Theatre and Archival Memory: Irish Drama and Marginalised Histories 1951-1977 9783030745479, 9783030745486

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Theatre and Archival Memory: Irish Drama and Marginalised Histories 1951-1977
 9783030745479, 9783030745486

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Table of contents :
List of Figures
Chapter 1: Introduction: Towards an Archival Memory—Performance and Archive
Can We Witness (or Rewitness) Theatre History?
Modernising Ireland—Society, Class and Experimental Form
Constructing Archival Memory: Reclaiming the Record, Reinterpreting Historiography
Theories of Social Remembering—Memory and Political Resonances
Remembering Irish Theatre—Political and Historiographical Problems
Internationalisng Irish Theatre Post-1951: Influences, Resonances and Archival Legacies
Culture and Gender on the Modern Irish Stage—A Feminist Archival Lens
Chapter 2: Performing the Family: Law and the State
Women and Cultural Production: Breaking the Domestic Fourth Wall
Gender and Performing Roles in Ireland—Finding Voice
Women, Ireland and Disrupting the Social Order
Carolyn Swift—Throwing off ‘The Millstone’
Carolyn Swift and Establishing the Pike Aesthetic
Production and Reception—The Millstone, Childhood Adoption and Irish Society of the 1950s
“A Most Alarming Thing”—Edna O’Brien and Staging a ‘Pagan Ireland’
Reception of A Pagan Place—The ‘Playwright on the Stairs’ and the Psychological Choke
Conclusion—Archival Memory of Absent Women
Chapter 3: Internationalising Irish Drama: A Global Stage
Siobhán McKenna and Hamlet’s Irish Voice
Locating a New Irish Drama—‘Ireland on Stage’
The Globe Theatre and Genevieve Lyons—A New Irish Theatre
Returning Home: Yanks and Country Boys—The Changing Irish Homeplace
Addressing Youth Culture in Post-Emergency Ireland
The Country Boy and Staging Modernising Ireland
Chapter 4: The Pike Theatre and Intercultural Ireland
Further Follies and Cultural Exchanges: Say It with Follies, 1956–1957
The Pike Follies and Irish Trade—Irish Culture Inc.
Follies in the Sun: The Emerald Isle and the Caribbean
Chapter 5: Radical Dramaturgies: Censorship and Dramatic Expression
Links to Theatre Movements in Great Britain
Theatre, Ireland and the 1950s: New Beginnings
The Catholic Church, Censorship and Monitoring of Irish Theatre
The Birth of The Ginger Man and Ireland’s Look Back in Anger
The Ginger Man and Staging Domestic Conflict
Archival Memory and Evidence: Recovering The Ginger Man— Censorship and Reception
Chapter 6: Staging the Memoryscape of Middle-Class Ireland
Leonard and the Irish Canon—The Outsider and an Uneasy Relationship
Becoming ‘Hugh Leonard’
Leonard’s New Ireland and Losing the Land
The Arrival of Hugh Leonard
A Walk on the Water—Escaping Society and the City
Summer—Place, Heritage and Landscape
‘Unreal City’—Leonard and Encountering Memory
Chapter 7: 1970s Ireland: Performing the Immersive Political
Lelia Doolan: ‘Bringing Theatre to the People’
Project Arts Centre: A New Artists Co-operative
New Irish Plays at Project: Plays Very Unpleasant
We’re Guilty ‘Cause We’re Filthy: Project Arts Centre and Censorship
Ireland and the Post-colonial Present: Famine and the ‘Black Man’s Country’
Famine and Ireland: An Embodied Repository of Memory
‘Black Man’s Country’: Irish Missions and Diplomacy
‘Ethiopian with a Touch of Yeats’: Oda Oak Oracle and African-Irish Verse Drama
Documentary Theatre and the Immersive Political: Joint Stock and Speaker’s Corner
Documentary and Commemoration: Staging the Politics of Memory
Healing and Violent Identifies: Graham Reid and Protestant Identity at the Abbey Theatre
The Politics of Bodies: Staging Fragility in/from Conflict
Chapter 8: Conclusions: Memory and the Periphery in Irish Drama
Archive and Primary Sources
Newspapers and Periodicals
Books and Articles

Citation preview

Theatre and Archival Memory Irish Drama and Marginalised Histories 1951–1977

Barry Houlihan

Theatre and Archival Memory “Barry Houlihan’s Theatre and Archival Memory: Irish Drama and Marginalised Histories, 1951–1977 is rich in new archival information relating to a fascinating period of Irish cultural and social history. Written by a professional archivist, this book comprises an indispensable resource for Irish theatre scholars as well as scholars of late twentieth century Irish cultural history.” —Lionel Pilkington, Professor, Department of English, NUI, Galway “Breathtaking in its precision and originality, Barry Houlihan’s monograph offers a dynamic engagement with the archive which expands the canon of Modern Irish Drama as we know it. This study offers a living-history which moves beyond textual analysis to release the sensory power of live performances, events and places. Productions and key figures are brought to glorious life through Houlihan’s unrivalled range of source materials, interviews, artefacts and ephemera which illuminate previously unknown histories of gender, class and social conditions in Twentieth Century Irish Theatre.” —Melissa Sihra, Head of Drama and Associate Professor, Trinity College Dublin “This timely book is an invigorating call to (re)witness Irish theatre history; Theatre and Archival Memory: Irish Drama and Marginalised Histories 1951–1977 compellingly articulates a history of theatre-going in modernising Ireland, thus creating a revelatory portrait of a State and theatre in transition. Houlihan’s thoughtful and forensic scholarship into the material and archival history of Irish theatre and society uncovers a trove of neglected plays and playwrights. This book challenges outdated views on the history of Irish theatre by expanding and enriching our understanding of the artists, institutions and societal forces that shaped Irish theatre practice. An invaluable and illuminating resource for all scholars, historians and practitioners of Irish theatre.” —Tanya Dean, Programme Chair: BA in Drama (Performance), Technological University Dublin

“Barry Houlihan’s Theatre and Archival Memory analyses a pivotal but underexplored period in Irish theatre history—showing us an Ireland that was beginning to embrace globalization, liberalism and industrialisation, but which was also inexorably heading towards the tragedy of the Troubles. This book explains how the Irish theatre both encouraged and analysed those societal changes, focussing on major dramatists from Brendan Behan to Brian Friel to Edna O’Brien, as well as writers who have been unjustly neglected. It also dedicates much-needed attention to Ireland’s other theatre-makers: its directors and actors, its designers and producers, and perhaps most importantly its audiences. Using a staggering array of archival sources—many of which have never before been written about—this book will have a transformative impact on Irish theatre history and historiography.” —Patrick Lonergan, MRIA, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies, NUI Galway

Barry Houlihan

Theatre and Archival Memory Irish Drama and Marginalised Histories 1951–1977

Barry Houlihan Archives/Drama NUI Galway NUI Galway, Galway, Galway, Ireland

ISBN 978-3-030-74547-9    ISBN 978-3-030-74548-6 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Gate Theatre Archive, NUI Galway; Photo Credit: Tom Lawlor This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

For Cathal and for Rachel With Endless Thanks.


This journey began as a PhD project in 2015. I was fortunate to have had support from the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway Further Education Policy (FEP) scheme for funding to undertake that project. I am extremely grateful to Lionel Pilkington, my PhD supervisor, and without whose expert guidance and endless patience over many years, this work would not have developed. I am grateful to Patrick Lonergan for all invaluable insights and supports in the research of this book. Special mention also goes to colleagues in the O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway: Miriam Haughton, Charlotte McIvor, Catherine Morris, Marianne Ní Chinnéide and Ian Walsh, to whom I am continually indebted. Particular thanks also to Melissa Sihra and to Tanya Dean for all invaluable insights on shaping this book and research. Daniel Carey and Martha Shaughnessy of the Moore Institute, and Cathal O’Donoghue, Dean of Arts, NUI Galway, provided much support and advice, including for events and seminars, as did Jim Browne and Liz McConnell. I am grateful to all friends and colleagues at Archives and Special Collections and across the James Hardiman Library of NUI Galway. John Cox and Niall McSweeney supported the planning and hosting of numerous events and conferences related to this book research. I am also grateful to Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh and colleagues at the President’s Office, NUI Galway, and to Registrar, Pól Ó’Dochartaigh. The global lockdown experienced during 2020 and 2021 owing to Covid-19 meant that a lot of planned research at archives and libraries vii



within Ireland and internationally couldn’t happen. I am indebted to the work of many archivists and librarians who gave time and expertise so generously to send digitised material free of charge. I am most particularly grateful to Róisín Berry, Archivist, NUI Maynooth, for materials from the Fr. Desmond Forristal Archive and for all her insights on the archive. The archive staff of the University of California, Davis kindly provided materials from the Joint Stock Archive. Mairéad Delaney offered invaluable help on clearing rights and permissions for images from the Abbey Theatre Archive. Thanks to Louise Morgan of the National Gallery of Ireland. I am very thankful to all staff of Manuscripts Department, Library of Trinity College Dublin, for all assistance on the many research visits. The staff of the Gate Theatre Dublin offered kind assistance and permissions on reproducing materials from the Gate Theatre Digital Archive; to Noelle Dowling of the Dublin Diocesan Archive, the staff of the National Library of Ireland and the staff of the National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, for all assistance. John Gibney offered invaluable insights on archives of Irish foreign policy; as did Kevin O’Sullivan. Deidre Finnerty’s journalism and kind assistance provided great insights into sources and experiences of race in mid-twentieth-century Ireland. Conor O’Malley offered information and comments vital to understanding the record and history of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Thanks so much to Maureen Simpson for all generosity, help and input into sections relating to the Pike Theatre and Carolyn Swift. Deirdre Byrnes of NUI Galway very kindly translated letters from German. I am very grateful to Connal Parr for generously sharing his work on theatre in Northern Ireland. Bill Dunn and the Donleavy family offered so much generosity in access to the Donleavy papers. Jim Carroll, Editor of RTÉ Brainstorm, offered great supports through publishing articles and allowing for development of pieces and topics that would help this book. Eamon Maher and Eugene O’Brien kindly supported work and publications over the past year. Siobhán Bourke, Jane Daly, Catherine Murphy, and all the team at the Irish Theatre Institute, Dublin in thanks for all they do in documenting the work and history of Irish theatre through and other means. Thanks to all at the Gate Theatre Research Network and the International Association for Study of Irish Literatures (IASIL), where I was also grateful to receive the IASIL conference postgraduate bursary in 2018; thanks to Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche (LIBER), International Association of Libraries, Museums, Archives and



Documentation Centres of the Performing Arts (SIBMAS) and the Association for Performing Arts Collections (APAC). The discussions with colleagues and feedback received were invaluable in developing this work. A number of individuals I am indebted to provided much help along the way, including Betty Attwood, Beatriz Bastos, Ruud Van den Beuken, David Clare, Marguérite Corporaal, John Countryman, Joseph DunneHowrie, Joan FitzPatrick Dean, Ruth Hegarty, Nicholas Grene, Des Lally, José Lanters, Chris Morash, Ondr ̌ej Pilný, Shaun Richards, Aileen Ruane, Elaine Sisson, Siobhán O’Gorman, Mark Phelan, Willie White and Grace Vroomen. I am hugely grateful to Lelia Doolan, who gave her time so generously in being interviewed for this book and in sharing so many memories and experiences from her life and career in the theatre. Thanks to Eileen Srebernik, Jack Heeney and Charanya Manoharan of Palgrave Macmillan for all supports and feedback in commissioning and producing this book. Thanks also to Killian Downing, Sonia Freaney, Aisling Keane and Maria Ryan, who kept me going along the way on this. I pay special tribute and thanks to my mother, Betty, for the never-ending help. Missed most of all is my late father, John, who is never far from my thoughts. Special thanks to all my siblings, Aidan, Carol, and Shane, and to the gang of the next generation—all nieces and nephews! The most necessary thanks of all go to my wife, Rachel, and my son, Cathal, for all unfailing supports and patience.


1 Introduction: Towards an Archival Memory—Performance and Archive  1 2 Performing the Family: Law and the State 27 3 Internationalising Irish Drama: A Global Stage 71 4 The Pike Theatre and Intercultural Ireland103 5 Radical Dramaturgies: Censorship and Dramatic Expression125 6 Staging the Memoryscape of Middle-Class Ireland163 7 1970s Ireland: Performing the Immersive Political195 8 Conclusions: Memory and the Periphery in Irish Drama247 Bibliography255 Index265


List of Figures

Fig. 1.1 Fig. 2.1 Fig. 2.2 Fig. 2.3 Fig. 3.1 Fig. 3.2 Fig. 3.3 Fig. 3.4 Fig. 6.1 Fig. 6.2

Scene from Follies, the first revue at the Pike Theatre, 1954. (© Genevieve Lyons Archive, NUI Galway T38/4/4/2) 21 A Family by Louis Le Brocquy, 1951. (© National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) 28 Programme cover of The Millstone by Carolyn Swift, 1951. (Carolyn Swift Archive, NUI Galway) 47 Poster from the Abbey Theatre production of A Pagan Place, 1977, designed by Wendy Shea. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway) 61 Siobhán McKenna. (© Siobhán McKenna Archive, NUI Galway) 74 Genevieve Lyons as Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera, Globe Theatre Company, 1956. (© Genevieve Lyons Archive, NUI Galway)82 Wide-angle shot of the set of The Country Boy by John Murphy, Abbey Theatre, 1959. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway)91 Programme cover from the Abbey Theatre production of Philadelphia, Here I Come! by Brian Friel, directed by Tómas Mac Anna, 1972. © Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway 99 Poster from A Life by Hugh Leonard, 1979, Abbey Theatre, Dublin. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway) 167 Programme excerpt from An Taibhdhearc production of Gorta (Famine) by Tom Murphy and translated by Mick Lally. (©Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Archive, NUI Galway) 181



List of Figures

Fig. 6.3 Fig. 7.1

Fig. 7.2

Scene from The Scatterin’ by James McKenna, Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 1973. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway) 187 The Death of Humpty Dumpty by Graham Reid, 1979, Abbey, Theatre, Dublin. Pictured include Colm Meaney, Clive Geraghty and Liam Neeson. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway) 238 Programme Cover, The Silver Tassie by Sean O’Casey, 1972. (Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway) 240


Introduction: Towards an Archival Memory—Performance and Archive

On 29 April 1970, a protest against the lack of vision for new forms of Irish drama took place outside the Peacock theatre space at the Abbey Theatre. A small group had gathered to picket a new production of Lennox Robinson’s 1928 play, The Far Off Hills. A light comedy about the relationships of the Clancy family, Robinson’s play was a staple of the Abbey’s repertoire for decades, having had over thirty-six revivals up to 1970. Its reappearance, in April 1970, on the stage specially designated for the exploration of new forms of experimental Irish drama, provoked a demonstration from the members of an amateur theatre group, the Demona Players.1 The group carried banners with slogans “Abbey Directors Over the Hill”, “The Abbey—The Cultural Wasteland” and “Experimental Theatre? Yes, 1930s style”.2 Directed by Frank Dermody,3 the production was reported to be of a slow pace and traditionally realist in its production and acting style. The 1  No information can be traced as to the origins or membership of the Demona Players amateur theatre group. 2  ‘Protest outside Dublin Theatre’, Cork Examiner, 30 April 1970, 20. 3  Frank Dermody joined the Abbey Theatre in 1939, replacing Louis D’Alton, who had recently stepped down from the Board of Directors. Dermody directed, designed and acted in many plays at the Abbey Theatre over his association of close to forty years. Dermody directed three further plays at the Peacock Theatre, the space reserved for experimental work, following his production of The Far Off Hills in 1970. These plays included Grogan and the Ferret by George Shiels (1970), In The Shadow of the Gunman by Sean O’Casey

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




production ultimately failed to meet the remit of the Peacock Theatre space as a hub for experimentation and new dramatic forms. David Nowlan, theatre critic of the Irish Times, noted that Dermody’s direction of the play was ‘curiously static’, with the sets ‘strangely ugly and irrelevant.’ Yet, despite the public misgivings about this non-experimental play being presented in the studio space, Nowlan concluded his review by stating that ‘a night of Brecht’ was to be surpassed every time by the likes of the performances seen in The Far Off Hills.4 A spokesperson for the protesters commented, “the Peacock should be producing plays that had some relation to Irish life now”.5 The complexity presented in both these polarising opinions regarding the condition of contemporary Irish theatre offers an opportunity for questioning the form and content of theatre performed at this time. The protesters were at odds with the archival memory of the early Abbey Theatre, of Lennox Robinson’s pleasant comedy of half a century earlier, reappearing in faithful mimetic proportions and taking the space of new experimental work. Such questions include: How does the archival record of modern Irish drama affect our understanding of marginalised histories? How did new Irish drama seek to reflect the changing society and life in ‘modern Ireland’? What form did these plays take? How did new venues and a new generation of playwrights, producers and actors afford new outlets for an expression of an alternative dramatic representation of Ireland? How have and can lesser-remembered plays, and their dramatic composition, now be re-evaluated in order to enhance critical understanding of socially reflective theatre for the post-war period in Ireland? To begin to evaluate these questions, some useful evidence is presented in an exchange of correspondence between playwrights Brian Friel and Thomas Kilroy. In May 1976, Friel wrote to Kilroy expressing his concerns for contemporary Irish theatre. Friel’s concerns centred on what a new drama for modern Ireland would look like. Friel was aware of the need for a theatre to be responsive to contemporary Irish society and recognised its influence by international theatre and culture, in particular that of the United States. Friel wrote:

(1973), and Coats by Lady Augusta Gregory (1973), plays which premièred at the Abbey Theatre in 1933, 1923 and 1910, respectively. 4  ‘Performance Outweighs Protest’, Irish Times, 1 May 1970, 10. 5  ‘Theatre Picketed for Failure to Experiment’, Irish Times, 30 April 1970, 10.



I think we are all conscious of being in at the beginning of something … what I think we’re all attempting in our scattered plays is to exorcise ourselves of our intimately private obsessions & fears in a medium that is best suited to the exploration of public [expressions].6

Friel’s comments reveal a chief concern for the modernisation of Irish drama and for the Irish State that simultaneously developed—an exorcism of the self, a delving into the private realms of memory and archive and to push forward in establishing a new identity. This book offers a focused study of plays, playwrights, artists and events which are largely outside the canon of Irish drama but which have served to shape this critical period of the 1950s through to the 1980s, and which also had a profound influence on Irish theatre-going audiences. In the words of Christopher Murray, “the closely-knit nexus of the artist and the audience” shows that “collectively these writers addressed issues central to the developments shaping the new Ireland and that individually they felt themselves to have a role as artists in a changing society”.7 Nicholas Grene recognises the beginning of a new and modern drama emerging in 1964, with plays such as Bran Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! The plays that emerged thereafter did so from a time and place of rapid modernisation for Irish society. Grene also states that whether the playwrights gave their plays urban or suburban settings (as Kilroy and Leonard did), or as in the case of others, preferred traditional subjects in Irish rural and small-town life, there was a new acerbity of social analysis, different angles and some marked changes in dramatic style and technique.8

I also suggest that this time period needs re-assessment and on more terms than just chronology. The emergence of a ‘modern’ Irish drama needs to reconsideration on grounds of gender, class, casting and race. Where we might begin to consider calling ‘a new Irish drama, and also consider the 6  P103/536 (3-4) Letter from Brian Friel to Thomas Kilroy, 5 May [1976], Thomas Kilroy Archive, NUI Galway. The ‘we’ that Friel here mentions includes Thomas Kilroy, Tom Murphy and Tom MacIntyre. 7  Christopher Murray, Twentieth Century Irish Drama: Mirror Up to the Nation (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 164. 8  Nicholas Grene, The Politics of Irish Drama: Plays in Context from Boucicault to Friel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 194.



form of that drama, are certainly evident as early as 1951, more than a full decade earlier than the 1964 Dublin International Theatre Festival presented new works by Brian Friel, Eugene McCabe and others. The form of that evidence, as a new archival memory, is the chief examination of this book. The historiography of Irish theatre in modern times can greatly benefit from a deeper and engaged relationship with the archive and records of the time. If we move beyond a textual history to a wider critical study of plays, playwrights, actors and also audiences, cognisant also of the time in which the plays were produced and received, a more complete and transparent archival history is attainable.

