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From Stage to Page

Critical Reception of Irish Plays in the London Theatre, 1925–1996


Peter James Harris

In December 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, which led to the creation of the Irish Free State and the partition of Ireland the following year. The consequences of that attempt to reconcile the conflicting demands of republicans and unionists alike have dictated the course of Anglo-Irish relations ever since. This book explores how the reception of Irish plays staged in theatres in London’s West End serves as a barometer not only of the state of relations between Great Britain and Ireland, but also of the health of the British and Irish theatres respectively.
For each of the eight decades following Irish Independence a representative production is set in the context of Anglo-Irish relations in the period and developments in the theatre of the day. The first-night criticism of each production is analysed in the light of its political and artistic context as well as the editorial policy of the publication for which a given critic is writing.
The author argues that the relationship between context and criticism is not simply one of cause and effect but, rather, the result of the interplay of a number of cultural, historical, political, artistic and personal factors.


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CHAPTER ONEJuno and the Paycock (Royalty Theatre, 16 November 1925) 19


Chapter One Juno and the Paycock (Royalty Theatre, 16 November 1925) … the production of an Irish play in London is greeted with a chorus of sycophantic adulation not to be explained by our notorious tenderness for all exotic performances. — Christopher St. John, Time and Tide, 4 December 1925 On 6 December 1921 British and Irish negotiators signed a peace treaty of fering independence to Ireland’s southern counties as the ‘Irish Free State’. One month later, on the night of Saturday 7 January 1922, after a protracted and fiery debate, Dáil Éireann, the provisional Irish parliament, voted to ratify the treaty. The slender margin of approval, sixty-four votes in favour to fifty-seven against, was indicative of the profound rift dividing the country over a proposal that was to leave the six northern counties of Ulster under British dominion. Just a few hours after the vote, Éamon de Valera, the leader of the Republican Sinn Fein party, assured a deputation from the Catholic Hibernian Society of Australia that the fight for self- determination would go on. On the British mainland the events of the weekend were scanned over breakfast tables and on London commuter trains in the Monday papers. The editorial in the Daily Telegraph1 ref lected the view of the British political establishment that, although problems undoubtedly lay ahead, Britain had fulfilled its Irish commitments honourably, and could now 1 The Daily Telegraph is a Conservative broadsheet newspaper, which was founded in 1855. In the 1920s it was still owned...

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