‘I love craft. I love the word’

The Theatre of Deirdre Kinahan

by Lisa Fitzpatrick (Volume editor) Maria Kurdi (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection XII, 304 Pages


Over the last twenty years Deirdre Kinahan has emerged as a significant and original female voice in Irish theatre, with her plays produced in Ireland, the UK, the USA and across mainland Europe. Her work explores issues of personal and communal identity, bringing forward the difficulties that arise for individuals when accepted narratives of identity diverge from contemporary experience. In this collection of ten original essays, and an interview with the playwright, the authors address the ways in which Kinahan’s plays interrogate and seek to renegotiate value systems of family, class, ethnicity, age and gender in the 21st century neoliberal, secular state, with an emphasis on experimental forms and the renewal of the genre of the family play. Theoretical frameworks rely on feminism, intersectionality, genre studies, and age studies, among other approaches, by authors from Ireland, the UK, Hungary, the USA, Nigeria, Canada and Taiwan.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Photographs
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction (Mária Kurdi)
  • 1 Reckonings in Small Rooms: Staging Trauma in Moment and Rathmines Road (Deirdre O’Leary)
  • 2 ‘The afternoon of life’: Ageing, Dementia and Dying in Deirdre Kinahan’s Halcyon Days (Donald E. Morse)
  • 3 ‘Haunted by the Past’: Representations of Women in the Plays of Deirdre Kinahan (Rebecca (Bex) Wharton)
  • 4 Translation, Adaptation and Feminism: Revealing ‘A Familiar Reflex of the Repressed’ in Deirdre Kinahan’s The Unmanageable Sisters (Aileen Ruane)
  • 5 Intersectionality and Form in Five Short Plays by Deirdre Kinahan (Eamonn Jordan)
  • 6 ‘I suppose I feel disappeared meself’: Shamed and Silenced Characters in Deirdre Kinahan’s BogBoy (Lisa Fitzpatrick)
  • 7 Problematizing the Easter Rising in Monologues: Deirdre Kinahan’s Wild Sky and Other Irish Plays (Wei H. Kao)
  • 8 An Act of Love? Filicide and Child-killing in Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats and Deirdre Kinahan’s Spinning (Mária Kurdi)
  • 9 Moments that Matter: Hue & Cry and Moment by Deirdre Kinahan and American Family Drama (Lenke Németh)
  • 10 Nevertheless, She Persisted: Deirdre Kinahan’s Plays in the United States (Tanya Dean)
  • 11 An Other Interview with Dee (Bisi Adigun)
  • Afterword (Lisa Fitzpatrick and Mária Kurdi)
  • Links to Significant Critical Reviews of Deirdre Kinahan: Productions in Ireland and Elsewhere
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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We would like to thank the authors of the essays and the interviewer for their generosity with their time and their crafting of these thoughtful and illuminating essays, and to Deirdre Kinahan for access to her unpublished manuscripts and her photographs of performances and herself. Thanks to Peter Lang Publishers and Carysfort Press for their support with this volume, and particular thanks to Eamonn Jordan and Tony Mason for their advice and encouragement throughout. Thank you to Brian Singleton and Joan FitzPatrick Dean, who were kind enough to volunteer their time as expert readers. We are also grateful to Nick Hern, the publisher of Deirdre Kinahan’s plays, for the permission he granted to use several quotations from the respective playtexts. Finally, our thanks to the community of Irish drama scholars for their conference papers – public and private discussions of the plays, our scholarship, and this project, and their enduring commitment to the development of Irish theatre scholarship.