Can We Witness (or Rewitness) Theatre History? This book is a journey through Ireland’s theatre history. I have focused on a critical period from the mid-twentieth century, from the early 1950s, through to the end of the 1970s. Within the book and in examining marginalised plays and events, I aim to present the liveness of the archival record. The record of performance can only be a static presence, a fixed entity, if the archival memory is absent or ignored. It is within this memory space, an archival memory, that we can attempt to move beyond suggestion or estimation of the past and arrive at the experience of liveness of past performance with more certainty, if not also with a deeper sensory understanding. Can we begin to imagine what it was like to sit in the Pike Theatre on Herbert Lane in the 1950s and see the late night Follies bring a new brand of theatre culture to Ireland? Or, to be seated in the Abbey Theatre in 1968 when Tom Murphy’s Famine was premiered? What was it like to be one of the 15,000 people clambering to get into the tiny theatre above an electrical appliance showroom in Dun Laoghaire and see Genevieve Lyons as Sally Bowles in the Globe Theatre Company’s I Am a Camera during its run in Autumn 1956? Is it possible to hear the beat, rhythms and songs from James McKenna’s rock musical The Scatterin’ produced by the Pike Theatre at the Abbey Lecture Hall in September 1960? These are all questions of experience, of liveness and of theatregoing and the archive can show us directions to finding the answers. Reading the texts of these examples above, and of the many more outlined within this book, can get us only so far to experiencing the past liveness or the social context that surrounded their reception and production. It is when we move into an archival space, an active remembering and reanimation, that you can begin to feel yourself settle into your theatre



seat, sense an audience take theirs around you and await a curtain to open before a stage. The ‘present absence’ that the archive manifests is established throughout this book. Works that were unpublished can only be experienced (or re-experienced through text) within their archival liveness. However, publishing industries in drama and theatre are traditionally fewer that in other literary forms. Drama publishing in Ireland in the early and mid-­twentieth century has been limited to small independent presses with limited print runs, and which are today long closed down and with the playscripts out of print. Names like Talbot Press, Candle Press, James Duffy Press, De Burca/P.J.  Burke Books, Dolmen Press, Co-Op Books, among others, ensured that early published texts by, for example, Irish women playwrights, playwrights of working-class backgrounds and emerging writers found a reading audience and also potential new generations of theatremakers to take on their plays in performance. Today however, many of these works are limited to specialist university or national library collections and archive repositories only, limiting the accessibility to a select and privileged few. Christine Longford, for example, wrote over twenty plays for the Gate Theatre but the scripts lay largely out of the public domain. As Erin Grogan has observed, “Despite the critical and popular success of Christine Longford’s dramas [Longford] is now rarely celebrated as a playwright but more often remembered as simply the wife of Lord Edward Longford and a financial supporter of the Gate Theatre”.9 Lady Augusta Gregory wrote over forty plays, with the major body of Gregory plays and criticism published by Colin Smythe Press. Production histories teach us about what plays are produced and when, but also about what works and figures are excluded from our stages and literary and cultural histories, national or otherwise. Since Gregory died in 1932, only thirteen of Gregory’s plays have been produced in the following eighty or so years (twenty-two plays were produced during her lifetime in the first thirty years in which the Abbey existed), leaving many of her plays still unproduced professionally today.10 9  Erin Grogan, “‘We Belong to the World’: Christine Longford’s War Plays During Irish Neutrality”, Cultural Convergence: The Dublin Gate Theatre 1928–1960, Ondřej Pilný, Ruud van den Beuken, Ian R. Walsh, eds. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 217. 10  Barry Houlihan and Melissa Sihra, Why Lady Gregory Is One of Ireland’s Greatest Cultural Figures, RTÉ Brainstorm, 20 May 2020. 1139348-lady-gregory-legacy-influence-abbey-theatre/ Accessed 17 September 2020.



Publication is but one form of preservation. In order to move performance archives out of a fixed preserved literary form, and away from a canon of selective memory, an archival memory produces a multi-sensory record of kinetic liveness. This serves to reduce the emphasis (and dependence) on the construct of canon, itself a result of patriarchal and class bias in the provision of accepted or approved works to be remembered and re-performed. In the case of many Irish women playwrights, publication was not a channel frequently afforded to their work, ensuring a move at least from manuscript (privately held) to published typescript (publicly sold). As writer Doireann Ní Gríofa notes, “the absence of a female name is not evidence of the absence of a female presence”.11 The archive can offer a restorative and activist presence to absent documented lives. Melissa Sihra reinforces the importance of challenging these restrictive histories, confined by the contours of a mapped patriarchal heritage that is propagated between successive generations. Sihra outlines the need for a matriarchal lineage with ‘flowing genealogies’ that accurately reflect the creative legacies of women artists that lies beneath strata of enforced silence.12 The archival memory can speak and make heard the absent presence. The archive of Irish drama is also a social record of the Irish State and its people. As a nation such as modern Ireland moves through various forms and existences, from colonised country to Free State to Republic, so too does its national drama also undergo major change, redefinition and self-reflection. The cultural record of Ireland, moving through its post-­ Emergency experience as a neutral and economically (and politically) isolationist country to a nation embracing an internationalist stance drew a considered theatrical and cultural response. From the late 1950s, these great changes reflected Ireland’s gradual pivot to an industrial expansionist ‘modernity’, the growth of a new and increasingly Catholic middle class, the globalising of Irish culture and media as well as the development of a new wave of Irish theatre-makers who developed an experimental form of artistic introspection of a society and its people. New plays by Irish writers, as well as the influence of international works staged in Ireland, provoked a new Irish drama. The record from these formative years, much of which has fallen to the periphery of canonical memory finds new reanimation in archival memory.  Doireann Ní Gríofa, A Ghost in the Throat (Dublin: Tramp Press, 2020), 243.  Melissa Sihra, Marina Carr: Pastures of the Unknown (Gewerbestrasse: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 19. 11 12



Modernising Ireland—Society, Class and Experimental Form Dramaturgical as well as directorial experimentation in post-World War II Europe fermented a new radicalism within theatrical production, from texts, to form, to practice. Henning Fülle outlines these “new forms of production praxis and dramaturgy” propagated by playwrights and directors who pushed production beyond the form as text alone. Fülle identifies those such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, the French absurdists, Jean Genet and the British authors Harold Pinter, Edward Bond and Arnold Wesker.13 During the 1960s and 1970s, Fülle also cites the emergence of Eugenio Barba, Robert Wilson, Ariane Mnouchkine, Luca Ronconi and others who contribute to the focus of theatre (and theatre art) of authenticity in terms of contemporary social(ist) realism in European theatres, the trademarks of whom include exploratory theatre art for an audience of contemporaries that refers to their time and the Zeitgeist while tackling the demand to treat present-day perception and enable and mediate experiences for their audience … processing stories of political and societal reality and developing the art of perception as a central technique for the evolution of civilisations, and as a vital coping mechanism for post-industrial cultures.14

In the exploratory form of such theatre (or theatre art, as Fülle defines) the unifying characteristics in form and visualisation (more than purely textually), work as a means to communicate to mass audience appeal, developing new the forms of performance that was influenced by contemporary avant-garde performance art and popular culture. Building on this emergent form in European theatre production and direction, new experimentation in popular forms of drama as a mode of political protest and resistance was also growing in popularity in Ireland

13   Fulle, Henning, in Manfred Brauneck and ITI Germany, eds. “A Theatre for Postmodernity in Western European Theatrescapes”, Independent Theatre in Contemporary Europe Structures—Aesthetics—Cultural Policy, Theatre Studies, Volume 80. 2017, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, Germany. 281. 14  Ibid.



from the 1950s onwards. Susanne Colleary15 and Elizabeth Howard16 respectively recover the highly significant contribution of community arts, independent theatre, devised production and amateur theatre. Theatre academic Christopher Murray explores the work of Sean O’Casey in connection to its depiction of the urban space, in particular Dublin City, in terms of the relationship between the individual and society and as a site of injustice to the poor.17 The dramatisation of such locations is a central and important motif within the work of O’Casey, representing an archival memory of space and community and of how this influences (and also documents) the authentic record of experience within Dublin urban and tenement life of the early twentieth century. The geopolitics of place and class as crystallised through performance symbolises the progression of community and family in dialogue with the state. Class as a social construct dominated much of the new experimentalism in contemporary Irish drama in the post-Emergency era. Michael Pierse’s study on class in Irish literature and drama defines working-class perspectives in terms of being a qualitative and distinct entity, owing to its habituation to the extremes of social experience, and which finds adequate expression in non-realist forms of performance and expression. The family, conscious of such class-based social constructs, became synonymous as a microcosm of Irish society on the Irish stage. Within the performance of family, both on stage and in society, class disparity, power and authority combined to support the official silencing and removal of unmarried mothers and their children to the periphery of their communities by Religious and Government collusion. Networks such as Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries were institutions that functioned as an official surveillance network upon the bodies and actions of women within the Irish family. Such memory, outside of the state’s official narrative, is explored within the archival memory of plays and through the response of society as outlined in this book. 15  Susanne Colleary, “Long Flame in the Hideous Gale: The Politics of Irish Popular Performance 1950–2000”, in The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Irish Performance. eds., Eamonn Jordan and Eric Weitz (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 201–219. 16  Elizabeth Howard, “Performance in the Community: Amateur Drama and Community Theatre, in in The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Irish Performance. eds., Eamonn Jordan and Eric Weitz (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 165–180. 17  Christopher Murray, “O’Casey and the City”, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre, Nicholas Grene and Chris Morash eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 183–1984.



Actor Cyril Cusack was among those who in the early 1950s also calling for a new form of Irish drama, one that could be modern, experimental and reflective of contemporary times. Cusack approached Sean O’Casey as a possible source for just such a new work: I am in search of the new play, modern and of Irish inspiration, in a desire to break new ground creatively and productively. Theatre here is very much in the experimental stage again—I suppose it always is and should be—and I think there is a real desire to find a more modern expression.18

A week later, writing again to O’Casey, Cusack explains that his fifteen-­ year association with the Abbey Theatre “has left me with a violent antipathy towards the present management which my jaundiced eye sees as being anti-theatre”.19 Within less than a decade, in O’Casey’s view, little has changed. Writing to a Thomas Buggy in Cork, who was offering to establish a ‘Sean O’Casey Society’ (an offer O’Casey declined) O’Casey stated he was sorry to hear that no young Irish playwright was producing work that approaches greatness. “If this happened in Ireland”, O’Casey wrote, “we know that instead of being opened, the door would be locked, bolted and barred against his entry.”20 Modernity in expression needed to be facilitated by cultural change. In a cumbersome organisation like the Irish National Theatre Society, change came ‘dropping slow’, to quote W.B. Yeats.21 Roland Jaquarello, a young director who was brought into the Abbey Theatre in the early 1970s by Lelia Doolan, described how reforming and rejuvenating new figures who came into the Abbey were met often with resistance and frustration. Doolan was appointed Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre in 1971. She had worked previously in Raidió Teilifís Éireann (R.T.É), the newly formed Irish national broadcaster, where she had been a successful producer/director until she left R.T.É in 1969. As Jacquarello notes:

18  Letter from Cyril Cusack, Dalkey, to Sean O’Casey, 28 April 1954, Sean O’Casey papers, National Library of Ireland, MS 38,060/1. 19  Letter from Cyril Cusack, Dalkey, to Sean O’Casey, 5 May 1954, Sean O’Casey papers, National Library of Ireland, MS 38,060/1. 20  Letter from Sean O’Casey to Thomas Buggy, 6 April 1963, Sean O’Casey papers, National Library of Ireland, MS37, 933. 21  W.B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Inis Free, The Poetry Foundation, Accessed 14 March 2021.



The [Abbey] company was stuck in its ways and needed a kick into modernity. Most importantly, [Doolan] had a vision for what was necessary … It was a brave decision to bring in voice and movement coaches and to try and loosen up the Peacock as a genuinely experimental space rather than a mini-­ Abbey. Unfortunately, most of the experienced actors rejected her ideas and did their best to voice their discontent.22

Doolan’s new vision for the Abbey Theatre is discussed in more detail in Chap. 7 of this book. The extent of impacts initiated by a number of new theatre-makers who emerged in Dublin from the onset of the 1950s, from the Pike Theatre to Project Arts Centre, can now be traced through detailed archival analyses. This period witnessed the growth of a movement whereby Irish professional drama was developed and radicalised to its largest extent since the foundation of the Irish National Theatre Society in 1904. This book will address key case studies, events and people, as well as providing a critical analysis of the reception of these works through their archival documentation and the embodied social memory within such breadth of source material. This archival analysis enables a deeper understanding of contemporary Irish drama and its hitherto unexplored archival memory.

Constructing Archival Memory: Reclaiming the Record, Reinterpreting Historiography The works outlined within this study are positioned largely outside the canon of Irish drama. The recovery of such works from a hitherto unstudied body of Irish theatre archives also show the breadth of social and political issues addressed by dramatists within the years of this book’s study. Issues such as mental illness, (il)legal adoption, domestic abuse, class inequality, sexism and female inequality, racism, contraception, sexuality and other such issues were broadly addressed within Irish contemporary drama. The point must also be made that as these works were often produced in smaller fringe venues and so received comparatively smaller audiences than those at the major national or commercial venues, inevitably these productions have a reduced collective memory and archival source pool to draw from. 22  Roland Jaquarello, Memories of Development: My Time in Irish Theatre and Broadcasting (Dublin: Liffey Press, 2016), 30.



Without a body of records and a holistic performance archive, the evidence from which to build a counter-argument to existing historiographies can be scant. Some media outlets of the time, for example, were largely unsympathetic to works by women authors. Plays by such as Edna O’Brien and Mary Manning, as addressed within this study, received uniformly harsh reviews that frequently took the form of personal and sexist attacks of character and morality rather than objective commentary on the artistic merit of their respective plays. Such reviews are often the only evidence on record for plays with one-off or minor production histories within traditional repositories. They can act as continual barriers to any later study or encounter of the play by new generations, continuing and perpetuating the exclusion of these works from wider study and appreciation. To support my argument, and in exploring the social memory of Irish theatre history, I turn to work by memory studies and sociology scholar Andreas Huyssen, who argues in Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia that the past “is not simply given in memory, ‘but it must be articulated to become memory”.23 The articulation that Huyssen calls for comes in the form of archival reconstruction. The past must be given a chance to be remembered and shaped into a navigable entity through which experience can be extracted (and re-experienced through performance). Such historiography must be considered within our contemporary perspective and reflected upon as significant to understanding our historical narrative. Advances in digital preservation and restoration of fragile manuscript and obsolete audio-visual sources has also enabled this project to examine digitally preserved performance records. These sources include sound files and scores for various productions as well as stage management files, annotated prompt-scripts, production images, correspondence, marketing files and ephemera, and other key series of files that form the corpus of primary source material examined. The combined study of these resources offer a reconstruction of the mechanics of performance and production as well as its reception, from the past, within the present. Scholars Davis et al. present a study and methodological examples of how approaches to theatre history can seek to overcome some of the

23  Andreas Huyssen, Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (London: Routledge, 1995), 3.



difficulties encountered in pursuit of the theatrical past.24 Davis et al. draw on the distinction between ‘the past’, being an irrevocable and intransient temporal state, and ‘history’, the documented narrative through which we try to interpret and discern the past. Bruce McConachie foregrounded such turns in theatre historiography in the mid-1980s. Davis et al. present a duel focus of such studies of theatre history that draw on two central components: firstly, epistemological (recognising the interplay between modern and contemporary knowledge systems and the contested event within its own past setting) and secondly, hermeneutical, an approach of analysis based upon the interpretation of the forms of analyses themselves.25 These two strategies of approach to history allow for reconsideration of past events (such as the theatre production) being a product of and a challenge against a contemporary event/time and how our current knowledge of that past allows us to consider the past across a temporal divide. The second point relates to our understanding of previous modes of historical evaluation at particular moments, being cognisant of development of various modes of historical investigation between the past and present time. These forms of addressing performance histories allow for a contesting of constructed and assumed normative narratives: those that were constructed from and in particular historiographic styles, which were typically solely text-based and non-reflective of sociological influences on contemporary production and reception. Diana Taylor questions the apparent ‘fixity’ of the repertoire and the binaries of residual memory. Taylor outlines how ephemeral memory of performance persists against the grain of national and powerful narratives. She forewarns against the prescribed reliance of scholars and historians upon what objects or artefacts are preserved and stable within the archive, rather than within the collected repertoire that form ‘embodied memory’: “performances, gestures, orality, movement, dance, singing—in short, all those acts usually thought of as ephemeral, non-producible knowledge”.26 Maggie B. Gale expands on this point in her acknowledgement that “the archive, as concept, as resource, as location, as site of power relations, as 24  Jim Davis, Katie Normington and Gilli Bush-Bailey with Jacky Bratton, in Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, eds., Baz Kershaw and Helen Nicholson (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2011), 89. 25  Davis et al. (2011, 91). 26  Diana Taylor, The Archive and The Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 20.



signifier of the historical and cultural division and ownership of information and knowledge—has centred in recent years on for whom it is created and how it is used … a vital cultural tool as a means of accessing versions of the past”.27 Clare Cochrane and Jo Robinson have examined the ethical responsibility inherent with any project of theatre historiography and performance scholarship.28 They examine the position of ‘ethical spectatorship’ that the historian and scholar occupies. The power dynamics of history-shapers (archivists) and history-makers (historians) necessitate practice whereby any examination of the past deconstructs the order of privilege that created and supported the historic context and experience of the past. There is a significant contribution to be made by archivists and librarians towards the formation of a wider, inclusive and socially reflective archive and historiography of Irish drama; one that looks beyond the canon. Collection and acquisition strategies of institutions should reflect, to the fullest extent, the records of dramatic works marginalised from public awareness. The manuscripts and printed/published works of women playwrights, directors and artists, of artists of immigrant backgrounds, works from outside the Anglophone tradition, works by artists of disability, theatre which reflects working-class communities, as examples, can all contribute to this diversity of Irish theatre history, countering existing notions of tradition, nation and identity. Archives and institutions can function as formal barriers between the wider public and the performance record, serving to perpetuate a perception of academic elitism dominated by male-centred, class-specific histories. Recent scholarship by historians such as Sasha Handley, Rohan McWilliam and Lucy Noakes, has indicated that methodological and theoretical approaches to broader social and cultural histories can transform current insights and reframe historical narratives to recognise and include a broader range of sources and evidences.29 The failure of realist forms of theatre to adequately express working-­ class concerns, for example, Pierse argues, is also symptomatic of 27  Maggie B. Gale, ‘The Imperative of the Archive: Creative Archive Research’, in Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, Kershaw and Nicholson, eds. (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2011), 17. 28  Clare Cochrane and Jo Robinson, eds., Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). 29  Sasha Handley, Rohan McWilliam and Lucy Noakes, New Directions in Social and Cultural History (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), 12–13.



bourgeois realism’s failure to represent the realities underlying their experience. Pierse cites Terry Eagleton’s concerns that expressionism as a form feels the need to transcend the limits of the naturalistic aesthetic and assumes the ordinary bourgeois world to be solid and authentic—the refusal of reality. As Cochrane and Robinson state, the primacy of the task is to “explore the ways in which theatre historians apply ethical thinking to the truthful representation, recovery or revising of the different ways and means by which theatre-makers in the past have enacted scenarios related to human experience”.30 I expand and emphasise this point through the course this book in able to move towards an ethical and archival memory of Irish drama.

Theories of Social Remembering—Memory and Political Resonances Ric Knowles demonstrates the breadth of possible new understanding of performance and its context and how this can be achieved through an expanded semiotic methodology that encompasses social and cultural factors to a fuller meaning of how theatre is produced.31 Part of Knowles’ methodology looks to the production of meaning. This presents a focus to a greater objective level and seeks to understand creative production and public reception, reinforced by socio-political conditions. This process is enabled by the documented components of performance being contextualised through extra-performative records—the social context. This enables a ‘meaning of production’ to be extrapolated from the performance as well as ‘the production of meaning’. In order to experience the past, it must be located, remembered and interrogated. Davis Dean, Yana Meerson and Kathryn Price argue that as/ for historians and practitioners in performance arts, scholarly practice is being transformed by exposure and assimilation of complimentary methodological practices. In this way, historical investigation is both representative and performative. Memory is thus constructed and re-lived. Dean et al. foreground how “memory acts as a shared crucible of discovery and a distorting lens through which history and theatre engage with the past”.32  Cochrane and Robinson, eds. (2016, 4).  Ric Knowles, How Theatre Means (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 32   David Dean, Yana Meerson, and Kathryn Prince, History, Memory, Performance (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2015), 1. 30 31



Diana Taylor further questions the often problematic means of transmission and recording of this ‘crucible of memory’ through documentation (physical) and repertoire (performative). She posits the question: “is performance that which disappears, or that which persists, transmitted through a non-archival system of transfer that I came to call the repertoire?”33 To apply these questions to an Irish context, there is neglected memory in terms of both the physical record (the archive) and the performative record (the repertoire). Sociologist, Barbara A.  Misztal, develops studies and theories that expand on the rapid growth of sociological interest, scholarship and practice from the post-1980s era.34 Memory, Misztal argues, “is the essential condition of our cognition and reflexive judgement. It is closely connected with emotions because emotions are in part about the past and because memory evokes emotions … and is the central medium through which identities are constituted.”35 By drawing on changes in heritage and memory, commemorations and re-evaluations of national pasts in a European context, the realm of social change through various facets of memory is questioned. In her study, Misztal builds a collective memory through various facets of memory and documentation and acknowledges the varied social frameworks in the process of remembering. This also requires an ethical remembering. As theatre scholar Katherine Newey states, “making visible women’s lives, work and relationships to power is an ethical imperative for feminist history”.36 The documentation of audience and its reception of work is being addressed by scholars through varying interdisciplinary methodologies. Memory, recalled, remembered or reconstructed, can embody multiple forms of experience. Memory is residual evidence and subject to conditions of experience, event, role and function of the subject who is ‘performing’ or recalling memory. Memory and its recollection can be emphatic, redeeming, cathartic or indeed also traumatic. Performance scholar Miriam Haughton investigates traumatic memory in contemporary Irish performance. Haughton states that the embodied moment of  Diana Taylor, xvii.  Barbara A.  Misztal, Theories of Social Remembering (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2003). 35  Ibid., 1. 36   Katherine Newey, “Feminist Historiography and Ethics”, in Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth, eds., Clare Cochrane and Jo Robinson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 88. 33 34



live performance disappears the moment it manifests, while the memory of the moment lives on, in flux from the performance environment to the wider public sphere and is subject to the socio-economic and cultural conditions which interact there.37 The non-remembering or non-documentation of particular works of Irish drama—works which offered a counterpoint of opinion and context to national histories, skew the record of our communal memory. This schism in performance documentation—that of remembered versus unremembered—can be redressed through archival memory, a process of reanimation of both the Irish theatrical repertoire and the forms of theatre that were historically performed.

