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Re-Place

Irish Theatre Environments

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Lisa FitzGerald

What role does nature play in the cultural world of the theatre? Is the auditorium not a natural environment, and how can theatre and nature aesthetics co-exist in the productive expression of performance? Re-Place: Irish Theatre Environments proposes a new way of thinking about Irish theatre: one that challenges established boundaries between nature and culture and argues for theatre performances to be seen as conceptual ecological environments. Broadening the scope of theatre environments to encompass radiophonic and digital spaces, Re-Place is a timely interrogation of how we understand performance history. This book examines the work, both as text and in production, of three canonical Irish playwrights, J. M. Synge, Samuel Beckett and Brian Friel, and looks at how theatre documentation can further the idea of a natural performance environment. The questions under consideration extend Irish theatre history into the field of the environmental humanities and draw on new materialist discourse to offer exciting and innovative ways to approach performance.

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Chapter 2: J. M. Synge and the Emergence of Irish Ecodrama

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CHAPTER 2

J. M. Synge and the Emergence of Irish Ecodrama

The western seaboard has traditionally held sway in the Irish cultural imagination and that hold extends to environmental discourse. One of the most performed landscapes in Ireland is that of the rural West and its islands. Why the rural West? The ritualistic origins of the theatre become suffused with attempts to perform a wilder and unknown (or unknowable) nature. There is an impression in ethnographic accounts that the region was pristine and untouched. Aesthetics evolved in conjunction with the Irish Cultural Revival which similarly sought to perform an authentic or real Ireland that was wild and untamed. Eóin Flannery has reiterated this point saying that the West of Ireland was a ‘site of “counter rational” and neo-Romantic expressions of disillusionment, as well as the primary imaginative locale for mid-late nineteenth century Irish nationalism’.1 But wild and untamed landscapes are a misnomer, as Boivin et al. have argued, most landscapes are ‘palimpsests shaped by repeated episodes of human activity over multiple millennia’ and the West of Ireland was no exception.2 Analysing J. M. Synge’s Riders to the Sea and The Well of the Saints as well as the DruidSynge tour, this chapter examines the notion of place as a living archive: an historical collection of narratives tied to a specific geographical environment.

Synge’s ethnographic texts (that form the basis for these theatrical re-enactments of place) are environmental texts, as...

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