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Mária Kurdi


Deirdre Kinahan (1968) is an elected member of Aosdána, Ireland’s association of outstanding artists, Literary Associate with Meath County Council Arts Office, and has served as a board member for the Abbey Theatre, Theatre Forum Ireland and the Stewart Parker Trust. Her work is translated into many languages, published primarily by Nick Hern Books, and produced regularly in Ireland and on the international stage. In an interview Kinahan says that ‘I was pretty much reared on [Irish playwrights] as my mother and I trotted along to pretty much everything in Dublin when I was a teenager. My mother loved the theatre and was delighted to have an enthusiastic partner. I saw all the great traditional productions at the Abbey and many more contemporary ones at the Project and Peacock.’1 From this special early interest there developed a dedication to the profession of theatre making, acting and then playwriting. To begin with, she received an MA degree in Drama Studies from University College, Dublin. Later, as a daring enterprise, Kinahan co-founded with Maureen Collender Tall Tales Theatre Company, a small independent group, which ran for fifteen years and produced new contemporary drama. Coming from a financially secure, loving and encouraging family environment, Kinahan had always been interested in the problems and needs of those who are less lucky and face various hardships, for instance connected with the disadvantages of the Celtic Tiger economic boom and its aftermath. She worked for some time with a group called Ruhama Women’s Project, which supported women earning a living by prostitution in Dublin. They asked her to ←1 | 2→write a play about prostitutes, and fulfilling this request after some hesitation, she wrote Bé Carna (an old Irish term which means women of the flesh, in fact prostitutes), this first play reaching the stage in 1999. Since then she has been producing for the Irish and international stage at a remarkable speed and has won a variety of acknowledgements of her work, including Arts Council of Ireland Commission Awards. In the above-quoted interview Kinahan also says: ‘I love craft. I love the word’,2 which short, confession-like statement seems to function as a playwright’s creed evoking the Revival tradition of verbal theatre, and was chosen to be the title of this collection.

Over the last twenty-two years Kinahan has emerged as a significant and original female voice in Irish theatre, whose dramatic work explores issues of individual and communal identity, bringing forward the difficulties that arise for people when they experience a gap between conventionally accepted rules of moral behaviour and the challenges of contemporary social diversity. In this collection the essays and an interview with the playwright address the ways in which Kinahan’s plays interrogate and seek to renegotiate value systems of family, class, ethnicity, age and gender in the twenty-first century, with an emphasis on experimental forms and the renewal of certain generic conventions. The playwright makes us aware of some sympathy for even the biased or sinning characters; although her works are usually anchored in historical time or issues of the contemporary scene, they share the dramaturgical choice of presenting micro-histories. Regarding her plays’ relation to Irish dramatic traditions, Patrick Lonergan’s view can be quoted: ‘Conor McPherson, Mark O’Rowe and Deirdre Kinahan are developing the form by building on the achievements of earlier writers.’3 Kinahan’s theatre tackles the genre in diverse and innovative ways yet usually leading to a positive note at the end, or at least allowing the audience to imagine that some change for the better in the intersubjective relations is possible.←2 | 3→

Authors in the collection reflect an internationally based critical ambition to address various parts of Kinahan’s oeuvre and represent several countries: Ireland, the UK, Hungary, the United States, Nigeria, Canada and Taiwan. The first two essays analyse traumatizing personal experiences and memories in some of Kinahan’s recently accomplished full-length plays. ‘Reckonings in Small Rooms: Staging Trauma in Moment and Rathmines Road’ by Deirdre O’Leary explores the traces of respective occurrences in the past which generated residual pain for the female protagonists in the two works. According to O’Leary’s discussion what conjures up the painful memories of Niamh in Moment and Sandra in Rathmines Road is the re-appearance of a person they have not seen for a long time. However, the source of their hauntedness is different and so is the space in which it becomes apparent: a family kitchen in Moment and the mind of Sandra in Rathmines Road. Both spatial choices undermine audience expectations in that they reach back to and revitalize tropes and motifs of Irish drama traditions. The arrival of a stranger is replaced by the visit of a long estranged family member in Moment, and, in the later play, surrealism on stage turns into a series of revelatory acts which prove wholly imaginary in Rathmines Road. Donald E. Morse’s ‘“The afternoon of life”: Ageing, Dementia and Dying in Deirdre Kinahan’s Halcyon Days’ investigates the representation of an issue which is indisputably timely in Ireland and elsewhere. Doing so, the author also looks at Salad Day, an earlier version of Halcyon Days with an eye for the differences, coming to the conclusion that psychological nuances and the growth of empathy with the other person make the character development of the later play considerably more complex.