Remembering Irish Theatre—Political and Historiographical Problems Theatre academic Baz Kershaw presents frameworks around the questions of performance efficacy. Kershaw’s treatise builds upon the ability of theatre and performance to effect the experience, thinking and actions of theatre audiences (as a collective). This is achieved through the post-­ performance culture and legacy of the production through “the immediate and ephemeral effects of performance—laughter, tears, applause and other active audience responses”.38 Kershaw clarifies this point by an explanation of the granular detail that this process can entail an important record of social response to performance within the audience and within specific environmental contexts, so that the possibility that the immediate and local effects of particular performances might—individually and collectively—contribute to changes within communities and society.39 Throughout this study I build upon this process of exploration, as presented by Kershaw, and place it within the context of the modernisation of Irish society, from the period of the early 1950s through to the end of the 1970s. This study is an act of archival reclamation for many of the works, their authors, producers, actors but also of the memory of their original production and reception. 37  Miriam Haughton, Staging Trauma: Bodies in Shadow (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 3. 38  Baz Kershaw, The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention (London: Routledge, 1992), 1. 39  Ibid.



Kershaw’s treatise on ‘potential’ as a further means to gauge the value of historic theatrical productions is directed particularly at those works with a radical or subversive critique upon social and political policy. By virtue of the social and cultural changes in post-Emergency Ireland, in terms of population, employment, entertainment, leisure and religion, Irish theatre found itself within a new movement of questioning and experimentation. Historiographical problems persist however, in ascertaining how these often fringe or censored works were received and documented and in how such (if any) performance records are accessible today. This problem of historicism centres on where the archive intersects (or doesn’t) with the remembrance of performance and the controlling influence of implied canonicity within the production and study of Irish drama. Sue-Ellen Case and Janelle Reinelt address debates within theatre and performance studies regarding borders of its remit, its methodologies and subject matter—the struggle over power relations embedded in texts, methodologies and the academy itself.40 The issues at stake here, as argued for by Case and Reinelt include representation (what is represented and who is authorised to represent it), the canon (the deconstruction of it, or the inclusion of previously suppressed voices and cultures), boundaries (the dissolving of disciplinary distinctions, the separation of high and low cultures) and “the blurring of methodological distinctions among theory, history and criticism”.41 Bruce A.  McConachie posits a ‘new historicist’ approach to theatre scholarship and historiography as a mechanism to “examine closely the power relations implicit in historically generated concepts of deference regarding race, gender, ethnicity, and class … [in order to] deconstruct conventions which structure such narratives and urge considerations of new contexts within which to understand the cultural experiences of the past”.42 The plays presented within this book have rarely received later revivals beyond their initial production. There are many reasons I would suggest for this lack of more comprehensive production history. The plays speak primarily to the time, moment and place in which they are products of, critiquing a change within the 40  Sue-Ellen Case and Janelle Reinelt, The Performance of Power (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1991). 41  Case and Reinelt, 1. 42  Bruce A. McConachie, “New Historicism and American Theatre History: Towards and Interdisciplinary Paradigm for Scholarship”, in The Performance of Power, eds., Sue-Ellen Case and Janelle Reinelt (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1991), 267.



image of a Republic that Ireland was presenting to the world, one which claimed to be economically vibrant, intellectually dynamic and culturally stimulating. However, the economic success of the 1960s, buoyed by the global boom led by a market- and capitalist-driven model of mass materialism, masked the social inequalities still evident at home. From 1963, Ireland was depicted as confidently emerging onto the international diplomatic stage. A number of key events happened from the onset of the 1960s to support the arrival of this ‘new’ Ireland. Taoiseach Sean Lemass was presented on the cover of Time magazine in 1963; the state visit to Ireland of US president, John F. Kennedy, also in 1963; the accession by Ireland to the European Economic Community in 1973; and the Papal visit of John Paul II in 1979, to name but a few. These events can however, also be categorised as a performance—a presentation of ‘Nation’ within specific frameworks through which an identity/character was formulated and actioned. At home, inequality in terms of pay and employment stability for women in the workplace was stark; emigration of young men and women slowed but continued; the breaking away from a traditional way of life habitually linked to the land contributed to physical heritage being demolished to create way for big business. Housing and infrastructure was failing to meet the growing population’s needs and functions. Roman Catholic theology forbade access to family planning advice and contraception was prohibited. Homosexual acts were also illegal. In Northern Ireland, one of the bloodiest sectarian conflicts of twentieth-­century Europe was unfolding across the province. Yet, the story of the new and modernising Republic should have matched the image presented on Time magazine in 1963. It featured a smiling and proud Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, depicted standing in front of a leprechaun, pulling back shamrock-embroidered curtains to reveal a space-age industrial factory—the very vision of a successful, confident and post-colonial nation. In reality, the evidence proved different. While Irish popular media and culture willingly absorbed ‘American Dream’ ideology of the ‘self-made man’ (seldom were ‘self-made women’ mentioned in this category) the undercurrent of dissent was producing and staging an alternative representation of modern Ireland. The period saw a proliferation of groups and individuals who sought to document through theatre an alternative Irish drama, which in Kershaw’s criteria “combines entertainment with … debate, discussion, socio-political proposals and recommendations. They represent a theatre of social



engagement, a theatre primarily committed to bringing about change.”43 The plays I gather here within this book acted as a significant challenge to the political elite and the social status quo as well as a signifier of change within contemporary Irish performance and within the modern Irish State.

Internationalisng Irish Theatre Post-1951: Influences, Resonances and Archival Legacies Dan Rebellato argues that British theatre in the 1940s and 1950s, far from being solely a perceived stale unit of staid Victorian middle-class drawing-­ room comedy, was in fact a robust, provocative and interesting setting of artistic response.44 Rebellato questions John Osborne’s 1956 play, Look Back in Anger, which premièred at the Royal Court Theatre, London, and its reputation as being the play that set off an ‘explosion’ in modern British drama. Rebellato presents a study of how such plays, in their political and social context, matter in order to question dominant histories and continually expand our historiographic understanding of major literary and dramatic movements. A range of critics in Britain at the time struggled to find a singular cause to what Osborne’s play was actually about. Like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at Dublin’s Pike Theatre in 1955 (or En Attendant Godot at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris in 1954) this new movement of theatre was not so focused on what was happening in the play in terms of plot, but rather why it was happening and why it mattered in that moment. Rebellato backdrops his study of Osborne with the rise of the British Left in 1956, but also to the intellectual revitalisation of political movements and to attempts to humanise society through cultural means.45 Rebellato also places an importance on historiographic re-evaluation of the theatrical history of the play and its impact on modern British theatre. Rebellato cites Michel Foucault’s treatise that “what we have to do with banal facts is to discover—or try to discover—what specific and perhaps original problem is connected with them”.46 This point relates to the desire for an authentic drama of the lived experience of Irish identity— intimate encounters within the dramatic space of modernity in ­performance,  Kershaw, 5.  Rebellato (1999, 8). 45  Rebellato (1999, 28–33). 46  Rebellato (1999, 74). 43 44



a mimesis of the every-day. This dramatic form challenged the representation and witnessing of an authenticity in representation of contemporary Irish society. This authenticity, expressed through bodily representation, was also evident through the intimate productions of the Pike Theatre and its many revues that were largely structured and ordered by Carolyn Swift through the late 1950s. The revues, or Follies as they were billed, included sketches reflecting contemporary Irish society as well as often exotic characters whose personal narratives, presented the first expression of a modern contemporary state which was being influenced by immigration and greater international cultural form. (Fig. 1.1). However, an authentic version of modern Ireland was in conflict with the actualities of ‘national Irish drama’, which developed on lines of exclusively male authors and with little engagement with issues concerning gender, sexual equality and politics; access to housing or employment; intercultural expression and other critical social issues. New Irish and imported international drama that did challenge such questions were produced primarily at smaller and independent fringe venues. Given that these theatres and companies often had a comparatively shorter life-span, fewer resources and a lack of a permanent home, the remit of existing history has tended to focus on traditionally larger venues, such as the Abbey Theatre. Secondly, as these venues and companies operated under minimal financial and professional security and with much smaller audiences and media coverage, important socially reactive and artistically challenging works of the period often received little subsequent production revivals and in depth studies, obfuscating the historiography of Irish theatre production and practice.

Culture and Gender on the Modern Irish Stage—A Feminist Archival Lens By 1970, the ambition of a new generation of independent theatre-makers was such that aspiring plans for a large-scale theatre festival in Limerick would evolve into a planned second national theatre for Ireland located in Limerick. This idea was spearheaded by producer and director, Phyllis Ryan, in January 1970.47 Ryan secured over £15,000  in funding from 47  Phyllis Ryan (27 July 1920–6 June 2011) Actor, producer, director. Ryan founded Orion Productions (1956) and later Gemini Productions (1959). In the 1970s, Ryan was



Fig. 1.1  Scene from Follies, the first revue at the Pike Theatre, 1954. (© Genevieve Lyons Archive, NUI Galway T38/4/4/2)

various sources in Limerick to develop the project. Ryan, from initial talks with Jack Bourke, the former mayor of Limerick and owner of the City Theatre, and also with Thomas Flanagan, Manager of Shannonside, hoped to turn a six-week professional season into a permanent second national theatre. Five plays, which included John B. Keane’s The Field, Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, Hugh Leonard’s The Poker Session, John appointed Artistic Director of the Irish Theatre Company with whom she produced many works. Ryan first starred on the Abbey Theatre stage in W.B. Yeats’ play The Land of Heart’s Desire, in 1936, with later notable roles, including Blanaid in Denis Johnston’s The Moon in the Yellow River and the role of Annie Keegan in Teresa Deevy’s 1939 play The King of Spain’s Daughter. As well as producing many new Irish plays during her career, from the 1960s to the 1990s, including many international works at venues like the Eblana Theatre, Dublin, Ryan maintained close working relationships with writers such as John B. Keane and Hugh Leonard. Ryan was also a Board member of the Abbey Theatre and was founding patron of the Irish Theatre Institute, Dublin.



McDonnell’s All the King’s Horses and Mairéad Ní Ghráda’s An Triail were chosen as representative to investigate the new audience before “introducing newer and more sophisticated plays”.48 Ryan was a progressive thinker in terms of working for a sustainable model of theatre production. While initially working as an actress at the Abbey Theatre, Ryan founded her own company (Orion Productions) to create sustainable work for herself and a regular company of actors and producers. With the demise of the Globe Theatre Company in the early 1960s, Ryan was acutely aware of the financial pressures of work within the independent theatre scene. By 1970, Ryan described the rationale for a second Irish national theatre as essential for theatre and for employment within the theatre in Ireland. Ryan claimed that “things are desperate in the theatre in Ireland just now. Here is a golden opportunity”.49 Such was the success of Gemini’s ten-week run in Limerick’s City Theatre50 that the Mayor of the city held a civic reception in Gemini’s honour.51 Ryan’s success, as an actor at the Abbey Theatre from the 1940s, to one of Irish drama’s most successful producers throughout successive decades and in particular the decade of the 1970s, makes her and other less studied women theatre-makers, central to the argument of this book. Playwright and activist, Margaretta D’Arcy,52 recounted the experience she had over a life spent combining both theatre and social activism, that the few occasions in which she collaborated with other female artists and theatre-makers: I began my working life as an actress in a small alternative theatre in Dublin in the 1950s … run in partnership by Nora Lever and Barry Cassin. Nora  “Limerick Plans Second National Theatre”, Irish Times, 30 January 1970, 5.  “Limerick Plans Second National Theatre”, Irish Times, 30 January 1970, 5. 50  Limerick’s City Theatre opened on 18 January 1953. Variety star Frank O’Donovan was the theatre’s first manager. Lorcan Bourke was founding General Manager of the City Theatre. Bourke converted the theatre from its previous existence as the former Ritz Cinema on Sexton Street in the city and had capacity for 600 seats. The theatre operated until it and its contents sold at auction in April 1976. 51  “Mayor praises Gemini group”, Irish Times, 12 August 1970, 5. 52  Margaretta D’Arcy was born in London on 14 June 1934. D’Arcy is an actor, playwright and activist. In 1947, D’Arcy married British playwright, John Arden. Through D’Arcy’s own work and in collaboration with Arden, D’Arcy became a well-known fixture in London and British theatre in the 1950s. The couple moved to Galway and founded the Galway Actors Workshop in 1976. D’Arcy is a member of Aosdána and remains active in numerous activist campaigns in Ireland. 48 49



was the driving spirit. That was the last time I had the experience of working in a theatre run by a woman. In fact at that time [early 1950s] Dublin’s theatres were mainly run by women. Ria Mooney was in charge of the Abbey; another small theatre was controlled by Madame Cogley and her sons.53

D’Arcy further added in 1981, that at the first ever ‘Women’s Festival’ in Limerick, she discussed that power structures controlled by men in Irish society were also being firmly entrenched in Irish arts and culture. Indicating the 1970s as a paradoxical example, D’Arcy recognised the deeper structures of the Arts, and of Irish culture more broadly, which were controlled by central administration that was dominated by men. D’Arcy reiterates the fact that “it would seem that as the State subsidises, and therefore takes over culture, more and more, so men become entrenched in its power structure. The recent advent of the ‘women’s theatre movement’ has opened doors for women, primarily in England … but it is still only peripheral.”54 Such open doors were few in Ireland. Lelia Doolan55, for example, was appointed Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre in October 1971. Influenced by European theatre, in particular German expressionism, Doolan was committed to new and innovative methods in actor training and rehearsal, focusing on continual training in the craft of voice and movement. Yet, Doolan’s tenure at the Abbey was cut short by 1972 over ongoing disagreements with the Abbey Board, for reasons regarding administrative and artistic obstacles to the successful completion of her programme. Scholar of feminist histories, Elspeth Probyn, investigates the act of reading of work by women and its public and private function. Does this happen at home? At school? At work? At the library or archive? It is important then also to question: where did the act of viewing plays about women and written by women take place? Was it at a national theatre? Was it small fringe venues? Was it at private theatre clubs? Were they staged as festival 53  John Arden, Margaretta D’Arcy, Awkward Corners: Essays, Papers, Fragments Selected with Commentaries, by the Authors (London: Methuen Drama, 1988), 121. 54  Arden, D’Arcy (1988, 146–147). 55  Lelia Doolan was born in Cork in 1934. She studied French and German at University College Dublin before completing a PhD in Anthropology from Queen’s University, Belfast. Doolan joined RTÉ in 1961 and became central in production and direction. Doolan was appointed Chair of the Irish Film Board in 1993 and was also a founder of the Galway Film Fleadh.



productions? How were they reviewed? (national or local press, or not at all?) Probyn reminds us that “the movement of women to a speaking role—the production of a speaking position—cannot be understood as the invention of personal voice … in this way, the production of a speaking position is always tied to the practices and politics bound up with daily life”.56 The production of female voices and the representation of female experience examined through works by Carolyn Swift, Mary Manning and Edna O’Brien, among others in this book, document the cultural subversion of a constrictive social system. These works act as a record of the roles that many women in Irish society were expected to perform. These roles were constituted upon gendered binaries, where men and women performed under criteria that changed depending on public or private settings—from within the home, the workplace, or in education or healthcare and also within relationships. It reflected the misogynistic and systemic structural order maintained in Irish society by male dominated institutions, from Government to Churches to local and domestic settings. It also extended to the theatre as both a workplace and a space of artistic encounter by an audience. Working conditions,57 critical comments and reception in the media58 are reflective of such gender-based systems of division. Historiographies that do not challenge these historical terms perpetuate an archival memory of the past within the present. Furthermore, and as Probyn has argued, the image of the female character [on stage] can be bent from its location in a discursive system, it can be contested … [it can] disrupt and produce disabling arguments against the system in which the image discursively operates.59 56  Elspeth Probyn, Sexing the Self: Gendered Positions in Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1994), 87. 57  Tricia O’Beirne has examined the gender-based discrimination in pay and contracts at the Abbey Theatre between its foundation in 1904 and the end of the 1930s in her paper “‘In a Position to Be Treated Roughly’: F. R. Higgins in the Abbey Theatre Minute Books”, New Hibernia Review, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2018, 120–134. 58  Genevieve Lyons was a Dublin-born actor (1930–2018) who was a founding member of the Globe Theatre Company. While a highly talented actor, media comments frequently commented on her physical appearance in terms such as “blonde starlet” or “blonde bombshell”. For more on Lyons’ career see Barry Houlihan, “How one of the world’s biggest musicals found its star in Dublin”, RTÉ Brainstorm, 8 January 2021, brainstorm/2021/0108/1188471-genevieve-lyons-1950s-globe-theatre-dublin-i-am-acamera-­sally-bowles-cabaret/ Accessed 10 January 2021. 59  Probyn (1994, 91).



Beyond characterisation, an understanding of the history and record of theatre written, performed or produced by women in Ireland, requires further revision. Theatre scholar Melissa Sihra has studied and dismantled the Irish theatre canon and repertoire, revealing it to be inherently male in construction and discriminatory to women writers and artists through its inclusion, selection and re-performance. Sihra, along with scholars such as Cathy Leeney, Deirdre McFeely, Shona Hill and others, reconsiders the artistic and intellectual contributions by women in Irish theatre, such as Lady Augusta Gregory, Dorothy McArdle, Teresa Deevy, Anne Devlin, Marina Carr and other women dramatists across the twentieth century. This work is a foundation point from which to begin further investigations into theatre production in Ireland from the mid-century and to examine the impacts, achievements and barriers experienced by women practitioners outlined in this book, such as Carolyn Swift, Lelia Doolan, Phyllis Ryan, Edna O’Brien, Mary Manning and Mairéad Ní Ghráda. Probyn and Sihra have both argued that the historiography in theatre generally needs a reclamation of feminist memory—an archival memory that aims to recalibrate our gendered histories in activist action. Academic Lisa Fitzpatrick reflects on the role of the mother as it is depicted in Philadelphia, Here I Come! for example. The O’Donnell family consists of “a family of father and son, with the housekeeper Madge as a foster-­ mother and locus of care and affection for both men”.60 These binaries of presence are challenged by many of the plays in this study such as Carolyn Swift’s The Millstone (1951) and Edna O’Brien’s A Pagan Place (1977). These works create a contemporary challenge the dramatisation of the female individual and self on the Irish stage. Kim Solga provides a history of feminism and feminist scholarship in her survey book, Theatre & Feminism. Citing earlier established works on feminist theory and scholarship within performance studies, such as Sue-­ Ellen Case’s, Feminism and Theatre61 and Jill Dolan’s book The Feminist Spectator as Critic,62 Solga identifies the frameworks which reoriented audience perception and reception of women characters as well as of performances and writing by women. To elucidate this and by drawing on 60  Lisa Fitzpatrick, “The Powerful Role of the Mother in Irish Culture”. 27 August 2018. Accessed 27 August 2018. 61  Sue-Ellen Case, Feminism and Theatre (London: Routledge, 1988). 62  Jill Dolan, The Feminist Spectator as Critic (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1988).



work by theorist Peggy Phelan,63 Solga examines how the ‘active vanishing’ and ‘unmarked’ presence of women in performance is made visible through new performance techniques, Brechtian philosophy and active role of audiences who “refuse to take the stage image and its promises of pleasurable identification on faith”.64 By approaching the neglected plays of this study through such frameworks as espoused by scholars Melissa Sihra, Cathy Leeny, Deirdre McFeeley, Kim Solga and Peggy Phelan, a deeper understanding of past performance styles (and also of audience habits through reception) is discernible. This is made clear by Solga’s examination of Diamond’s treatise on a necessary radical dramaturgy, such as proposed through Brechtian forms. This works to disrupt a ‘classical mimesis’ and encourages audience members to reject a conservative and homogeneous disengagement from the performance they are witnessing, a status that does “not adopt an overly simplistic form of seeing, one that leaves us ill-equipped to recognise or examine the contradictions working within a play’s plot or within its characters”.65 By retrospectively returning to these neglected plays, we can begin to forge new understandings of major movements and events that contributed to the formation of contemporary Irish drama. Central to this book of theatre and social change is the idea of archive and memory, simultaneously live and present. The theatre archive is a national archive. It is a social history of modern Ireland. It is a record of our treatment and governance of ourselves as a people, and of how we relate to each other. The theatre enables us to witness traumatic truths or be enriched by story-telling. Within its liveness can choose to reflect our complicit silence or give voice to what we may wish to change. Today, within the record of these theatrical histories, the archival memory provides a space for personal contemplation on the presence and absence within our documented theatrical and social heritage. These memory spaces take on the form or performance spaces in their own right—a theatre of memory.

 Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1992).  Kim Solga, Theatre and Feminism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), p. 27. 65  Solga (2016, 26). 63 64


Performing the Family: Law and the State

In 1951, visual artist Louis Le Brocquy completed a painting titled A Family.1 The painting was rejected as a gift from the artist to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin but was later selected to represent Ireland at the Venice Biennale exhibition in 1952. Le Brocquy’s contribution to the Irish exhibition at Venice featured a number of works on the theme of family and secured for Ireland and the artist the Acquisito Internationale award. Le Brocquy’s A Family depicts a stark and bare bedroom scene of limited colour palette, dominated by contrasting shades of grey. The intrusion of a dangling light bulb, exposed within an angular fitting, foregrounds the lighting of hitherto dark and hidden domestic scenes (Fig. 2.1). The painting transposed the viewpoint of the domestic space and onto the lived experience of society, where complicit silence and acceptance of theocratic autocracy prolonged patriarchal dominance and engendered roles within private and public spaces. Le Brocquy’s painting presents this domestic space familiar to Irish audiences—a small, cramped, interior space, dimly lit and reminiscent of Irish vernacular cottages. The space within is populated by a family, two adults, a child and a pet cat, in a singular communal living space. As architectural historian Marion McGarry identifies, “the cottage, although a humble building, has regularly been 1  Today, Le Brocquy’s painting is part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




Fig. 2.1  A Family by Louis Le Brocquy, 1951. (© National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin)

depicted as a backdrop to Irish national drama and as a political emblem”.2 Disruption of the traditional norms and familial life as depicted within the Irish homestead is recognisable as a consistent motif present in modern Irish drama. From Cathleen Ní Houlihan by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory (1904), to Katie Roche by Teresa Deevy (1936), to Tom Murphy’s Bailegangaire (1985), to name but a few, the presence of the homeplace, in various forms, has contested the definition of ‘home’ in Irish society. It has reacted against the prevailing cultural and political contexts which supports its position in society. Le Brocquy’s painted homestead is of a deformed domestic reality and draws on European-style reclining nudes for its central figures. Art 2  Marion McGarry, “The Irish Cottage: History, Culture and Design”. (Dublin: Orpen Press, 2017) p. 1.



historian Catherine Marshall describes the setting in the painting as a living scene devoid of life.3 The family depicted is incongruous to the domestic setting familiar to the Irish stage. The simple and ritualistic white sheet draped over the central nude body implies a ‘Sive’-like figure—a young female who is lost, spiritually and fatally. The absence of a ceiling on the domestic interior alludes to an open external expanse, a space and possibility that is unattainable to those detained socially and physically by the constraints of the home and engendered roles therein. As Le Brocquy’s painting illustrates, the public vision of domesticity as a stable supportive entity, supportive to the mission of the state’s economic modernisation in the second half of the twentieth century, was a performative construct. The depiction of the family within the domestic space, as well as its function and form, received renewed interest from Irish playwrights in the mid-twentieth century. As the structure and place of the traditional Irish family and home was changing, its alignment to a particular version of Irishness and Irish identity was critiqued by a new generation of Irish playwrights, many of them women. Factors such as increasing internal migration from rural to urban environments and the movement from a traditional peasant class to an emerging confident middle class shifted dramatic representation of domestic space and its connection to external on and off-stage roles of characters and environments. A central facet to this new body of work was the depiction of public roles of women characters and the impacts of external official (state) and unofficial (societal) influences. This chapter will investigate how these barriers of social conservativism and the theocratic dominance of the Catholic Church upon Irish culture, were applied to the experience of Irish women playwrights in the post-Emergency era. I will in turn argue how the reception of these plays and their theatrical critique of the Irish family, and therefore of the Irish Catholic state, positions their neglect within Irish cultural and literary scholarship. Finally, I will demonstrate how the dramatic experimentation utilised by the playwrights and their collaborators furthers the modernisation of Irish drama, preserved within the archival records of these productions. The plays and playwrights discussed in this chapter expose the extent to which the Irish domestic space and the legislation that shaped Irish society 3  “Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks—1951: A Family by Louis Le Brocquy” https://­­ brocquy-1.2287211 Accessed 14 July 2018.



and environment became a key flashpoint of social conflict and a contested space for feminist expression and liberation.

Women and Cultural Production: Breaking the Domestic Fourth Wall Cathy Leeney identifies key playwrights prior to 1960 who confronted restrictive and conservative ideology within Irish society and who explored within their dramatic works a domestic space and public world beyond the narrow and pre-defined roles. Leeney adds that “from the 1930s to the 1950s their plays [Teresa Deevy, Maura Laverty and Máiread Ní Ghráda] raised difficult questions around family failure, violent control of sexual energies, state interference in personal lives, sexual hypocrisy and the double standard”.4 These writers confronted audiences with a radical form of experimental and expressionistic dramaturgy deemed necessary to in order to subvert social norms but also literary and dramatic traditions. Their collected body of work, and its archival memory, presents an alternative national drama that subverted constitutionally prescribed domestic roles for Irish women. They also reinforced how theatre could perform against the state. As I argue in this chapter, this task was furthered in subsequent years by Carolyn Swift, Mary Manning, Mairead Ní Ghráda and Edna O’Brien. The key works which I argue form the basis of these neglected works include The Millstone (1951)5 by Carolyn Swift, On Triail by Máiréad Ní Ghráda (1964, 1973)6 and A Pagan Place by Edna O’Brien (1977)7 adapted by the author from her novel of the same name. The plays uniformly deal with the dramatisation of a liberalising national attitude towards sexuality but which also reflected the encompassing attitude of 4  Cathy Leeney, “Women and Irish Theatre Before 1960”, in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre, eds. Chris Morash and Nicholas Grene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 281. 5  The Millstone premièred at the Town Hall Theatre, Dun Laoghaire in September 1951, produced by the Pike Theatre Company, produced by Alan Simpson. 6  An Trial premièred at An Damer Theatre in Dublin in 1964. It was translated into English and presented by the Globe Theatre Company as part of a summer residency and was directed by Barry Cassin. 7  A Pagan Place was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London on 2 November 1972, directed by Ronald Eyre. The Irish première of the play took place at the Abbey Theatre on 17 November 1977, directed by Patrick Mason.



shame, victimisation and stigma placed upon women in Ireland in instances such as pregnancy outside of marriage, resulting in the subsequent enforced adoption of children. These plays, I suggest, depict a changing Ireland where liberalising attitudes towards the body, in particularly the female body, sexuality and independence were signalling a shift in dramatic form and theme, as well as in the dramatic representation of women on stage. Katherine Newey writes that feminist scholarship has traditionally addressed women’s bodies as the site of contestation and activist campaigns. Newey draws on a re-evaluated feminist presentation of historiography, where materialist and deconstructive approaches to history can offer a new meeting point for critical understandings. Feminist critical scholar Joan Scott posited, “the evidence of experience, whether conceived through a metaphor of visibility or in any other way that takes meaning as transparent, reproduces rather than contests given ideological systems”.8 This methodological approach is relevant to understanding the documented experience and expression of performance through its material archival memory. By approaching a new feminist historiography and performance history and analysis of woman-authored plays, the visibility of experience in society, coupled with theatrical expression within a repositioned performance space, affords important interventions in the study of Irish theatre and its reception. Similarly, the spaces of conflict need redressing within this debate. Hörschelmann and Van Hoven argue that “analysing the connections between space, place and identity remains a significant task, if we seek to transform unequal relations of gender and sexuality as they are materialised and lived spatially”.9 There is a common thread of changing place and space within the plays presented within this chapter—a kinetic development of onward movement, forward into the unknown, moving outwards from domestic stability and confinement.

8  Joan Scott, “The Evidence of Experience”, Critical Inquiry, 17.4, 1991, 778, quoted in Katherine Newey, “Feminist Historiography and Ethics”, in Cochrane and Robinson, Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 90. 9  Kaithrin Hörschelmann and Bettina Van Hoven, eds., Spaces of Masculinities (London: Routledge, 2005), 5.



Gender and Performing Roles in Ireland— Finding Voice Writing in his 1995 introduction to ‘The Stifled Voice’, a special issue of Irish University Review dedicated to women playwrights, Christopher Murray explains the deliberate placing of the Irish female voice to the periphery of power and access to decision making in programming and recognition for artistic contribution. Writing of Maura Laverty at the Gate Theatre, Murray states: Laverty[‘s], two plays, Liffey Lane and Tolka Row virtually saved the financial lives of MacLiammóir and Edwards in the nineteen-fifties. It is clear from [Christopher] Fitz-Simon’s account that Maura Laverty was exploited by this gallant pair of performers: she was always the last to be compensated for plays which paid their bills and usually had to press and beg for royalties due.10

Murray adds that this fact is a reason for the reluctance of women to join the male-dominated workplace of Irish theatre at the time. Correspondence between Laverty and Hilton Edwards reveals the extent to which Laverty was left at the bottom of the list of Gate Theatre creditors despite it being her work which was servicing Gate debts at the time. Edwards recorded the use of monies owed to Laverty that were instead used to service personal bad debts and capital investments on behalf of the Gate.11 At the Abbey Theatre, the fate of women actors was also unduly precarious in contrast to their male counterparts. A series of letters between Glynnis Casson, a young aspiring actor, and Ernest Blythe, then Managing Director of the Abbey Theatre, in 1959, show Casson’s desire to become an actor following her audition at the Abbey. While praising Casson’s audition, Blythe remarks that a large amount of female Abbey company members are less likely to leave and break with theatre work to embark on television and film work. This was, in Blythe’s opinion, largely untrue of their male counterparts, such as Abbey company members, including brothers Arthur Shields and Barry FitzGerald, Fred O’Donovan, who already had successful careers in film and television in the United Kingdom 10  Christopher Murray, “The Stifled Voice”, Irish University Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, Silver Jubilee Issue: “Teresa Deevy and Irish Women Playwrights” (Spring–Summer, 1995), 3. 11  Letter from Hilton Edwards to Maura Laverty, 21 May 1954. Gate Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, GADM_00002124, p. 6.



as well as Hollywood.12 The place of female actors at the Abbey and in Irish theatre generally in the 1950s is further exacerbated by Blythe, who, in writing to Tom Hyde, another Abbey Theatre auditionee, regarding feedback on his audition, states that the Abbey is desperately in need of a sixteen-year-old actress as, “with one or two exceptions, our actresses are all married and some of them who could do juvenile parts until recently are no longer able to do so”. 13 With Blythe refusing to expand the range of women actors at the Abbey Theatre, especially through developing young actors, the range of female parts that could be played remained narrow. What resulted was a static body of Abbey plays from its repertoire in which actors such as May Craig and Eileen Crowe, long-standing members of the company, could be relied upon to play familiar parts of women on stage. This also would have had a knock on effect for playwrights, aware of the lack of young women actors at the Abbey and in Irish theatre generally, thus removing new parts from new plays that could challenge or expand the playing style and range of actors. Many women actors who applied to the Abbey Theatre were advised to remain within local and amateur ranks, or for others, it was acceptance ‘on probation’ at the Abbey, starring smaller roles or in pantomimes rather than leading roles in ‘straight’ dramas. Fidelma Murphy, a hopeful applicant from Cork was one who also auditioned for the Abbey in 1959. Blythe wrote to Murphy to say that both he and Ria Mooney agreed that Murphy had talent but chose only to offer her a part in a pantomime, a role which could offer little evidence of her ability to play more traditional acting roles.14 12  For more on Shields, FitzGerald and the Abbey company in Hollywood, see Adrian Frazier, Hollywood Irish: The Irish Invasion of Hollywood (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2011) and John Wyver, “Exploring the Lost Television and Technique of Producer Fred O’Donovan”, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Volume 37, 2017. pp. 5–13. 13  Letters between Blythe and Cassin, Abbey Theatre General Correspondence, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. For more on this see Adrian Frazier, Hollywood Irish: John Ford, Abbey Actor and the Irish Revival in Hollywood (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2012). 14  Letter from Ernest Blythe to Fidelma Murphy, 5 November 1959, General Abbey Correspondence, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. “It is very difficult on the basis of an audition to decide whether a particular aspirant has not only talent but enough talent to enable her to achieve success which would make acting a satisfactory career. We think it would be a good thing if … we gave you a part in our forthcoming pantomime … we could then decide whether we thought you seemed to be promising enough to be given a six-month or a years’ trial in the theatre.”



This overly long probationary period, coupled with loosely defined trial period, were not set requisites for new male actors to the Abbey. With new lead roles for women actors not being frequently written by Irish playwrights, coupled with complex and lengthy audition and probation periods, the corresponding outcome was a dearth of opportunities for highly trained women actors in leading roles. Murray identifies a change in the dramatic representation of women by the 1970s. In 1971, two plays, The Morning after Optimism by Tom Murphy and The Patrick Pearse Motel by Hugh Leonard offer contrasting representation of female sexuality and freedom: Women were being represented in more courageous terms. In general, however, the empowerment of women in Irish drama was from a male point of view. The main focus remained on the hero. [Which was invariably a man].15

In the Murphy play, the ‘virgin-whore dichotomy [of Anastasia and Rosie] the only one the play allows, “Rosie’s freedom is compromised … Most drama of the period falls into this category. A woman is given a voice of sexual independence only at the price of her status.”16 Common also to the plays presented here is the representation of a definite place and time—contemporary Ireland. The characters and dramaturgy of the plays are interconnected to the physical spaces and worlds they inhabit. Through examination of diverse theories of space and place in terms of cultural phenomena, Chris Morash and Shaun Richards chart the function of place of Irish theatre performance. In mapping Irish theatre landscapes, Morash and Richards identify the processes whereby performance sites and action physically and metaphorically move out of the traditional kitchen cottage and in doing so acknowledged and inhabited on and offstage worlds that were of the Irish nation and identity more broadly. While the kitchen cottage acted as an idealised notion of peasant Ireland and Gaelic culture, the modern and urban home was a contested space in terms of gender roles and performativity. The radicalised spaces depicted in the plays studied in this chapter range from rural towns and villages, to urban flats, to courtrooms. These represent spaces where private and public interests intersect and which served to dramatise the failure of  Murray (1997, 173).  Ibid.

15 16



instruments such as elements of Irish law to acknowledge women and also the failure of the Irish constitution to protect the rights of all in Irish society. These domestic locations are significant as the stories and experiences they reflect are not commonly remembered within national theatre historiography. These plays counter the idea of a democratic republic and of a nation/(al) identity and as put forward by theorist Henri Lefebvre. As Morash and Richards summarise: The idea of a national theatre constitutes in Lefebvre’s terms, a conceived space, and the infrastructure of theatre sites constitutes its perceived space … however there is always a disjunction between the perceived space of performance and the conceived space of the nation.17

In radicalising the Irish domestic spaces the private home shifted in form and function to become a subversive space, critical of what ‘nation’ was framed within its liminality, as Morash and Richards further argue, “the collapse of subject-object relations in the spaces [on stage] and a “radical reconceptualization of the stage space, the shattering of a world of certainty”.18 As explored within the archival memory of the following case studies, the plays and their makers forged new dramatic interventions into form and context of feminist activism, which reflected on the framing of the stage in terms of space and movement between interior and exterior worlds, fracturing time between past and present and non-realist and experimental representation.

Women, Ireland and Disrupting the Social Order Máiréad Ní Ghráda’s courtroom drama On Trial offered a critique on the place and role of the law in Irish society and its experience by women who were stigmatised as sexually deviant or morally miscreant. On Trial was written and first performed in Irish as An Triail, at the Damer Hall, Dublin, on 22 September 1964. The English language translation by Ní Ghráda was first staged at the Eblana Theatre, Dublin on 19 March 1965, with direction and setting by Tomás Mac Anna.

17  Chris Morash and Shaun Richards, Mapping Irish Theatre: Theories of Space and Place (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 73–74. 18  Morash and Richards (2013, 14–18).



The play positions the audience within the courtroom gallery itself, and implicates the audience as voyeurs and witnesses to the proceedings. A young woman, Maura Cassidy, is impregnated by a local school-teacher, Kevin, and is forced to flee her home out of fear of her family and of the perceived shame in which they (and wider Irish society) held single and unmarried mothers in, an Ireland that denied women bodily autonomy by outlawing abortion and contraceptives, while limiting education on family planning. Maura eventually commits suicide, also killing her young baby so as to avoid the fate that Maura herself had endured from those around her, namely the psychological trauma inflicted upon her owing to the manifestation of her previous sexual acts and supposed sins through the existence of the child. Ni Ghráda utilised dramatic devices of witness testimony and oral evidence, presented by ‘witnesses’ in the courtroom, who do so in order to convict Maura of infanticide. This dramatic framing of the processes of law and democratic practice pre-empts Brian Friel’s 1973 play, The Freedom of the City, which also presented a courtroom setting for its depiction of the latterly whitewashed investigation into the deaths of fourteen civil rights marchers in Derry in January 1972, which became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’. Mac Anna’s staging of Friel’s play also foreground the question of space and split-stage areas into ‘present’ and ‘absent’ action, through the production of memory within one defined playing area, which is ‘witnessed’ in the present by the audience through the contrasting off-stage roles of audiences as witnesses. In Ní Ghráda’s treatment, the plight of Maura is explored through the staging of communal culpability between audience and character. In the published English language edition of the play, a drawing of the stage plan reveals a high rostrum upstage centre which offered an imposing view over the audience as well as over the stage, characters and ‘witnesses’, as a form of direct and oratorical appeal. Maura, upon entering the courtroom addresses the audience directly at the front of the stage: Maura: They think they will find out everything. They will question everyone and they think they know me and what I did. But there are things that no one will ever know—things that are hidden in my heart forever. His name that was never spoken. The night it all began. The dance in the



s­choolhouse. The music. The sweetness of the May night. The shiver of delight in my blood. The song I sang. The song.19

The ensuing dance scene foregrounds the intimacy and relationship between Maura and her would-be lover, the closeness of bodies and rhythm of music, which is recalled through memory but which is sharply broken by being jarred back to the present and to the courtroom, where evidence and testimony is laid out against Maura, describing her as wild, provocative and “unearthly”.20 Maura, from an off-stage ethereal world speaks to the auditorium before the action of the play begins. Her disembodied voice comes from an unknown but otherworldly place, a device also deployed in plays such as Footfalls21 by Samuel Beckett, which presented a conversation between a daughter and the voice of her (perhaps dead) mother. The female voice, absent from the view of the audience and symbolic of the lack of psychological or physical healthcare provisions afforded to women in this era, offers tragic defiance of the conditions that caused such actions: Maura’s Voice (Offstage): I killed my child because she was a girl. Every girl grows up to be a woman. But my child is free. She’ll not be the easy fool of any man. She is free. She is free. She is free.22

