as characteristically Irish: the verbosity and eloquence of the characters, a mischievous attitude to authority, the use of a cyclical rather than linear conception of time, and so on. Yet she also provides a discussion of how Blue Raincoat’s work has been influenced by French ideas about movement and performance from such practitioners as Jacques Copeau, Marcel Marceau, and Étienne Decroux. The group thus uses their Sligo base to connect with a major European performance tradition – and the result is a significant re-evaluation of a key Irish text.

Blue Raincoat was one of a wave of Irish companies formed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, partly inspired by the success of Druid Theatre, the Galway-based company founded in 1975. In her essay, José Lanters shows how Druid used their west of Ireland location to allow the Irish theatre to re-connect with the works of John Millington Synge. DruidSynge, the company’s day-long staging of all of Synge’s plays, premiered in Galway in 2005 and subsequently toured internationally, and here Lanters provides an investigation of its time in the United States. What emerges is a theme that runs through this book: that theatre tends to provoke a variety of responses, even as its mediators – marketing people, academics, journalists – seek to impose a single meaning upon what is being performed. As Lanters shows, DruidSynge provoked markedly different reactions as it toured. The critical response as recorded in newspapers can only give us a partial insight into the reactions of audience members; we are therefore faced with the difficulty of retrieving accurately and comprehensively the conditions in which a play was produced and received.


X, 198
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (December)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2012. X, 198 pp., 9 fig. col

Biographical notes

Nicholas Grene (Volume editor) Patrick Lonergan (Volume editor)

Nicholas Grene is Emeritus Professor of English Literature in the School of English, Trinity College, Dublin, a Fellow of the College and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. He has published widely on Shakespeare and on modern Irish drama. He was the founding Director of the Synge Summer School (1991-2000) and was the founding chair of the Irish Theatrical Diaspora research network.


Title: Irish Drama
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210 pages