‘“Haunted by the Past”: Representations of Women in the Plays of Deirdre Kinahan’ is the title of Rebecca (Bex) Wharton’s essay, which offers a survey of Kinahan’s female characters in five plays, from Bé Carna to Spinning. These women characters, as Wharton demonstrates, while seeking to carve out a space for themselves in the social fabric, have to confront traumatic memories of what they have experienced, ranging from sexual abuse and humiliation to the unexplainable loss of a child. Kinahan is approached as a writer keen on staging her female characters’ efforts to name the truth of what has been tormenting them, a comprehension necessary for moving forward. Next to this essay is the one entitled ‘Translation, ←3 | 4→Adaptation and Feminism: Revealing “A Familiar Reflex of the Repressed” in Deirdre Kinahan’s The Unmanageable Sisters’ by Aileen Ruane, which focuses on the only adaptation Kinahan has undertaken so far. The author is a Canadian scholar familiar with joual, a French dialect used by working-class people in Montreal, which Michael Tremblay’s play, Les Belles-sœurs, put on stage for the first time. Ruane introduces feminist theoretical assumptions of translation strategies which provide a specific angle on the Irish version by a woman playwright giving voice to an all-female cast’s private language habits against the context of the 1970s. In Ruane’s interpretation, Kinahan makes interventionist choices while working with the English translation to achieve her own, ideologically sensitive adaptation.

For his essay under the title ‘Intersectionality and Form in Five Short Plays by Deirdre Kinahan’ Eamonn Jordan builds up a theoretical framework in terms of which intersections of class, gender, sexuality, race and age are considered as the basis of analysis. Also, the generic properties of the so called ‘short play’ are discussed in the introductory part of the essay with reference to the use of the form especially in the dramatic output of the early twentieth-century Irish Literary Revival, thus reconfirming the link between Kinahan’s work and the traditions of Irish drama. Only two of the fives short plays, Bé Carna, BogBoy, Hue & Cry, Wild Sky and Wild Notes, were published in print earlier and the others can be accessed only as manuscripts courtesy of Deirdre Kinahan, but all of them are going to be published in one volume by Nick Hern, presumably later this year. Jordan discusses each play in detail, exploring the adaptability of form to interrogate the characters’ experience of trying to cope with or even transcend intersectional determinedness. ‘“I suppose I feel disappeared meself”:4 Shamed and Silenced Characters in Deirdre Kinahan’s BogBoy’ written by Lisa Fitzpatrick focuses on one of the short plays waiting to be published in the prospective collection by Nick Hern. The essay relies on the tropes of vanishment and disappearance to address the social and political embeddedness of the play’s portrayal of people who became silenced and disappeared from public view for being vulnerable, powerless, dispossessed or poor and abused. Fitzpatrick draws a parallel between the ←4 | 5→three characters (including one already dead) and their relationships to the bogland where the protagonist, Brigit, finds temporary shelter from the ruins of her life before her past catches up with her in the form of patriarchal control and stigmatization. In spite of this, she has gained a voice and is capable of narrating her own story, Fitzpatrick emphasizes. The essay also discusses the manifold significance of bogs in Irish history as well as in aesthetic representations, ranging from a place of hiding or struggle with the enemy to a space of freeing the self.

Next are placed two essays, both dedicated to the ways in which respective plays by Kinahan compare with some of her both male and female contemporaries in Ireland. ‘Problematizing the Easter Rising in Monologues: Deirdre Kinahan’s Wild Sky and Other Irish Plays’ by Wei H. Kao begins with an inclusive survey of a great variety of artistic responses in the Irish theatre to the Rising across the one hundred years that have elapsed since then. Kao looks at Wild Sky in this context, reading Kinahan’s adaptation of the monologue technique against other playwrights’ use of the form in the collection called Signatories, published in the centenary year of the Easter Rising, 2016. An important feature of the monologue form, Kao writes referring to theoretical ideas about it, is that it normally gives voice to the personal side of experiences, influenced by political actions in this case. Wild Sky is considered rather special against Signatories as the eight short monologues of the collection are by front-line participants of the Rising respectively, while Kinahan constructs and juxtaposes monologues of ordinary young country people experiencing the influence of the Rising. Flanking this essay, ‘An Act of Love? Filicide and Child-killing in Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats and Deirdre Kinahan’s Spinning’ by Mária Kurdi takes the planned filicide in award-winning Spinning and the actual one in the play by Carr under scrutiny. Through close reading of the texts an attempt is made here to demonstrate that Hester and Conor, the abandoned and lovelorn protagonists in the respective plays, bear some basic similarities to each other in their aggravated depression and fatal loss of self-restraint. Therefore, their filicide, real or envisaged, can hardly be regarded as an act of love but as an irrational one verging on insanity, which they both regret minutes later.←5 | 6→