The device of ‘memory as evidence’ recounted through voice from the offstage is discussed by Morash and Richards in their treatment of Beckett’s plays of this period, such as Happy Days (1961), Not I (1972) and That Time (1974). Memory may present places that seem invested with significance. However, their record in memory is fragile and their status as a recognisable place is constantly being eroded. This rupture of the self in time [as in Maura’s recounting of her own role but non-divulgence of name of her lover or his acts] refined the formal division of the body of the performer in the present and from the recorded voice speaking from the past in the present.23 Ní Ghráda contested the dramaturgy of presence through giving voice to the absent Maura, symbolic of the many women  Máiréad Ni Ghráda, On Trial (Dublin: James Duffy and Co, 1966), 7.  Ibid., 12. 21  Footfalls was written between March and November 1975 and first staged at the Royal Court Theatre, London on 20 May 1976. 22  Ni Ghráda (1966, 5). 23  Morash and Richards (2013, 88–89). 19 20



physically and emotionally silenced by their incarceration in Magdalene Laundry institutions or Mother and Baby Homes. Public and communal voyeurism is criticised through the presentation of the female body as evidence of sin within a courtroom setting. On Trial was also produced in Limerick City in August 1970 during Gemini Theatre’s fifth festival of theatre in the city.24 The play was described in the Irish Times as being “one of the most powerful social documents ever seen on the Irish stage” by critic David Nowlan. Nowlan adds that by switching the sex of the protagonist to a woman, Maura, Ní Ghráda subverts two thousand years of Christian doctrine and the story within the book of Genesis of Cain and Abel and the debate around being ‘my brother’s keeper’. In the Book of Genesis, Cain murders Abel in a dispute over sacrifice rejected by God: the first-born man kills and causes the first death. In Ní Ghráda’s work, the story shifts to Maura’s death where all her family are implicated, but declare dumbfound innocence. While a murder was not actively performed, Maura’s suicide is a result of shared social stigma and shame—the courtroom interrogations echo with the hollow remarks which ask ‘are we our sister’s keeper?’ On Trial is described as “compelling theatre … a screamingly articulate cry for female emancipation—and it is well served by Barry Cassin’s direction and by the playing of the company”.25 By 1979 an amateur production of On Trial by the Beaver’s Repertory Theatre in Dublin, donated their services and the proceeds of the opening performance to support groups active in Ireland for unmarried mothers, Cherish26 and Ally. In supporting feminist support groups through fundraising and advocacy, Irish theatre in the 1960s was engaging more politically. Ní Ghráda’s play and its links to advocacy groups for unmarried mothers was noted as being a sign of “the changing times” of Ireland.27 Historian Sarah-Anne Buckley examines the history of the state’s engagement with the family through child welfare and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Ireland. Buckley examines the gender inequality experienced between men and women in 24  Also produced in Limerick during Gemini’s summer Limerick residency were John B. Keane’s Big Maggie and All the King’s Horses by John McDonnell. 25  “Power of “The Trial” as Social Document”, Irish Times, 12 August 1970, 10. 26  Evelyn Forde and Annette Hunter-Evans were co-founders in the 1970s of ‘Cherish’. Mary Robinson served as its first president with Bishop Eamon Casey as its patron. In the 1960s, ‘Ally’ was founded by a Dominican priest, the late Fr. Fergal O’Connor. 27  “’On Trial’ still true”, Irish Times, 21 September 1979, 10.



the eyes of the state—from welfare provision to the courts, the ‘legal non-­ recognition of the rights of the child’. Buckley concludes “the difference between deserving and undeserving mothers [of state support] can be identified in the period [c. 1920–1950]. While the [NSPCC] dealt with many unmarried mothers, support to retain their children was not offered in most instances, and for widows, an illegitimate child would cancel the little support the state was offering.”28 This point would preoccupy dramatic works throughout the timeframe of post-Emergency Ireland, from the 1950s through to the 1970s. While Ní Ghráda developed a powerful political and social statement by using the setting of a legal courtroom, the supposed site and resort of equality under the law, other dramatic works such as by Carolyn Swift and Edna O’Brien traversed this official setting to highlight social issues from within the home itself. These plays resulted in dramatising the decline of the ‘national space’ in Irish theatre, the domestic kitchen and family home.

Carolyn Swift—Throwing off ‘The Millstone’ Carolyn Swift was born in London in 1923 as Caroline Samuel. Describing home-life as “privileged, middle class with maids and nannys … my mother had tried hard to make me look like the pure young English rose I could never be”.29 Swift’s relationship with her parents, especially with her mother, contributed to Swift’s independent streak and ideological freedom that would later permeate her own work for the stage. Like Edna O’Brien describing countries as either ‘mothers or fathers’, Swift sought to break with the rule and expectation of her family and faith. In marrying Alan Simpson, Swift was, to the mind of her parents, marrying ‘a goy’— marrying outside the family Jewish faith. Simpson’s own father was a Church of Ireland rector and so Swift married into her husband’s church in October 1947. She would say later that, “a symbol of all I wanted to escape from was the wedding dress itself … Marriage had not freed me from my parents, rather it simply lured Alan into the same trap. It seems unbelievable now that we appear to have been so powerless to organise our own lives”.30 28  Sarah-Anne Buckley, The Cruelty Man: Child Welfare, the NSPCC and the State in Ireland 1889–1956 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 197. 29  Carolyn Swift, Stage by Stage (Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1985), 15. 30  Swift (1985, 62–63).



Then based in London, Swift and Simpson, worked in various capacities in the city’s theatre circuit. At the Unity Theatre, a left-wing amateur theatre society (regarded as being professional in standards) based in Goldington Street. The couple contributed to Front of House duties and also participated as extras when a Unity Theatre production of Wrinkles and Champagne, a Victorian melodrama, was broadcast from the Alexandra Palace.31 The experience would stand to both in their endeavours of establishing the Pike Theatre some years later. By the late 1940s, with the couple living back in Dublin, the network of emerging and ambitious young artists and writers embraced Swift and Simpson. The onset of the 1950s was formative in terms of Irish theatre developing new and predominantly young voices within a burgeoning independent theatre scene. However, the period also had its divisive confrontations with censorship and authority. As Lionel Pilkington concludes, furores of the period such as the well-documented production by Cyril Cusack of Sean O’Casey’s The Bishop’s Bonfire at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre in 1955, was testament to the conservative ethos the Irish State. O’Casey’s play, widely condemned for its ‘crude vulgarity’, proved less symptomatic of the increasing modernisation of Irish theatre and its audiences: Audiences flocked to O’Casey’s play not because it was regarded as nationally representative, but because it proclaimed a new and dissenting resistance to the traditional paternalistic role of the Catholic Church. 32

Carolyn Swift, like many women theatre-makers of the post-1950 period in Ireland, has not received full recognition regarding her wide influence and artistic vision for the theatre. Her husband, director and producer, Alan Simpson, has received most historical attention and plaudits for the creative running of the Pike Theatre and as a director more generally. This is in no small part owing to the publication of his book Beckett, Behan, and a Theatre in Dublin, which places most attention on his own capacity and influence at the Pike. Simpson’s central role in The Rose Tattoo case at the Pike Theatre, which saw him brought before the Irish High Court on charges of indecency and profanity33 (the charges were later thrown out  Swift (1985, 65–66).  Lionel Pilkington, Theatre and State in Twentieth Century Ireland (London: Routledge, 2001), 151. 33  For more on this case see Spiked! Church-State Intrigue and the Rose Tattoo, Gerard Whelan with Carolyn Swift (Dublin: New Island Books, 2002); Theatre and State in 31 32



after a lengthy legal challenge) garnered him prominent notoriety in Irish theatre history. However, while the husband and wife pair co-founded the Pike Theatre Club in 1953, Simpson wrongly claimed it a solo affair in an interview with Des Hickey and Gus Smith some years later.34 Published works that discuss the Pike Theatre all agree on 1953 as the year of the foundation of the theatre when it took up the cramped space on Herbert Lane, Dublin. The origins of the Pike Theatre, however, can be traced to 1951, two years before the foundation of the Pike Theatre Club on Herbert Lane and to a new play written by Carolyn Swift and which was produced under the banner of the Pike Theatre. Pilkington outlines the importance of the Pike Theatre to Irish theatre and wider culture: The Pike was a Théâtre de Poche that modelled itself not so much on the consensual ideology of nationalism but on the more adversarial stance of a modernising elite. To this extent, the Pike belonged to the ‘new wave’ of theatrical experimentation that was taking place in London and Paris … in terms of organisation, aesthetic philosophy and style of presentation, the Pike pitted itself deliberately in opposition to the [National Theatre Society].35

Carolyn Swift was central to this achievement. Not just producer of important new Irish and European plays at the Pike, she was also a skilled editor and play-reader, acting as a de-facto literary manager, general manager and marketing agent. Her efforts, for instance, to defend the Pike production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot saw her write to the editors of all daily Irish and Sunday Irish press as well as to national Irish radio outlets, concerning a warning issued prior to opening of Godot. Swift clarifies that it was not for sensationalism but as per the author’s wishes: there would be no cuts and audiences may find certain words of phrases “not normally used in public or in the presence of ladies”.36 Beckett’s play was significant for Swift as well as for the Pike. It was a sign regarding Swift’s contribution Twentieth Century Ireland: Cultivating the People, Lionel Pilkington (London: Routledge, 2001); and Ian R. Walsh, Experimental Irish Theatre After W.B. Yeats (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). 34  Des Hickey and Gus Smith, 210. 35  Pilkington (2001, 152). 36  Letter from Carolyn Swift, 5 November 1955. 10813/384/121, Pike Theatre papers, Trinity College Dublin.



to the necessary recalibration of the production space, in physical as well as expressionistic terms: “If you want to stage experimental plays that are not set in a farm kitchen or Lady Thingummy’s drawing Room, you’ve two alternatives—build your own theatre or present Waiting for Godot”.37 Denis Johnston proposed a production of Mary Manning’s adaptation of Finnegan’s Wake (titled The Voice of Shem) at the Pike Theatre that was to be directed by Carolyn Swift. Johnston wrote to Swift indicating that he was “rehearsing at the moment an extremely good stage version of Finnegan’s Wake dramatized by Mary Manning … It has only one set, and is quite simple to do with the right cast. In view of the raging success that you made with [Waiting For] Godot, it seems to me to right [sic] up your street.”38 Johnston’s letter reconfirms the contribution that Swift has on the production of the Pike’s English-language production of Waiting for Godot. Further evidence of the importance of Swift to new Irish theatre of this period comes through many sources. Simpson wrote to Louis Elliman, Manager of the Theatre Royal, Hawkins Street, Dublin, in 1959, about holding a production of Dominic Behan’s new play, Posterity be Damned. Elliman declined the play but Simpson argues against Elliman’s decision not to produce the play citing that Swift would be central to a successful production: “by the time Carol has finished “fixing it”, it will have considerable impact”.39 Swift acted as assistant producer of the play when it opened at the Gaiety in September 1959. The play garnered major critical

37  Transcript of a radio talk by Carolyn Swift, c. 1956—“Waiting for Godot or Build Your Own Theatre”, 10813/385, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin. 38  Letter from Denis Johnston, 10 Jewett Street, South Hadley, Mass. USA, to Carolyn Swift, Pike Theatre, Dublin. 9 February 1957, 10813/395/478 Pike Theatre papers, Trinity College Dublin. Swift replied on 15 February 1957 (letter 482) to say she is very keen to have the play and hopes rights should not be an issue (unlike many other productions stalled under rights issues) but business is going very well at the Pike, with three weeks booked out despite petrol rationing in Dublin. 39  10813/398/389 Letter from Alan Simpson to Louis Elliman, Odeon (Ireland) Ltd. Theatre Royal, Hawkins St. 29 April 1959. “I gather from Brendan that you do not wish to present ‘Posterity be Damned’ in the Gaiety for the Festival. I think you are mistaken, because I am confident that by the time Carol has finished ‘Fixing it’, it will have considerable impact.” Simpson continues to say that he will have to press on and find another venue. The play was eventually produced at the Gaiety Theatre, beginning 28 September 1959, to great critical acclaim. It was produced outside of the Dublin Theatre Festival as a venue could not be found during the Festival.



acclaim if not also controversy owing to charges of blasphemy over use of ‘the Holy Name’. Ernest Blythe discussed his rejection of Posterity be Damned with Alan Simpson and also recognised Swift’s ability to turn the play into something successful, “as she did with The Quare Fellow”.40 Simpson remonstrates that “Carol [Carolyn] has done quite a lot of work on it in the way she did to The Quare Fellow”. Blythe remains resolute in refusing it as [the Abbey’s] opinion is that “Mr. Behan’s play, which is less good than, say, Hugh Leonard’s unsuccessful I.R.A. play A Leap in the Dark, would fail at the Queen’s. It is a rather ordinary I.R.A. type of play with a number of faults”.41 The Pike Theatre occupies a space of great significance within the development and modernisation of Irish theatre, while also reflecting a society under change. These achievements are chiefly in staging English language premières of innovative and important works of international drama, as well as the deployment of experimental dramaturgies and staging techniques in lighting and design. The Pike also contributed to developing a new aesthetic for what a modern and internationalising Irish drama could be. The Pike aesthetic is discernible in its ambition: to build and establish a theatre that could push boundaries in terms of repertoire, staging, and an avant-garde ideology. The Pike’s vision also meant more than ‘just’ the sixty-seat space it occupied. Its energy, dynamism and ambition was at its core. This vibrancy permeated not just through Irish theatre but through Dublin and wider Irish society. It reacted to contemporary Irish politics and society in its late-night revues. Influence in acting and design was often shared through networks such as through connections to the Gate Theatre, where the Pike often performed and where Swift had formerly worked. When addressing the history of the Pike Theatre, it is necessary to open a further seam of archival memory—that of the first play produced under the name of the ‘Pike Theatre’. This was a play written by Carolyn Swift and which addressed a theme that has been obscured from social and collective memory or political accountability—the illegal adoption of children in Ireland and the status and rights of women and of

40  10813/398/411 Letter from Alan Simpson to Ernest Blythe, 6 June 1959. Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin. 41  Letters between Alan Simpson and Ernest Blythe, 6 June 1959, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin.



children adopted in Ireland since the establishment of legislation on this topic in 1952.

Carolyn Swift and Establishing the Pike Aesthetic The initial Pike Theatre production, The Millstone, was written by Carolyn Swift. It opened on 3 September 1951. Staged at the Town Hall in Dún Laoghaire, the play, produced by Alan Simpson, presented a critique on the status of legal adoption in Ireland as well as about the status of the adopted child and the rights of the birth-mother on with regarding access to their child. Swift criticised the lack of regulation or transparency on with regarding the forced adoption of infants from predominantly unmarried mothers in Ireland during the early 1950s. With Alan Simpson earning a regular wage from the Irish Defence Forces and Swift contributing to Radió Éireann and the Irish Times, the couple bought a home on York Road in Dún Laoghaire in 1950. The house was across the street from the Bird’s Nest Orphanage. One of three orphanages in the town, the ‘Birds Nest’ was founded in 1859 by a Mrs. Smyley and took in orphaned children between five and twelve years of age. The girls were ‘prepared chiefly for domestic service’ and the boys afterwards went to one of the Dublin ‘homes’.42 The close proximity to such an institution prompted Swift to write The Millstone. The care of children in the state was not far removed from comment or criticism from wider theatrical figures only a few years later. Cyril Cusack made an offer to Sean O’Casey in February 1960, to have a bed installed in every children’s hospital in Dublin, named in honour of O’Casey, as a legacy to the playwright.43 O’Casey rejected the offer as he felt he could not consent for a child to be in a hospital bed that bore his name, for the idea that any child should owe having a hospital bed to Sean O’Casey was wrong. “A bed should be there for a need, not as a gift. Thousands of Irish children need beds at home as well as in hospital. Ireland has a long time-lag to make up in the care of her children”.44 Joseph Cooney notes that following the ‘Maynooth meeting’ (a gathering of senior clerical officials in 1949), McQuaid averted the risk and Accessed 5 August 2017.  In previous correspondence between Sean O’Casey and Cyril Cusack, O’Casey asked after the well-being of Cyril Cusack’s own children, who were sick with scarlet fever, an illness which O’Casey said afflicted all his siblings and his own mother. 44  Letters between Sean O’Casey and Cyril Cusack, 18–20 February 1963, MS38, 060 / 3, Sean O’Casey papers, NLI, Dublin. 42 43



possibility that Catholic adoption agencies would be inspected by local authorities. The closed nature of Irish society enabled Archbishop McQuaid to exploit a cloak and dagger atmosphere in which he could influence the legislators. An example of McQuaid’s political modus operandi was his vetting of proposed adoption legislation in 1951 and 1952, the groundwork for which had been prepared by an Episcopal committee under his chairmanship. The Archbishop later concluded and recorded in a letter to the Minister for Justice, Geared Boland, on 3 January 1952, that if adoption was “restricted within certain limits and protected by certain safeguards … it could be permitted within Catholic teaching”.45 The text of the 1952 Adoption Bill presented by Minister Boland was personally vetted by Archbishop McQuaid. The act foregrounded and protected the remit of preservation of the Catholic faith for the child. This softening of official position by the Archbishop was in response to a position that was becoming increasingly difficult to explicate the Church from—the adoption of so-called illegitimate children from Irish orphanages to families in the United States and indeed within Ireland. Prior to the Legal Adoption Act of 1952, the adoption of children born to unmarried mothers or otherwise orphaned, the likes that Swift witnessed every day in Dún Laoghaire at the Bird’s Nest Orphanage, had no legal standing or protection. The system of ‘boarding out’ children to domestic homes was criticised for lacking rigorous inspection and ineffective in establishing ongoing care for children boarded out into homes where they were often deemed additional domestic labour or a financial asset by way of state payment to the family.46 Falling outside of the desired familial model as prescribed within the constitution, these children were deemed to have no ‘value’ or place within conservative Ireland. Cooney notes that as many as 300 children were adopted from Ireland annually, mainly to the United States.47 Scholar 45  John Cooney, John Charles McQuaid: Ruler of Catholic Ireland (Syracuse: Syracuse, University Press, 2000), 297. 46  For more about the specifics of the context and historical evolution of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and related contexts for regional Homes, see “Commemorating the Irish Revolution: Disremembering and Remembering the Women and Children of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home” by Sarah-Anne Buckley and John Cunningham, in Women and the Irish Revolution: Feminism, Activism, Violence ed. By Linda Connolly (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2020). 47  Cooney (2000, 246).



Moira J. Maguire makes clear that “by 1946 not only was the [Irish] government fully aware of the need for adoption legislation, but Department of Justice officials had already formulated the religious safeguards that were an integral part of the 1952 Adoption Act”.48 The fact that this practice was monitored and agreed by the state shows just how urgent a cause this was for Swift to present on stage in 1951 and in the same timeframe when this legislation and official debate would have been under the watchful eye of Church and State. The Millstone was billed on its programme as ‘a topical play’. The proposed Legal Adoption Bill was passed in the Dáil in 1952. The programme of The Millstone carried a full-page advertisement for the Irish Housewives’ Association, advertising the organisation’s aims, which counted “to safeguard the health of the community, particularly of children; to prevent to any unjustified increase in prices [of household goods];”49 and other directives to protect the livelihood of the women and wife within the family context. The placing of such a large advertisement by the Irish Housewives’ Association (IHA) was a public display for the play’s intentions as much as for the Association to showcase the supports it offered to women within a patriarchal society. The slogan “We want members, help us to help you. Join the Irish Housewives Association”50 suggests that the IHA predicted a large portion of The Millstone’s audience would be Irish women who could relate to the subject matter of the play and who would later seek supports within the association (Fig. 2.2). The Millstone featured Swift in the role of the teenage girl, Bridget. A talented cast included Coralie Carmichael as Mrs. Kennedy, the adoptive mother; Anna Manahan as the biological mother, Miss White, along with Colm O’Kelly and Gearóid Ó Lochlann. The play is set in then present-­ day Ireland within the Kennedy’s dining-room in a Dublin suburb. Three and a half years pass between the first and second acts and a number of weeks between the second and third acts. The parents live with their two daughters, Bridget (played by Swift), Peggy, Frances, the family maid, Mr. Thornton, a solicitor and Miss White, Bridget’s biological mother. The play reaches a climax on the arrival of Bridget’s birth-mother, seeking to 48  Moira J.  Maguire, “Foreign Adoptions and the Evolution of Irish Adoption Policy, 1945–52, Journal of Social History, Winter, 2002, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter, 2002), 394. 49  Programme, The Millstone by Carolyn Swift. 1951. Carolyn Swift Archive, NUI Galway. 50  Programme, The Millstone, Pike Theatre Company, 1951. Carolyn Swift Archive, NUI Galway.



Fig. 2.2  Programme cover of The Millstone by Carolyn Swift, 1951. (Carolyn Swift Archive, NUI Galway)



reclaim her daughter in order to secure cheap labour for a new guesthouse she intends to run for the growing tourist market of Dublin. Swift’s would later return to this theme in her work in producing the rock musical, The Scatterin’ by James McKenna in 1960. The Scatterin’ is set in North Dublin working-class communities in which disenfranchised youths are seeking to identify with modernising Ireland. In the second act, Jemmo reveals his personal story and comments on ‘illegitimate’ children but also on parents and the state, who fail in their duty to those in their care: These children become the property of the State—the Free State … A bloody labour camp, that’s what this country is. We’ve been manufacturing world labour for a hundred years solid. Every goddam factory here is foreign, employin’ cheap Irish labour. They put ‘made in the Republic of Ireland’ on the stuff an’ we’re away, we have an Irish industry. Do they think we’re gobaloons or something? Kathleen Ní Houlihan (Ireland) Ltd.51

In The Millstone, despite being lovingly reared by the Kennedys, Bridget chooses to return with her manipulative biological mother in order not to be publicly outed, shamed and stigmatised by contesting the adoption in the courts and being ‘outed’ as adopted in the local media and community gossip. MISS WHITE: How else only by coming away with me now so I don’t have to adopt legal proceedings to get you back … You had better remember that when you see your name in all the papers and know that everyone is talking about you and the way all your fine friends will be learning how you lied to them about who you really are and what you really are, you little bastard!52 Social historian Maria Luddy comments on the stigma placed upon unmarried pregnant women in Ireland was intensely felt across Irish society. Reinforcing an impossible morality, the actions and bodies of Irish women were policed in society and supported in surveillance by Church and state. 51  James McKenna, The Scatterin’, Prompt Script, Simpson Papers, JHL, NUI Galway, 19–20. 52  Carolyn Swift, The Millstone, AIII (1951, unpublished, copy in possession of the author), 18.



