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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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Afterword 255


Afterword Context is everything for theatre. — Dominic Shellard, in Kenneth Tynan, Theatre Writings, 2007 Theatre is by its very nature an ephemeral phenomenon. Each performance is unique, a particular experience shared by the actors on the stage and the members of the audience which, as Shakespeare recognised only too well, vanishes ‘into thin air’ after the final curtain-call. As the audience leaves the theatre the collectivity it shared during the ‘two hours’ traf fic of [the] stage’ also disperses; each member of the audience reassumes his or her individuality along with the overcoat that he or she dons to face the night air outside. A few theatregoers, like the Irish architect and self-appointed chronicler of the Abbey Theatre, Joseph Holloway, are concerned at least to record their impressions in the form of a journal in order to hold onto a vestige of the emotional glow of the performance they have just seen. For most members of the audience however, although the experience of the play may not simply dissolve like Prospero’s ‘cloud-capped towers’, it is eroded almost immediately by the hunt for the car-keys and the concerns of the quotidian round. In Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Reception, Susan Bennett refers to a number of surveys which have attempted to describe the profile of a typical audience (1997: 87–92). The results of these inves- tigations, carried out principally in the United States, but also covering Australia, Britain and other European countries, from 1966 onwards, have been remarkably...

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