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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 FIVEPhiladelphia, Here I Come! (Lyric Theatre, 20 September 1967) 143


Chapter Five Philadelphia, Here I Come! (Lyric Theatre, 20 September 1967)1 … if there is anything to equal the self-importance of the Irish – at any rate of this type of export Irishry – it is their bland garrulous and immoderately indulged self-satisfaction. Both are here presented in their purest form. — Hilary Spurling, Spectator, 29 September 1967 Brian Friel was born in Omagh, County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, on 9 January 1929, seven years after the Independence of Ireland and the result- ant partition of the ancient province of Ulster. His mother had been born in Glenties, in a Gaelic-speaking region, in the rural county of Donegal, which was now part of independent Ireland. His father, born in Derry, at that time still known as Londonderry, was the headmaster of a primary school in Culmore, where Friel himself studied. In 1939, when Brian Friel was ten years old, the family moved to Derry, where he completed his secondary schooling. Thus, throughout his childhood and youth, Friel divided his time between the two countries, living and studying in Northern Ireland, where the lingua franca was English, and spending his summer holidays with his mother’s relations in Glenties, on the other side of the border, immersed in a bilingual culture. After an unsuccessful attempt to become a Catholic priest at the St. Patrick seminary, in Maynooth, in the Republic of Ireland, Friel returned 1 Sections of this chapter were previously published in Peter James Harris, ‘Universal or Provincial? Early Reception of Brian Friel’s Philadelphia,...

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