Children born outside of marriage were branded as ‘illegitimate, and as records and testimony reveal a disproportionately high level of child mortality for babies and infants born within Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. The mother, once her status was known to the public and her community, found it difficult, if not impossible, to find employment and was often shunned by members of her own family.53

Production and Reception—The Millstone, Childhood Adoption and Irish Society of the 1950s Swift acknowledges the prevailing social and clerical pressures for women to give their babies up under pressure for adoption, often to American families, seeking to adopt children. Swift describes the conservative and religiously driven outlook towards adoption in Ireland, and prior to the 1952 Legal Adoption Act and in the years when she was writing The Millstone: In those days there was no legal adoption in Ireland and several cases had been reported in the papers of children being reclaimed, after fifteen years or more, by their natural mother from stricken foster parents who had come to regard them as their own. Now a campaign had begun to grow about legal adoption, which was bitterly opposed by the sort of people who always oppose social reform in Ireland.54

The social realism of the play was explained by Swift: “my play had a plot roughly based on the sort of situations revealed in these cases [within the Irish media] but with characters derived from much nearer home.”55 Swift’s comment foregrounds the autobiographical elements within the play, expressed through the characters of the controlling mother and reflective of Swift’s own childhood self-identification and her Jewish upbringing. The Millstone, I argue, reflected Swift’s own inner conflicts of identity as well as the succession of identity within family traditions. The Town Hall in Dún Laoghaire was booked to host the play but which was noted by Swift as being ‘technically—a disaster, with difficulty in attracting people to a non-theatre venue, awful acoustics and noise of 53  Maria Luddy, “Gender and Irish History”, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History, edited by Alvin Jackson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 201. 54  Swift (1985, 92–93). 55  Swift (1985, 92).



movement from free-standing chairs.56 Despite the technical and physical limitations of the building, the play received good critical attention. Comments in the Irish Times noted: It is a pity that a Dublin stage has not been found for the Pike Theatre’s production of The Millstone, for this play poignantly underlining the unfortunate position with regard to child adoption in this country, is well written and acted and deserves a wider audience than it has found so far in the Town Hall in Dún Laoghaire … The play is a personal triumph for Carolyn Swift.57

The contrasting opinion with which the play is treated by other press critics is symptomatic of the institutional dismissal of female artists at this time. The play topic itself is belittled for being of interest to women playgoers only and of no artistic or intellectual value within national discourse. The review in the Irish Press reads: “if the female population of the borough is sufficiently large and is sufficiently augmented by visitors, they should make a tidy bit of money … she has written a super tear-jerking tale for women”.58 This misogynistic article fails in its premise to act as theatre criticism and focuses in a personal attack on Swift for writing as a woman on a matter of national importance but which concerned chiefly women and children. As Anna McMullan writes, “Irish women come under pressure from Catholic and Protestant ideologies to retain the domestic role as their primary function”.59 As Swift sought to counter these prescribed patriarchal orthodoxies, established media outlets sought to dismiss such work as anti-national and of no place within the Irish dramatic narrative. To do so was to remove the artistic contribution by the likes of Swift from the recorded cultural memory of the nation. Swift was presented not as an independent artist but as a dependent but faithful spouse and mother. This maintained the ideal feminine vision of a ‘Kathleen Ní Houlihan’type figure, a frail and isolated figure, in need of support from and within a constrained national space. In further media coverage of the play, images of Swift in school-girl costume were referenced in a clear sexualised manner, foregrounding her  Swift (1985, 94).  “Child Adoption Theme of Pike’s Theatre’s Play”, Irish Times, 5 September 1951, 3. 58  Irish Press, 5 September 1951. 59  Anna McMullan, “Irish Women Playwrights since 1958”, in British and Irish Women Dramatists since 1958: A Critical Handbook, Trevor R.  Griffith and Margaret Llewellyn-­ Jones, eds. (Open University Press, 1993), 111. 56 57



feminine and elegant appearance while also presenting her as ‘wife of Army captain and producer, Alan Simpson’.60 An unnamed press cutting ran a headline of “A Mother Becomes a Schoolgirl on Stage” with an image of Swift, with her infant daughter sitting on her knee. This is adjacent to another image of Swift in character and in costume as the young girl at the centre of the adoption storyline of the play. This is a cynical ploy in order to obfuscate the national issues that the play sought to challenge, and instead, reduce the urgency by creating confusions between Swift-in-­ character as yet another mistreated young woman and Swift as an independent playwright/actor/producer. The undercurrent of the sexualisation of a young teenage girl was not uncommon for the time of the play’s writing. It would have propagated the position of young women as readily sexual, attainable and also forcibly guilty within society for any follow-on effects of sexual encounters, many of which, the young women had no willing part or role to play in, as Máiréad Ní Ghráda’s play attested to. The character of Maura Cassidy, quite literally, was ‘on trial’ for her perceived crimes through her sexual attainability. Historian Carole Holohan states that the preconceptions of behaviour and attitudes towards adolescent men and women were inherently different in 1950s Ireland. “Notions of masculine adolescence implied vandalism, violence and above all, gangs. Rather than behavioural deviants, girls were viewed as possible sexual deviants.61 Another article had a headline of “Soldier-Husband will produce wife’s play”, reducing Swift to the role of ‘wife and mother’ only. The Sunday Press, an organ of the Fianna Fáil government and also of strongly Catholic ethos, dismissed the play as “a propaganda piece in support of the current agitation for legal adoption. As such it can be sure of finding its audiences sympathetically disposed in advance. As such it must be counted moderately successful. As a play, it just won’t do, unoriginal … repetitive to the point of annoyance … the vicarious embarrassment I suffered will allow me to pick my words more carefully, from this general Holocaust”.62  10813/387, Press Scrap Book, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin.  Carole Holohan, “Catholic Youth Clubs in the Sixties”, in Adolescence in Modern Irish History, Catherine Cox and Susannah Riordan, eds. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 182. 62  The Sunday Press, 9 September 1951, 10813/387, Pike Theatre Papers, Press Scrap Book, Trinity College Dublin. 60 61



As well as this rebuke from Irish theatre critics, Swift also found similar struggles within the Irish theatrical circuit. Pressures such as lack of available space, affordable rents and a paucity of well-equipped venues ensured the smaller fringe groups suffered disproportionately to the quality and originality of work they were producing. Swift wrote an article on Irish theatre published in Home Planning magazine in April 1954, “The problem”, she wrote “was the strangle-hold of the professional companies and theatres meaning cut-throat competition amongst the smaller professional companies in booking little theatres and halls”. The Pike Theatre Company disbanded after The Millstone largely over this problem and reformed later to build their own theatre in 1953 as the Pike Theatre Club.63 Swift recounts that the psychological effect this inability to secure an economic foothold in Dublin as an emerging and professional theatre club was dispiriting for her personally but it still provided the catalyst to create a permanent home for the Pike Theatre. Though Swift and Simpson had assembled as a professional company and cast as the Pike Theatre, they couldn’t secure further space bookings and the group had to be disbanded. With estimates at the time for building a 300-seat venue, Swift and Simpson toyed with the idea of building their own venue. That would come to pass with the establishment of the Pike Theatre Club on Herbert Lane in 1953.64 Swift continually pushed the boundaries of Irish dramatic repertoire and through her artistic vision for a new and modern Irish theatre, one that was influenced by international cosmopolitan thinking and form. Her work and management at the Pike, and in particular as Assistant Producer on Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow (1954) as well as being script writer, editor and producer of many of the Pike Theatre Follies in the late 1950s, ensured a legacy of a rich contribution to a critical period in Irish theatre. Swift’s later career saw her serve as the dance critic of the Irish Times for over two decades, have a long established career in RTÉ television as a writer and producer, in particular for children’s television programming, as well as being the author of a successful series of children’s novels. One of Swift’s last written plays was Lady G, a biographical imagining of the life of Lady Augusta Gregory. It is fitting that the play, first performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1988, brought together the lives of two women of Irish  10813/387, Pike Theatre Papers, Press Scrap Book, Trinity College Dublin.  Transcript of a radio talk by Carolyn Swift, c. 1956—“Waiting for Godot or Build Your Own Theatre”, 10813/385, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin. 63 64



theatre who both, as playwrights and managers, were not only central to pivotal moments in modern Irish drama, but also had suffered levels of obfuscation from full recognition of their work, separated a century apart.

“A Most Alarming Thing”—Edna O’Brien and Staging a ‘Pagan Ireland’ Writing in her collection of essays, Mother Ireland, under a heading of “The Land Itself”, writer Edna O’Brien described that “countries are either mothers or fathers and engender the emotional bristle secretly reserved for either sire … Ireland has always been godridden”.65 Taking O’Brien’s statement as a means of understanding the depiction of social issues that had formative influence on the ongoing emergence of modern Ireland, a period in which saw Fianna Fáil’s near continuous presence in power in Ireland, only with two brief periods of exception,66 Ireland can only be categorised as a ‘male country’. The complex intertwined relationship and co-dominance of Irish society by the Catholic Church and successive governments, was a battle for control of the family. Rebecca Pelan comments that the trivialisation of literary work by women has resulted in the virtual dismissal of writers such as Edna O’Brien from the literary and cultural canon. In O’Brien’s case, her perception by the so-called literary establishment and critics, was as a “sexually-transgressive maverick and as a writer so lacking in imagination that she has been compelled to tell the same story over and over again”.67 I would further argue that O’Brien’s contribution to Irish drama, especially during the decade of the 1970s, requires deeper examination within the scope of theatre scholarship and archival memory. O’Brien’s first play produced by the national theatre, The Gathering, was performed at the Abbey Theatre in October 1974. The later adaptation by O’Brien for the stage of her own novel, A Pagan Place, offers an examination of this point in relation to the place of O’Brien within archival memory of modern Irish theatre. The staging of A Pagan Place was also a critical commentary upon the misogyny of Irish society within the 1970s and a rebuke to the  Edna O’Brien, Mother Ireland (Middlesex: Penguin, 1979), 11.  In 1954, John A.  Costello led a Fine Gael-Labour-Clann na Tamhlan coalition until 1957. From 1973–1977 Liam Cosgrave led a Fine Gael-Labour coalition government. 67  The Role of Irish Women in the Writings of Edna O’Brien, Helen Thompson, ed. (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), iii. 65 66



conservative public morality towards women’s sexuality, pregnancy outside marriage and other issues such as abortion. The Irish premiere of A Pagan Place at the Abbey Theatre on 17 November 1977, directed by Patrick Mason, was a further example of the direct and personal criticism received by Edna O’Brien and as she had endured since the banning of her novel The Country Girls in 1960. O’ Brien’s A Pagan Place is a subversive commentary on the Irish State, highlighting its ingrained stigmatisation and shaming of women on grounds of gender and sexuality, and in particular on the views of rape and pregnancy in unmarried women. For this play to reach the Abbey stage at all was a subversive act— O’Brien broke an established and rigidly gendered absence from the main stage of the Abbey Theatre that had lasted a number of decades. O’Brien reinforces this point by saying: “In terms of overall perception, I think in high echelons women are still regarded as being a bit lower down the table. The male voice is perceived differently, and regarded higher by both men and sometimes women”.68 The position of women in the national cultural space such as the national theatre was vastly underrepresented. Scholar Helen Thompson examines the place of Irish women in O’Brien’s writing where control is exercised over women as if they represent a physical site of ownership, reinforced by gender-specific roles within the domestic interior space as well as in the public exterior. Thompson states how O’Brien focuses on the hardships of rural women and how they are depicted as icons of purity as well as representatives of and substitutes for the Irish land.69 The Irish preoccupation with land ownership and development, satirised by Brian Friel and Hugh Leonard throughout the 1960s and 1970s, in plays such as The Mundy Scheme (1969) Summer (1974) respectively, further demonstrate how plays of this period, such as A Pagan Place by O’Brien, are important theatrical works as well as being social and political statements reflecting contemporary Ireland. O’Brien’s play, of course, also embodies the memory and physical presence of those women and children who were forced to enter Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries throughout the twentieth century in Ireland. Over 50,000 68  “Irish literary giant coming to Babel”, The Buffalo News, 22 March 2017. Accessed 14 September 2017. 69  Helen Thompson, The Role of Irish Women in the Writings of Edna O’Brien: Mothering the Continuation of the Irish Nation (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), 5.



women entered these institutions throughout the twentieth century and nine thousand children died across that timeframe. Thousands of other children were boarded out into foster homes around Ireland or adopted, usually to American Catholic families.70 By the time A Pagan Place was staged in Dublin, the power the Church wielded over the moral conscience of the majority was still great. As the decade closed, Irish Catholicism was buoyed by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979. Over one million people turned out to greet the pope in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Three hundred thousand turned out for a Youth Mass at Ballybrit in Galway, with thousands more at the various other official papal events. For O’Brien, the ‘pagan place’ that she staged was a modern Ireland devoid of Christian love, compassion and empathy, especially towards women in society who suffered most at the hands of Church and state in Ireland. By the late 1960s, O’Brien’s literary form offered experimentation to readers and audiences in terms of themes and imagery of the female experience of sexuality. At the same time, she was seen to have introduced an explicit political content at the expense of her formerly more accessible style. By 1970, the shift in style and tone was increasingly obvious. A Pagan Place was experimental in style for an Irish novel: narrated by an unnamed nun who traces her life from village to convent through a second-­person narrative technique. The central character, Creena, speaks to her younger self, recounting the journey of her life, from childhood to convent. The events were primarily driven by the actions of men who were all of redoubtable positions of trust and power within family and Irish society and who emerged without being answerable to any higher power. The young girl, Creena, along with her older sister Emma, was at the mercy of a ferociously unforgiving system that underpinned home, Church and state. Reviews of the novel polarised opinion, with the experimental nature of the work exposing O’Brien to further personal as well as professional attack, where comments suggested that O’Brien’s novel should not

70  The report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland was published on 12 January 2021:­ report-of-the-commission-of-investigation-into-mother-and-baby-homes/?referrer= Accessed 16 January 2021.



be taken seriously since it was “merely an emigrant Irish novelist taking a swipe at Holy Ireland”, to those who felt it was her “finest book”.71 Yet the experimental narrative technique of A Pagan Place can be read either as second-person singular in which the adult narrator addresses herself as a child or, more significantly, as second-person plural in which the ‘you’ of the narrative reaches out to encompass the adult narrator, the child, the reader and Irish women generally—a witnessing through social awareness. This device as replicated on stage within the Abbey Theatre production, and offered a direct tone and dramaturgy to present the audience as witnesses, whereby, in Mason’s direction, the issues of state within the play, became issues of personal conscience for the audience. Maureen O’Connor outlines O’Brien’s identity of a wandering, bohemian and complex artist, driven by an awareness of style and form. O’Connor writes that O’Brien engage[s] in a theatrical, aggressively fictional self-fashioning that problematises foundational ideas about identity, class, gender, social role and position, even ‘race’, in their commodification of identity.72 O’Connor and Colletta outline the non-recognition of O’Brien as an ‘Irish writer’, demonstrating, as they put it, the transgressive power of the writer’s canny performance of identity and her manipulation of personae.73 This is extended to the porous boundaries between author and text that also reveal the constructed nature of national and sexual identities, family politics as well as the unacknowledged interdependence of these constructs. These questions of identity are not fixed to just the personae of the writer, and can be traced in how O’Brien was viewed/received as a playwright (rather than a novelist). The theatricality of O’Brien’s prose is manifested on stage through Mason’s direction of O’Brien’s adaptation of the text, from novel to playscript. O’Brien’s play through its adaptation also presents the performance of post-colonial Ireland through its stock and stereotyped characters—the wild runaways, the auburn haired and porcelain skinned young girls, the sexually voracious but unfulfilled fallen women—all tropes that O’Brien has had to personally dismiss within her experiences of state censorship and public criticism. O’Brien’s flamboyant 71  Rebecca Pelan, “Edna O’Brien’s ‘Stage-Irish’ Persona: An ‘Act’ of Resistance”, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jul., 1993), 71. 72  O’Connor (2005, 474). 73  Colletta, Lisa, and O’Connor, Maureen, eds., Wild Colonial Girl, Essays on Edna O’Brien (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press), 2006. 12.



public self, as O’Connor and Colletta have stated, “places her in a tradition of insurgent, discomposing Irish writers in revolt against the masculinist dominant culture”.74 Within novels and plays, O’Brien has continually been writing out against the power structures of Irish society. A Pagan Place received its world première at the Royal Court Theatre, London on 2 November 1972, directed by Ronald Eyre75 and designed and lit by Sean Kenny.76 Kenny won recognition for his progressive and modern stage design work in London, where he had also been Artistic Director of the Mermaid Theatre.77 Stage designer and publisher John Ryan (who produced The Scatterin’ by James McKenna with Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift) described Kenny as “the most original stage designer of our times” and who had offered Ryan his first introduction to stage design.78 Playwright John Wilson Haire wrote in a letter to critic and scholar D.E.S.  Maxwell in November 1972, after seeing A Pagan Place at the Royal Court, stating that the theme of the play was “an excellent one— rural life in county Clare in the 1940s … the brutality of life in a narrow community did peep through at moments. The London audience did get the impression that this was southern Ireland today”.79 Haire’s point is revealing as to the attitudes towards the play and to O’Brien from the perspective of English audiences, as distinct from Irish audiences. Audiences at the Royal Court in London recognised O’Brien’s cautionary tale about ‘modern Ireland’ and its failures to protect or recognise the rights of unmarried mothers or those who were under threat of rape within the family. In an interview with Jack Foster in Fortnight magazine, O’Brien emphasised guilt as the central trope of the Irish people, reinforced by  Ibid.  Eyre had successes in recent years prior to the O’Brien production with a Tony Award nomination as Best Director for his 1975 production of London Assurance, originally the first major success written by Dion Boucicault in 1841. 76  Tipperary-born and UK-based designer, Sean Kenny, died suddenly at age forty-three in 1973, just before his last work on The King of Friday’s Men was to go into production at the Abbey Theatre. His designs had already been completed. His many sets in London included those for Oliver, The Hostage, Uncle Vanya (with Laurence Olivier) and Hamlet (with Peter O’Toole). 77  The London production of A Pagan Place also was one of the first major stage roles for future Academy Award winner, Brenda Fricker, who played the role of ‘Emma’ in the play. 78  John Ryan, 35. 79  MS 36, 252/8, Letter from John Wilson Haire to D.E.S. Maxwell, 17 November 1972. D.E.S. Maxwell Papers, NLI, Dublin. 74 75



Catholic dogma and social coercion of acts of vigilance against women. “Every man women and child in a place like Ireland feels guilt, like a bed of roses it blooms”.80 James Downey, journalist and political columnist, reviewed the Royal Court production of A Pagan Place for the Irish Times: There can be few parallels for the artistic atrocity being perpetrated by Miss O’Brien, Mr. Ronald Eyre and others at the Royal Court Theatre … a nauseous rehash is presented of the usual topics: the child’s mechanistic innocence, the father’s decayed gentility, the sister’s predictable tragedy, the doctor’s seediness, the priest’s lust, set in the context of rural brutality, squalor and ignorance. It is all the more repulsive for its tiny illuminations of insight and artistic sensitivity that from time to time break through its monstrous boredom and vulgarity. It does not appear to be possible for Miss O’Brien to be absolutely a bad writer, though she has certainly tried hard on this occasion.81

