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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 THREERed Roses for Me (Embassy Theatre, 26 February 1946) 87


Chapter Three Red Roses for Me (Embassy Theatre, 26 February 1946) … we are conscious, watching this dateless play, of a highly contemporary sense of our own discomfort, and find it dif ficult, as representatives of the downtrodden English, to feel sympathy with the downtrodden Irish, whose land, if not f lowing with all the good things we imagine, has yet achieved a reasonable state of political freedom. — Stephen Potter, New Statesman and Nation, 9 March 1946 In the final volume of his Autobiographies, Sunset and Evening Star, Sean O’Casey recalls the writing of Red Roses for Me as being under- taken at the same time that he was engaged on the third volume of his autobiography: Then, one night (one night of love), at eleven o’clock, pip emma, the three children in bed, Eileen getting ready to go into hers, and Sean working away at the biographical book, Drums Under The Windows and the play, Red Roses For Me, the Siren sounded – a series of rising, descending, wavering wails, sending a shiver through all who heard it. The bomber is acomin’ in! Get going! Hurry, hurry! Get the children up; carry the baby down; hurry, man, hurry, woman! (Autobiographies 2, 1992: 585) If O’Casey is referring to the beginning of the Plymouth Blitz this would date the episode to the night of 20 March 1941, the first of the air raids on Plymouth which continued for over a month to 29 April. He and his family were living in Totnes...

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