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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 FOURThe Hostage (Theatre Royal, Stratford East, 14 October 1958) 115


Chapter Four The Hostage (Theatre Royal, Stratford East, 14 October 1958) The Hostage is less concerned with fanning the f lames of Anglo-Irish strife than it is with dousing with ridicule some of the idiotic fervour of those who insist on keeping it alive. — Milton Shulman, Evening Standard, 15 October 1958 Given the openly expressed admiration felt by Brendan Behan for the work of Sean O’Casey the lives of the two playwrights are linked by a remarkable synchronicity. Behan was born in Dublin on 9 February 1923, just a fortnight before the forty-two-year-old O’Casey received word of the acceptance of The Shadow of a Gunman by the Abbey Theatre which was to launch his career as a dramatist. His life curtailed by diabetes exac- erbated by the ef fects of alcohol, Behan died on 20 March 1964, almost a year before what would have been his own forty-second birthday, and six months before O’Casey died of a heart attack in Torquay at the age of eighty-four. For very dif ferent reasons, 1958, the focus of the present chap- ter, was the year in which the professional activities of each writer brought them into conf lict with their homeland. For O’Casey it was the year when he retaliated to the withdrawal of his latest play, The Drums of Father Ned, from the Dublin International Theatre Festival due to clerical objection, with the imposition of a ban on all professional production of his plays in Ireland, which he was only to lift...

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