Downey’s extraordinary article offers little by way of any comparable standard for responsible criticism of new theatre productions within Irish media. Downey berated O’Brien’s depiction of the rape of Creena by the young priest in the play as being “implausible … silly and a ludicrous denouement”.82 This dismissal of predatory sexual violence against young women was symptomatic of the wider social blindness against such acts and of the physical, psychological and emotional effects endured by women afterwards. The only praise offered by Downey was that Sean Kenny was likely the world’s foremost theatre designer of the time but that the play was “the most atrocious thing on view at present at the Royal Court, consisting as it does of a kind of surrealistic gallows backed by a design reminiscent of the cinema in its greatest days”.83 The press release from the Abbey Theatre described the play about a young girl growing up in rural Ireland, her growing sexual awareness and curiosity, and the fears, superstitions and guilt that pass from one generation to the next. It also describes the mother figure in the play who strives to preserve respectability in the wake of the ‘flashy’ daughter Emma “who becomes pregnant”.84 The stigma placed on young women like Emma was  Ibid.  “Edna O’Brien Play”, Irish Times, 6 November 1972, 10. 82  Ibid. 83  Ibid. 84  Abbey Theatre. Correspondence: Publicity / Public Affairs re: Correspondence and publicity documents regarding the production of “A Pagan Place”. 1977–1977. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, ADM_00001181, p. 34. 80 81



central to campaigns in Ireland through the decade of the 1970s and which were being driven by second-wave feminism. Wendy Shea designed the Abbey Theatre production of A Pagan Place. An examination of the archival records indicates how the production, and its design, sought to give presence to the peripheral and absent memory of Irish women institutionalised through stigma around pregnancy, and supported through official channels of government, local authorities and the Catholic Church. For example, files consulted by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, which published its report of investigation into state and Church operation of the Homes, and related matters, from official archives, including the Department of Health, local authorities and Church-run hospitals, indicate how official record keeping reflected attitudes of the time and perpetuated stigma. File names include “Illegitimate Children”, “Scandal in the Parish” and “Confidential Irish Adoptions”.85 Euphemisms such as “arrangements”, “sorted” and “sent away” are a sleight of hand for the dismissal of pregnant women from their homes and communities into various institutions. In Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath, the “Records and Particulars Book/Birth Register” for St Kevin’s Maternity Hospital recorded details of the mother and child within its registers. Information about father of the child were deliberately left blank. The Admission Books for Tuam Mother and Baby Home in Co. Galway, again recorded detailed data on the women and children. A dedicated column for ‘Spouse’ was left blank in their registers, apart from occasional exceptions when detail of the relevant parish priest was entered—another symbol of the clergy’s power over the powerless.86 This gendered recording of information presents a skewed version of the operation of the homes, where only the women and children are visible. The original play poster for the Abbey production of A Pagan Place features an image of a despondent female face at centre foreground, eyes looking away from the viewer. From her head, her hair radiates upwards, the strands of hair taking the form of land and sea crashing into each other. Shea’s poster is matched in its depiction of rural Ireland within the play’s 85  Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Dublin, 12 January 2021: Chapter 9, page 32. 86  Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Dublin, 12 January 2021: Part V, Archives, page 62.



show programme, through a series of black and white photographs taken by Fergus Bourke. Fergus Bourke’s images show a rural, agricultural way of life, at odds with the modernity of its time. An image of an old man in tweeds, walking overgrown fields with cattle straying around him; rusting ploughs filling gaps in crumbling stone walls; and an image of a young girl, roughly the same age as the character of Creena, running through the fields, looking over her shoulder (Fig. 2.3). A series of letters between Tomas Mac Anna, Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, and Edna O’Brien, in 1974 and 1975, reveal that Mac Anna had made approaches over previous years to O’Brien for the rights to adapt and stage her ‘beautiful book’ (The Country Girls), feeling the story had excellent material for the stage.87 In subsequent letters, O’Brien agreed to the Abbey Theatre producing The Country Girls provided she herself was able to adapt it for the stage. While rights issues were being investigated, Mac Anna wrote to O’Brien once more, having read the adaptation of A Pagan Place, and asked to produce that instead, deeming it ideal for the autumn programme and a possible choice to open the Limerick Theatre Festival.88 O’Brien granted the request on the proviso that she could attend rehearsal, and that Veronica Quilligan be retained in the role of Creena from the Royal Court production. On her letter, O’Brien adds a manuscript addendum, warning Mac Anna to “Brace Yourself! It would might be a most alarming thing”.89

Reception of A Pagan Place—The ‘Playwright on the Stairs’ and the Psychological Choke The adaptation from novel to play was shaped by O’Brien in consultation with Patrick Mason, who visited the author at her London home. O’Brien was cautious ahead of the Dublin opening, following the reception of her previous play, The Gathering, which opened at the Abbey on 9 October 1974. O’Brien received personal attacks and condemnation as well as negative theatrical reception. O’Brien remembered how on that occasion in 87  Correspondence between Edna O’Brien and Tomás Mac Anna, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway ADM_00000135, p. 1. 88  Abbey Theatre. Programming / Planning re: Correspondence between the Abbey Theatre and Edna O’ Brien, 10 Carlyle Square, London, regarding the adaptation of her novel, ‘The Country Girls’. Correspondence also relates to the production of ‘A Pagan Place, 1974–1975. 1974–1978. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, ADM_00000135, p. 5. 89  Ibid., p. 6.



Fig. 2.3  Poster from the Abbey Theatre production of A Pagan Place, 1977, designed by Wendy Shea. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway)

1974 “the theatre seemed to be packed with old enemies and rivals and the air to be thick with condemnation of one sort or another … the bad notices that followed confirmed the ill will”.90 Martina Stanley, who played the role of Creena in A Pagan Place, spoke out at the treatment O’Brien  “Edna’s play for Abbey production”, Evening Press, 6 November 1977, Abbey Theatre. A Pagan Place, 17 Nov 1977 [press cuttings]. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, 2702_PC_0001, p. 2. 90



so often received: “I think she is a courageous woman, a woman of great strength to go ahead and write the way she does considering the onslaught she has always been subjected to in Ireland”.91 Stanley spoke of her own personal experience at a boarding school in Galway during the 1970s. She witnessed a number of young women, similar to Creena, who were stigmatised by their sexual curiosity.92 A Pagan Place, O’Brien argued, was largely a challenge against fear of change within a conservative Ireland, but also fear of an unknown possible alternative modern Ireland: The real quarrel with Ireland began to burgeon within me then; I thought of how it had warped me and those around me and their parents before them, all stooped by a variety of fears—fear of church, fear of gombeenism, fear of phantoms, fear of ridicule, fear of hunger, fear of annihilation and fear of their own deeply ingrained aggression that can only strike a blow at each other, not having the innate authority to strike at those who are higher … we dread the psychological choke.93

A Pagan Place opens on stage with a foreboding sense of place, somewhere ritualistic: unholy and sinister. The stage directions read: “The stage is in complete darkness. As the lights come up we see men silhouetted along the back and in the centre Creena kneeling and intoning. She has a circle of stones around her”.94 Creena, aged twelve, is positioned in a religious pose, praying and incanting a hybrid form of English, Latin and Gaelic, transcending Ireland’s colonial history and religious past. She recites a mixed verse that opens and ends with the line “Riddle-me-raddle-me-ro”. This line is directly lifted from the Nestor chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, where the character of Stephen Dedalus is teaching a class on Milton’s pastoral elegy, Lycidas. The successive lines in this section of Joyce’s Ulysses (but which were excluded by O’Brien) include: My father gave me seed to sow The seed was black and the ground was white95  Ibid., p. 2.  “An Irishman’s Diary”, Irish Times, 10 November 1977, Abbey Theatre. A Pagan Place, 17 November 1977 [press cuttings]. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, 2702_PC_0001, p. 4. 93  O’Brien (1979, 87). 94  Edna O’Brien, A Pagan Place: A Play (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 9. 95  James Joyce, Ulysses (Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922) https://www.gutenberg. org/files/4300/4300-h/4300-h.htm. Accessed 24 March 2021. 91 92



This allusion to coloured seeds and white ground presents a vision of rural Ireland that is failing to nurture or nourish its people (and also alluding also to sexual reproduction)—the landscape is becoming arid and infertile. The opening line of John McGahern’s Memoir also presents this image of unsustaining landscape by saying: “The land in Leitrim is poor”.96 The play’s location is a fictional village, Coose, a town and townland in the West of Ireland that is likely to reflect the environs of O’Brien’s west county Clare childhood home. The threat of sexual violence apparent in the play from the opening scene, as well as the references to masturbation and the spilling of the ‘seed’ present a vision of social control over women’s sexuality and the power held over their bodies by men.97 The riddles and threats as made towards the young girl, Creena, are more sinister here as the lines are interspersed with words from Irish like ‘Pookha’, meaning ‘ghost’, symbolising a meeting place of the living with the dead—a pagan ritual or sacrifice. Creena’s childish innocence is threatened as a male vagabond, known as ‘The Nigger’ creeps from the darkness behind the young girl and menacingly calls out to her: “Come here till I do pooly in you”, while undoing the rope belt of his trousers.98 Creena flees screaming in response to the repeated advances. The sense of recalled childhood fear of abusive figures in authority presents a trauma of memory. The figure of the Nigger is similar to that of a threatening character in the childhood of Samuel Beckett, who recalled “a man called Balfe, a little, ragged, wizened, crippled man. He used to look at me. He terrified me. I can still remember how he frightened me”.99 The onset of rape as an opening scene unsettles the pastoral setting, with the silhouetted men at the rear of the stage present as unidentifiable witnesses, while audiences also aware they are complicit witnesses to the sexual assault of a female child. The pagan and Godless nature of modern Ireland is foregrounded by O’Brien and given form through Sean Kenny’s imposing dark and stone-filled barren landscape.

 John McGahern, Memoir (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), 1.  For more detailed examination of this scene and its exploration of rhyme, sexual potency and of father-son relationships, see Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce: Early Poetry through Ulysses by Zack R. Bowen (New York: State University of New York Press, 1974). 98  O’Brien (1973, 9). 99  James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 41. 96 97



The patriarchal nature of Ireland and the context for the rise of second-­ wave feminist campaigns of the 1970s is developed by O’Brien through Creena’s parents, Josie and Con. Con, the dominant presence in the family, is a self-declared King of a ruined landscape: Con: I’m Boss around here. Josie: You are monarch of all you survey. The nettles and the briars.100 The physical (and demographic) decline of rural Ireland in place of a more modern, secular and industrialised country is marked within the play by symbolic religious gestures and also in a corporeal expression through the body and actions of Creena. At the family evening meal, Creena takes to reciting verse from William Wordsworth’s poem, Daffodils, before being told to “shut up and cut out the theatrics”.101 In response to this, O’Brien’s directions note that Creena then: breaks a piece of bread, sprinkles sugar on it and places it on her tongue as if it were alter bread … and eats the bread as if it were Holy Communion, closes her eyes and touches her breast soulfully and there is the noise of a Sanctus bell, which is the noise she has summoned up for herself.102

Con’s response to the actions of his daughter is to threaten her with the fate of the so-called fallen women within Ireland over successive decades: “She ought to be locked up”.103 The off-stage and unnamed place of imprisonment is undoubtedly implied to be a Magdalene Laundry. It also is reminiscent to the threat implied to Katie Roche, the eponymous character in Teresa Deevy’s 1933 play, also produced at the Abbey Theatre in which Katie’s own father, the wandering healer, Reuben, declares that his own daughter is in need of ‘humiliation’.104 O’Brien, implies through the  O’Brien (1973, 11).  O’Brien (1973, 13). 102  Ibid., 13. 103  Ibid., 13. 104  Katie Roche written by Teresa Deevy was first produced at the Abbey Theatre by Hugh Hunt in 1933. Waterford-born Deevy was one of the most successful playwrights at the Abbey Theatre during the 1930s but her relationship with the Abbey broke down as her contract, as recorded in the minutes of the Board of the Abbey Theatre, was recommended to be let lapse. The minutes from the meeting held 28 April 1939 record: “The Board decided against the production of ‘Holiday House’ and agreed that the contract with Miss Deevy should be allowed to lapse.” Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, 100 101



male father figure of Con, that physical intimidation and even rape was an ever-present risk in many rural homes. Josie: Not now, Con, not now. Con: What are you talking about, not now! When the urge takes one, fire away, the gun is your own.105 Creena’s teacher, Miss Davitt, is described as being “aged forty-five, in ‘a wild condition … thin, streelish and her voice is implosive and theatrical”. Within a school class, Miss Davitt engages the students in the prescribed history curriculum of nationalist education—that primarily of the English conflict with Ireland at the turn of the seventeenth century through the Nine Years War, and of other historical figures such as Brian Boru and Robert Emmett. The focus on Elizabeth I is significant as the monarch was herself declared ‘illegitimate’ under Papal ruling in 1570. The wider Tudor conquest of Ireland, which was taught widely in Irish schools, presents the primarily military history of the decline of Gaelic Ireland. The succession of failed rebellions and Anglicisation of the people, language, culture of rural Ireland comes to the surface in the contemporary ‘pagan place’ of O’Brien’s modern Ireland—a country again finding its identity. The positioning of a figure such as Queen Elizabeth and her illegitimacy also foregrounds the primarily male history and place of women as sexualised objects under male dominance. In a surreal act, the teacher Miss Davitt, begins to seductively strip in the classroom until she in interrupted by the arrival of the priest, Father Declan, to the classroom. We soon learn from private conversations between Creena and her friend, Della, a consumptive girl aged eighteen, that Miss Davitt is being taken to ‘the looney bin’ by Father Declan. The girls gossip about relationships, local men and love letters, while discussing their apprehension of those men who are known to touch younger girls inappropriately. All sexual boundaries seem non-existent. The girls too experiment with their own sexuality by kissing each other. Throughout the play female figures are judged and placed on a pedestal for male castigation. In a bar scene of the play, Con, the Nigger and others discuss Miss Davitt’s fate now that is local bar-stool gossip that she has committed suicide: NUI Galway. Aa25629b6-65ab-4d2d-­8b31-74695205cad3 Accessed 11 October 2017. 105  O’Brien (1973, 14).



Caimin: Lads! Guess what happened an hour ago, Miss Davitt, gone, a goner … did herself in. Con: Too much brain. Too highly strung. She always argued with me, about politics. Hopeless woman, hopelessly misinformed … She dabbled too much in politics.106 Her death was caused by her filling her pockets with stones and running into the lake. The men in the bar simultaneously recite an incantation: “Stones, rocks, boulders.”107 The repetition reminds the audience of the essence of the play—an uncultivated, unforgiving landscape, devoid of a soulful life. The programme cover for the Royal Court production of the play featured an image of a stone circle, a pre-Christian ritualistic space, a meeting place where people assembled as seasons’ changed and the passing of the pagan calendar moved from equinox to equinox. The rough stone material present in the play reflects an archive of time passing, from lunar darkness to solar light. Sean Kenny’s design at the opening scene of the play stages this to dramatic effect, with the upstage wall lined with silhouetted men in front of whom Creena sits in a stone circle—the meeting and ritual place of pre-Christian times—a new pagan Ireland where women are still the sacrifice. The constitution of Ireland reinstates this further by stating “the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”.108 The further stigmatisation of the death implicates the Church and state through the public acceptance of shame on women deemed deranged through displays of liberal thought, ambition, economic independence or sexual desire. “Caimin: The contention is that it was wilful death. The stones, you see. She put them there, deliberate.”109 Creena, who is listening intently to the conversation from outside the door of the bar assumes the mannerisms and accent of Miss Davitt and recites, as if under spiritual/demonic possession, verbatim the lecture on his Irish history that Miss Davitt gave the class previously. In assuming the form of the dead teacher, O’Brien ascribes Creena the same fate as Miss Davitt and of Irish  O’Brien (1973, 23).  O Brien (1973, 23–24). 108   The Constitution of Ireland. ashx?mid=ee219062-2178-e211-a5a0-005056a32ee4 Accessed 11 October 2020. 109  O’Brien (1973, 24). 106 107



women more generally, stifled by a patriarchal society that legally enshrines the place of women to the domestic sphere and servitude. Creena hitches her skirt up further in a defiant act of display of the female body. This is less in act of sexual titillation and more of bodily provocation, by displaying of the female body on stage as a means of defiance rather than submission. O’Brien is similarly rebuking the outcry against her personally as a ‘scandalous female writer’. Women like Creena, Miss Davitt and O’Brien herself were considered a threat to the orthodox order of Irish society. In retaliation for this display, Creena is struck by her father, a violent retaliation of physical force against the female body. The return of Emma, Creena’s older, ‘Flashy’ sister, from Dublin, aged nineteen, is a turning point in the play. The attention turns to her relationship and visit to the doctor. Once it becomes clear that Emma is seeking medical advice for symptoms of pregnancy, the doctor’s tone and actions change, becoming cold and aggressive, demanding Emma to ‘get to the point’ when asking about her menstrual cycle and ordering her to strip from the waist down for an internal examination. When Emma asks if it will hurt, she is told: Doctor: “that depends on how loose you are … Lie back! I haven’t much patience left at this time of night” (Emma lets out a scream as he has started to examine her) Doctor: Shut up (Emma is sobbing and moaning. After some time he removes his hand. She is still sobbing.)110

Emma’s pregnancy is crudely and mockingly confirmed. The doctor quotes lines from the Gospel of Luke, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour”,111 an excerpt from the  O’Brien (1973, 44).  Luke1: 46–55: The verse in full is known as ‘Song of Mary’, presenting Mary as a dutiful and humble servant of Christ: 110 111

My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.



prayer of Mary. He further shames Emma in saying it is clear there has been “no maidenhead for some time”. Emma sees abortion as the only answer and proposes horrific solutions induced from her state of shock, foregrounding her own suicide: “Ergot, slippery elm? A packing needle, anything. You can even do it now, I’ll bear it, I don’t need an anaesthetic, I’ll suffer it … I’ll go to the seaside then, and jump off the cliff, the cliffs of Moher.” Like Maura in Ní Ghráda’s On Trial, female suicide is presented as the only alternative to a life of shame and psychological pain for both mother and infant. The play climaxes in the closing scenes where Emma’s pregnancy and her sexual encounters are exposed by her parents. Josie repeats the threats to Emma, regarding her imminent removal from the family and society, to within what James Smith described, ‘Ireland’s architecture of containment’112—the institutional networks of Irish laundries and mother and baby homes: “By God you’ll scrub and you’ll do your stint in the Magdalene Laundry … you’re not fit to pray”.113 The dramatisation of domestic roles within the play are structured around pre-determined female subjectivity. Emma and Creena are on the cusp of breaking tradition. Della, the consumptive friend of Creena, succumbs to her illness, highlighting the fragility or young life but also the inadequacy of medical attention afforded to working-class rural life. Instead, Emma revolts against her mother and the tradition of female subjugation in Irish domestic life: (To Josie) Emma: (Putting her hands in a gesture of prayer) Queen of Angels, Queen of Patriarchs, Queen of all Saints, Queen of Egypt … so sour now, so dried up. You were neither wife nor mother”.114 O’Brien’s final challenge to the state, the Catholic Church and to the prescribed orthodoxies of the family unit, which must remain complicit in maintaining such moral and social conditioning, is through presenting Creena, not as a figure who rejects, but who succumbs to the eventuality of joining the Sisters of Charity. In a parting rebuke to the family and rural Irish village life of traditional Ireland, Josie comments at the sight of the

112  James M.  Smith, Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007). 113  O’Brien (1973, 51). 114  Ibid.



departing Creena, “We’re not her people anymore”.115 Like O’Brien herself, who departed Ireland for residency in London, Creena remains an outsider to family and to the state.

Conclusion—Archival Memory of Absent Women Cathy Leeney identifies that “women’s contribution to Irish theatre continues often to be considered as a separate topic … as the discipline of theatre and performance studies develops in Ireland away from drama and towards theatre as collaborative practice … the key roles played by women require acknowledgment”.116 As evidenced from existing scholarship by Melissa Sihra, Mary Trotter and Paige Reynolds all scholars of theatre and of women’s theatre historiography, the reshaping of the historical record to create a pluralised space for recognition of work by women in theatre is an ongoing and necessary task. Leeney reminds us that women’s cultural participation was marginalised until they took matters into their own hands in the 1960s and 1970s. While true, it is necessary to record the level of work by those other earlier important figures like Christine Longford, Nora Lever, Phyllis Ryan, Genevieve Lyons, Lelia Doolan, Mary Manning and Carolyn Swift, among many others, who ceased to accept being recognised as being mere ‘supports’ to their male counterparts. Such artists but were individually important contributors to the artistic modernisation of Irish drama throughout the period studied in this book. Many of the plays examined in this chapter reflect the overbearingly conservative Catholic ideologies of the Church and state in post-1950s Ireland. They also reveal a theatrical representation of the failing modernisation of the Irish Republic. In doing so, these were plays of resistance and offered a vision of an alternative Ireland.

 O’Brien (1973, 64).  Cathy Leeney, “Women and Irish Theatre before 1960”, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Drama, Chris Morash and Nicholas Grene, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 271. 115 116


Internationalising Irish Drama: A Global Stage

This chapter examines the records of performance that document cultural change in Ireland during the 1950s and internationalisation within Irish theatre more broadly. I argue that during this period, new theatre ventures, such as the Globe Theatre, the Pike Theatre, and other productions by the relocated Abbey company, responded to increasing international cultural influence and, in particular, American and Irish-American influence. Figures such as Siobhán McKenna, the Belfast-born actress and associated with the role of Saint Joan in George Bernard Shaw’s play, also greatly contributed to not just the internationalisation of Irish theatre, but the export of an authentically Irish cultural brand. These works and events sought to rejuvenate the image of Irish drama and its depiction of its broadening cultural and international influences. Similarly, by examining play materials within the Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, the Pike Theatre archive and other papers from the period, it is possible to identify a dependence on American popular culture as a primary medium through which national consciousness and identity was expressed at a time concurrent to how modern Ireland was being redeveloped.