Two essays on Kinahan and American theatre close the group of essays in the book. In ‘Moments that Matter: Hue & Cry and Moment by Deirdre Kinahan and American Family Drama’ Lenke Németh argues that American domestic drama, defined as a subgenre by Arthur Miller for instance, and Kinahan’s plays of the title, share certain patterns. Németh places her argument in the context of interfaces between American and Irish drama, dating back to Eugene O’Neill’s admiration for the touring Abbey theatre’s performances in New York. In the discussion of family discrepancies in Hue & Cry and Moment the American parallels are from Sam Shepard and David Mamet primarily, who continue the conventions of family drama using a variety of dramatic techniques that range from absurdist to postmodern. However, Németh claims, the distinguishing feature of the two Kinahan works is that in spite of the deep-rooted conflicts and traumas they represent, at the end of the plays there seems to appear a glimpse of hope that family members may develop some better understanding of each other, and she calls attention to the theatricality of the Kriyah dance in Hue & Cry. Tanya Dean’s essay, ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted: Deirdre Kinahan’s Plays in the United States’ quotes Kinahan who has spoken openly about the fact that — due to initially lukewarm critical responses to her work in her native Ireland — the majority of her career was built on the tireless labour of self-producing, and by building a network of international productions and collaborators, particularly in the United States. Dean demonstrates how and why Kinahan’s work found a warmly receptive audience in the United States, touring to venues across the States and with new productions of her work by American companies. The chapter offers an overview of Kinahan’s career in the States via exclusive interviews with some of Kinahan’s notable collaborators and also includes insights from Kinahan herself.

‘An Other Interview with Dee’ by Bisi Adigun is really not an ordinary one, as the title suggests. Interviewer and interviewee have known each other since 1997 when they both were postgraduate students of Drama Studies at University College, Dublin. Nigerian Adigun is a man of the theatre entirely, an actor and founder of the first African theatre in Ireland, called Arambe, who also taught works of Kinahan to undergraduate students at Trinity College Dublin. The focus of the talk is on the intriguing ←6 | 7→presence of ‘other’ and ‘otherness’ in Kinahan’s oeuvre, which constructs several characters living on the margin of society or belonging to a specific minority group, or who suffered violence of a lasting impact at some stage in the past. This vivid interview reintroduces most of the major themes raised by the ten preceding essays while placing them in a new light, because here the author of the plays herself touches on their importance and intertwining characteristics.


XII, 304
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (February)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XII, 304 pp., 5 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Lisa Fitzpatrick (Volume editor) Maria Kurdi (Volume editor)

Lisa Fitzpatrick is Senior Lecturer in Drama at University of Ulster in Derry. Her work is concerned with violence, post-conflict theatre and gender, and she is the author of Rape on the Contemporary Stage (2017), as well as edited collections on Performing Violence in Contemporary Ireland (2010) and Performing Feminisms in Contemporary Ireland (2013). Her current work explores gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict societies and involves a collaboration with Kabosh Theatre Company, Belfast. She is co-convenor of the Feminist Working Group at the International Federation for Theatre Research, as well as a founding member of the Irish Society for Theatre Studies. Mária Kurdi is Professor Emerita in the Institute of English Studies at the University of Pécs, Hungary. Her research focuses on modern Irish literature, English-speaking drama and comparative studies. She has published seven books and edited or co-edited several essay collections. Her own books include Representations of Gender and Female Subjectivity in Contemporary Irish Drama by Women (Edwin Mellen, 2010), Approaches to Irish Theatre through a Hungarian’s Lens (University of Pécs, 2018) and a monograph on J. M. Synge in Hungarian (Pécs: Kronosz kiadó, 2021). Her edited volumes include Literary and Cultural Relations: Ireland, Hungary, and Central and Eastern Europe and Radical Contemporary Theatre Practices by Women in Ireland (co-edited with Miriam Haughton), which Carysfort Press published in 2009 and 2015, respectively. Mária Kurdi has numerous articles in English and Hungarian journals as well as essay collections. In 2020 she edited a block of essays about aging and ageism in literature and theatre for the Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies, which will be part of a book on the subject she is editing for HJEAS Books, New Series, to be published in 2022.


Title: ‘I love craft. I love the word’