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Community Politics and the Peace Process in Contemporary Northern Irish Drama


Eva Urban

This book examines theatre within the context of the Northern Ireland conflict and peace process, with reference to a wide variety of plays, theatre productions and community engagements within and across communities. The author clarifies both the nature of the social and political vision of a number of major contemporary Northern Irish dramatists and the manner in which this vision is embodied in text and in performance. The book identifies and celebrates a tradition of playwrights and drama practitioners who, to this day, challenge and question all Northern Irish ideologies and propose alternative paths. The author’s analysis of a selection of Northern Irish plays, written and produced over the course of the last thirty years or so, illustrates the great variety of approaches to ideology in Northern Irish drama, while revealing a common approach to staging the conflict and the peace process, with a distinct emphasis on utopian performatives and the possibility of positive change.


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Chapter 3 Remodelling Mythologies: Field Day’s ‘Fifth Province’ and Frank McGuinness’s Ulster Plays 131


Chapter 3 Remodelling Mythologies: Field Day’s ‘Fifth Province’ and Frank McGuinness’s Ulster Plays In his plays Carthaginians (1988) and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching towards the Somme (1985), Frank McGuinness uses the subversive power of theatre to create iconoclastic characters who rebel against the manipula- tion of history by ideologues and to remodel destructive mythologies by dramatizing pluralities in the context of the Northern Irish community. McGuinness’s strong, partly expressionist picture in Carthaginians cele- brates and critically explores his own Catholic background. He dramatizes the Northern crisis of community and identity in the wake of the tragedy of Bloody Sunday 1972, which significantly shaped Catholic consciousness North and South of the border. Conversely, in Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching towards the Somme, McGuinness imagines the Ulster Unionist viewpoint with a sense of its particular difference, as well as the similarities between the two Northern Irish communities. Taken together, the two plays subvert the yearning for a historical identity, constructed upon ancestral conflict and blood-sacrifice, common to both communities. My discussion of these two plays by Frank McGuinness examines the retrospective invention of myths and icons that pose as history and the use of these in constructive or destructive ways. In a recent study, Carmen Szabó discusses how Irish cultural theorists Luke Gibbons, Richard Kearney and Declan Kiberd analyse Irish writings in relation to ancient mythology: Irish writers consciously employ Greek or Roman mythology to establish a direct link between modern Irish culture and ‘the cradle of European culture’,...

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