Siobhán McKenna and Hamlet’s Irish Voice In 1957, Siobhan McKenna played the role of Hamlet in an experimental production of William Shakespeare’s play at the Theatre de Lys (today the Lucille Lortel Theatre), an off-Broadway venue in Manhattan’s west © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




village. Directed by theatre writer and critic, Henry Hewes, the production was significant for many reasons. Its experimental form ensured it was essentially a one-woman performance, with McKenna’s titular role being the only character live on stage. All other characters were located off-­ stage, with voices projected to the audience. Hewes’ production made prominent use of recorded voices for multiple characters, along with visual projections throughout. Billed as ‘an experimental production’, McKenna’s Hamlet succeeded in showcasing new meeting points of Irish and international performance. The fact this production took place in New York located new developments in Irish drama (through McKenna’s success) on an international footing and within a globalising brand of Irish theatre. This production at the Theatre de Lys—an experimental, gender-blind and technology-enhanced production of Shakespeare’s most widely seen and loved play: a play about power, political will, social status, love and death—was an important moment for modern Irish theatre, even though it took place on an international stage. McKenna, in the starring role, would identify Ireland and Irishness through her recognition as a confident player on the world stage. Hamlet was produced as part of ANTA (American National Theatre and Academy) Matinee Series at the Theatre de Lys. This series of Tuesday matinee readings began in 1956 and continued for twenty years with the commitment to experiment with unusual dramatic material. The first performance was a verse adaptation of Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country.1 This production of Hamlet was also a statement about the position of Irish theatre at the time. In Siobhán McKenna, Ireland had its most celebrated actress as well as a now recognised Broadway favourite, following turns in The Chalk Garden in 19552 and as the lead in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan.3 1  It was followed by a Shakespearean variety show, Lovers, Villains & Fools, with Helen Hayes; Dame Sybil Thorndike and Sir Lewis Casson in their World Famous Dramatic Recitals; Eugene O’Neill’s Before Breakfast with Eileen Heckart; and Langston Hughes’ Soul Gone Home and Shakespeare in Harlem with Isabelle Sanford and Godfrey Cambridge ( Accessed 09 June 2020). 2  The Chalk Garden by Enid Bagnold opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 7 November 1955, directed by Albert Marre. 3  The revival of Shaw’s Saint Joan, and marking Siobhán McKenna American stage debut (as Joan) opened on 11 September 1956 at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre, New York, and transferred to the Coronet Theatre on 25 December 1956 and ran for a combined seventy-­seven performances.



Hamlet opened at the Theatre de Lys on 28 January 1957, with a matinee on the following day. Brooks Atkinson, critic of the New York Times reviewed the play and issued caution about gender-blind casting in the play, as it was a “custom not recommended”4 on New York stages. McKenna appeared as Hamlet, along on stage before scenographic projections suggesting the Denmark of Shakespeare’s play”.5 The off-stage actors who are present in voice only are in Atkinson’s words, “bodily creations”.6 “The performance”, Brooks noted, “[was] neither a performance nor a recital.” While recognising McKenna’s “forceful voice”, Atkinson criticises McKenna for failing to “communicate the music and rhythms of the poetry, sustain the tone of the phrasing and suggest the spiritual tensions of a sensitive man”.7 Atkinson continues to say that Hewes production does nothing to acknowledge the stature of the play or the poetry of the language. The play was however, focused and directed on emphasis on voice and poetry. The play was central to the position of dramatic devices such as vocalising for experimenting with Shakespeare as well as Irish engagement with Shakespeare on a global stage. Records from the production, including McKenna’s annotated prompt script, reside in her archive at NUI Galway. The programme cover advertises “Siobhán McKenna in “Hamlet”8 on its cover, the only play/cast information included. McKenna’s reputation as an Irish star of the stage, coupled with Shakespeare’s play title was attraction enough to entice audiences. Within McKenna’s annotations are numerous textual changes, such as “O GOD”, inserted instead of “O Heaven”,9 presenting a familiar Irish vernacular exclamation. McKenna notes this specifically when in Hamlet’s “Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I” speech, McKenna strikes through and cuts a preceding exchange with Polonius as she noted the pauses were too long, while writing in the script margin that the ‘or’, ‘for’ and other such words should have an “Irish R”.10 There are numerous  “Theatre: Distaff Hamlet—Review”, New York Times, 29 January 1957. 27.  Ibid. 6  Ibid. 7  Ibid. 8  T20/416 Programme from Hamlet, Siobhán McKenna Archive, NUI Galway. 9  T20/416 Prompt Script, Hamlet, Siobhán McKenna, NUI Galway. 1. 10  T20/416, Prompt Script, Hamlet, Siobhán McKenna Archive, NUI Galway, 41. Other examples include annotation around tone and are recorded by McKenna on the script as ‘sarcastic’ or ‘thoughtful’ (7), and “Don’t drag out but make more forceful” (8). 4 5



syllabic emphases added throughout all Hamlet’s speaking parts in the prompt-script, a notation record of McKenna’s distinctive and ‘forceful’ voice as delivered on stage, an aural transcription of her tone and speech. From comparative studies of other such archival records, such as McKenna’s annotations on Tom Murphy’s Bailegangaire, as produced by Druid Theatre and directed by Garry Hynes in 1985 and 1986, this notation model of McKenna’s process is evident thirty years earlier in 1957 and within her experimental performances. Within McKenna’s archive is a record of her process in performance, the intangible archival memory of her on-stage speech, honed as recognisable Irish upon a global stage (Fig. 3.1). As the 1950s began, they did so by facing into a global post-war reality. Similarly, Ireland witnessed such change that by the decade’s end, it would find itself within a new position of emerging economic and social modernity, experienced within a globalising western culture. Culturally, things developed with far more trepidation. The Abbey Theatre suffered a

Fig. 3.1  Siobhán McKenna. (© Siobhán McKenna Archive, NUI Galway)



devastating fire on 18 July 1951.11 While the company of the Abbey Theatre moved their performances to the Queen’s Theatre on Pearse Street (a much larger venue with 900-seat capacity), this venue was traditionally more suited to hosting visiting music-hall productions. While the impact of the Abbey Theatre fire, coupled with reduced income and a policy that favoured the hiring of actors who were fluent in Irish rather than artistic and theatrical experienced, contributed to a cultural and psychological decline at the Abbey Theatre. Peter Daubeny, Director of ‘the World Theatre Season’, recorded in 1964 that the Abbey Theatre company, in “crossing the Liffey to the Queens, had suffered a deterioration in spirit”.12 This condition was not fully rectified even by 1966 with the opening of the new Abbey Theatre, designed by architect, Michael Scott. Director Roland Jaquarello, who described the main stage of the new Abbey Theatre when it reopened in 1966, as “unwelcoming with bad acoustics and with a stage which was remote and inaccessible. You got the sense the theatre was only half developed. This is in contrast to the community between actors and audiences regularly seen at the Pike, Gas Works, Olympia and others at this time”.13 There was, however, a flourishing of independent theatre production at smaller new fringe and pocket/basement theatres during the 1950s. This was important to the development of a new Irish theatre of the time, and which also saw a new cultural exchange and internationalising of Irish drama. At the Abbey Theatre, even while still relocated to the Queen’s and struggling to produce and sustain new writing of quality, a focus on summer productions that would attract, in particular, the growing (Irish-) American and wider tourist market, was a strategy employed to maintain revenue and box-office income. The growth of new independent theatre companies and theatre makers in this period of the 1950s also produced responses to Ireland’s changing demographic and cultural influences. The Globe Theatre Company, for example, established in 1954, responded to changing appetites in Dublin 11  In the days and weeks that followed the fire at the Abbey Theatre in July 1951, offers of subscriptions, benefit events and fundraising were offered to the Abbey Theatre by members of the Irish theatre community, such as the Management of the Belfast Empire Theatre, who offered £250. 12  Hugh Hunt, The Abbey: Ireland’s National Theatre, 1904–1979 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 188. 13  Jaquarello (2016, 24).



theatre audiences, which were increasingly of a younger demographic and targeting a younger audience of workers who would over the next decade come to reside in Dublin city through increased internal migration from rural Ireland to urban Dublin as well as increasing employment opportunities.14 This shift towards international cultural and theatrical influence acts as a reminder of the structural, organisational and psychological malaise in which the Abbey Theatre found itself in from the mid-1950s. This reflection on how Ireland’s national theatre and therefore also its ‘National’ drama was temporarily displaced, owing to the Abbey’s relocation to the Queens since 1951. There was also greater consideration within Irish culture and industry regarding international tourism, with Ireland being increasingly visible within an international global marketplace, where a valuable commodity was Irish culture itself.

Locating a New Irish Drama—‘Ireland on Stage’ In 1965, British Pathé, the media newsreel organisation, reported from the West of Ireland, and presented a ‘bustling’ society performing its modernity through economic materialism and multi-lateral trade. The British Pathé report presented Ireland as no longer ‘a country of castles and crosses carved in stone by a devout people’. These were now only remnants of a past Ireland, where instead modernising cities, such as Cork, with a growing ship building industry and oil refineries at Whiddy Harbour, were doing away “with all that blarney about leprechauns and little people”.15 As the new transatlantic passenger ship is launched down the slipway in the news report, it is to cheering faces and the billowing ‘Stars and Stripes’ of the American flag, rather than the Irish tricolour. The Country Boy by John Murphy was primarily marketed at the American tourist market. Chris Morash, in his study of the history of the media in Ireland, identifies a laboured dependency on American  For more on this topic see Mary E. Daly, Sixties Ireland: Reshaping the Economy, State and Society, 1957–1973 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). 15  “West Coast of Ireland: A travelogue visiting various locations on the west coast of Ireland”, British Pathé Archive,­ ireland/query/West+Coast+of+Ireland Accessed 30 November 2020. 14



cultural imports into the entertainment sphere of Irish society within their own homes and through broadening access to television within people’s homes in Ireland.16 In terms of theatrical production, and in the context of works by Brian Friel, Maria Szasz provides an insightful account of the complex and at times contradictory relationship between the Irish drama and the American stage and audiences.17 Works such as The Country Boy by John Murphy (1959), Philadelphia, Here I Come! by Brian Friel (1964) and the plays and various Follies produced at the Pike Theatre, such as The Solid Gold Cadillac by Howard Teichmann and George S.  Kaufman (1954)18 and Follies in the Sun by Carolyn Swift (1959), epitomised the ambition and international influences of a new generation of artists. America and American pop culture became a touchstone and barometer for home Ireland branded its economic development and modernisation. Nevertheless, it is important to also recognise the alignment and interdependency between economic and capitalist developments and by the arts and independent theatre sector within Ireland that occurred in the post-World War II period. The complexities of the time are reflected in the ridicule of a growing middle-class materialism and rise of mass popular culture within new dramatic works. Contradictions are, however, also identifiable. A newly globalising and mediatised culture and society were drawn to excitement and energy of independent theatre and producers. Perhaps naively, there were cases where such new theatres, producers and dramatic work were participatory and part of the widening relationship between corporatism and cultural tourism, as is exemplified elsewhere in this book. The economic benefits this extolled for ruling political classes did not go unnoticed by those in power or by those in corporate marketing. This created an uneasy relationship that warrants a deeper contextual understanding, which I provide through this chapter.

16  Chris Morash, A History of the Media in Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 176. 17  Maria Szasz, Brian Friel and America (Dublin: Glasnevin Press, 2013), 244–250. 18  The Solid Gold Cadillac opened at the Belasco Theatre, 5 November 1954 and was produced by Max Gordon. It ran for 526 performances on Broadway. broadway-production/the-solid-gold-cadillac-2385 Accessed 12 January 2018.



The Globe Theatre and Genevieve Lyons—A New Irish Theatre As Siobhán O’Gorman has noted, “throughout the 1950s, a range of developments pushed visual culture to the forefront of modernization, industrialization and internationalization”.19 This change in visual culture, and how theatre was produced in Ireland, reflected the internationalisation of Irish theatre in this period.20 It also was evidence of a new and youthful group of theatre makers who were willing to experiment and provide a renewed dramatic vision for Ireland in the mid-century. While the Pike Theatre on Herbert lane, founded by Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift was undoubtedly central to this experiment, so too were other new theatre founders at various independent companies and pocket theatre around Dublin city and its environs. One such new group of note was the Globe Theatre Company. The foundation of the Globe Theatre as a permanent repertory company was “a unique experiment in the Irish theatre …”21 on its opening in Dun Laoghaire in 1954. Its founders, Godfrey Quigley, Genevieve Lyons, Dennis Brennan and Michael Herlihy, the company sought to create a space outside of the urban centre of Dublin city for professional theatre, while also playing occasional performances in larger city theatres and also being committed to national touring in Ireland. Much of the group, including Quigley and Lyons, were influenced by American theatre and film culture. The first play presented by the company was the American funeral parlour comedy, The Biggest Thief in Town by Dalton Trumbo. Godfrey Quigley was educated at Belvedere in Dublin. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and following the war began an 19  Siobhán O’Gorman, Scenographic Interactions: 1950s’ Ireland and Dublin’s Pike Theatre, Irish Theatre International 3.1 (2014), 5. 20  In terms of new Irish design and scenography of this period, an important figure was Sean Kenny. Kenny outlined his treatise for a radicalisation in stage design, away from fixed static large-scale sets, to flexible and fluid design, modern is their functionality, minimalist where needed and suggestive in and through their form. Kenny graduated architecture in Dublin, but had not initially focused on design for the theatre. Kenny later studied with Frank Lloyd Wright in Arizona, where Kenny first worked on architecture work for the theatre. In describing the experience, Kenny stated, “The marvellous thing was that we had no reverence for the theatre at all … I had seen the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and it was full if rubbish. All the ‘shuffling and spit’ acting that goes on on the stages of Dublin. I hated that.” Plays and Players Magazine, April 1961, Lyons Archive, NUI Galway. 21  Lyons Archive, NUI Galway.



acting career. He learned in the touring company of Anew McMaster before also becoming part of the Edwards-Mac Liammóir Company at the Gate Theatre, acting in many parts between 1948 until 1954 and the Globe’s foundation. Quigley travelled to the United States (where he toured with the Ronald Ibbs Company). When interviewed in 1953, Quigley outlined his vision for new Irish theatre and its international potential: “I feel ambitious for Ireland generally—and its future in drama … I feel tremendous enthusiasm among the young theatre folk of this generation. It might in time be a universal training ground for international drama”.22 Quigley spent a year in the United States working in television and in repertory theatre, prior to his return and the establishment of the Globe Theatre Company in 1954. Genevieve Lyons was born in Whitehall in Dublin in 1930. She worked in the Bank at College Green in Dublin from the late 1940s while also honing her theatre training and craft. Lyons attended classes at the Gaiety School of Acting under Ria Mooney and in 1948 joined the Brendan Smith Academy, before graduating with a diploma in acting in 1950. Lyons was widely acknowledged as a talented and versatile actor and choreographer. The demanding body of roles that she played indicate her range as a modern performer, from August Strindberg’s tragedy of Miss Julie at the intimate Gas Company Theatre, the contemporary realism of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge at the larger Gate Theatre, to farce and late night musical revue at the Pike Theatre. In an interview about the Globe years, Lyons declared: “It was a magic time. Everything was aflame with excitement. We were madly enthusiastic about plays and writers, productions and new ideas for the stage”.23 The Globe’s location within the theatre at Gas Company building in Dun Laoghaire meant that the audience members had to make their way to their seats by walking through the showroom filled with the latest household domestic appliances, signifying a modernising middle-class interested in the latest material comforts. Like the Pike Theatre, which was newly established on Herbert Lane, The Globe Theatre was also conscious of international tourism into Dublin 22  Interview with Godfrey Quigley, 20 February 1953, Sunday Press, Lyons Archive NUI Galway. 23  “Rags to Riches with a Dose of Soapy Sex”, Evening Herald, 28 August 1986, 18. Lyons Archive, NUI Galway.



during the summer season. Traditionally the Dublin tourist season peaked during the Dublin Horse Show Week, usually held in August each year. Jimmy O’Dea starred in a revue at the Gaiety Theatre for many years coinciding with this event. The Pike Theatre also offered a late-night revue, the Follies, which often was programmed to coincide with this high tourist season watermark. The Globe incorporated workshop and collaborative theatre-making within the company, which is often reflected in reviews which frequently mention a seamless ensemble delivery and production by the company.24 In 1957, the Globe produced Gabriel Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. Seven years previously, in 1950, the play was directed at the Abbey Experimental Theatre (which was run by Ria Mooney) and directed by Eric Bentley in a style influenced by Bertolt Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble. The Globe production was directed by Jim FitzGerald and starred Eithne Dunne as Bernarda and Genevieve Lyons as Adela. Reviews of the play indicate that FitzGerald directed the play in a melodramatic style, with heightened emotion and tension rather than a Brechtian episodic or direct mode or form. Eithne Dunne recounted how the positive audience reaction was unanimous at the final curtain of the play. Dunne adds the audience engaged with the production so well through its faithfulness to Lorca’s original intentions. Lorca intended for a production to develop the three acts of the play as a ‘single photographic document’, without the breaks to the sequencing or an episodic structure that a direction in a Brechtian style might afford. Lorca’s play has the static quality of a photograph but the picture becomes complete and significant only with the final lines. The characters are located in a small Spanish town, where each of them “are trying to forget something” in conflict to their unyielding pattern of existence. The play is a further reflection of the modernising of Irish drama through its insistence of the staging of memory over absence, and the facing of social truths rather than ignoring communal silence. In the late 1950s, there could have been little doubt among audiences as to the relevance of the play’s theme that explored the gendered roles regarding the moral stigma that pervaded the perceived behaviour and sexuality of women in Irish society. 24  One such comment was a review of A Little Winter Love by Alun Owen at the Gaiety Theatre produced by the Globe company. “The cast of seven act with a sense of teamwork and brilliance.” Evening Herald, n.d. [1955] Lyons Archive. NUI Galway.



The Globe’s biggest success came in 1956. It was also to be Genevieve Lyons’ most celebrated roles. Lyons played Sally Bowles in the Irish premiere of John Van Drutun’s I Am a Camera. The Globe first produced the play at the Gaiety Theatre in March 1956, before reviving it in Autumn of that year. Based on the novel Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood and set in 1930s Berlin, I Am a Camera was a key new international work brought to Dublin audiences for the first time by the Globe in which Lyons was the undoubted star in the lead character, Sally Bowles, a cabaret artist in pre-wartime Berlin. Van Druton’s play first opened at the Empire Theatre, New York, in 1952 and starred Julie Harris as Sally Bowles. The play would evolve to become the later Broadway musical and film smash hit, Cabaret, where the character of Sally Bowles was again played by Harris and also in London by Jill Haworth and by Judy Dench. The film version of I Am a Camera also starred Julie Harris in the role as Bowles and it screened across Dublin Cinemas from August through October 1956. At the same time, the Globe produced the play at the Gas Company Theatre and it became their biggest success. Over 15,000 people scrambled for tickets at the cramped Gas Works Theatre to see I Am a Camera in Dun Laoghaire in through the Autumn of 1956. Press reports from the time note that audiences flocked to Dun Laoghaire to see Genevieve Lyons in the central role of Sally Bowles rather than go to the cinema and see Julie Harris in the same role on the big screen. Lyons became so recognised as the star of Van Drutun’s play, and as Sally Bowles, that a Dublin drapery shop, Kelletts, advertised their sale of the ‘Sally Bowles beret’, as worn in the play by Lyons and as modelled by Lyons in the press ads. What would become one of the world’s biggest musical and films of the twentieth century found its Irish star in Genevieve Lyons (Fig. 3.2).

Returning Home: Yanks and Country Boys—The Changing Irish Homeplace Irish national drama, in its ‘official’ form as staged at the Abbey Theatre, was struggling to engage with the emerging globalising younger generation of post-1950s Ireland. Hugh Hunt, director at the Abbey Theatre who initiated change and did much to reenergise direction and production at the Abbey, noted this particular phenomenon at the Abbey Theatre following the fire at the theatre in 1951:



Fig. 3.2  Genevieve Lyons as Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera, Globe Theatre Company, 1956. (© Genevieve Lyons Archive, NUI Galway) The dusty old home of melodrama was indeed wreaking its revenge on the high idealists who had set out to destroy its popular fare. Not only had the Abbey grown estranged from its oldest and best friends, but more grievously it had failed to win the respect of a younger generation who had deserted to other theatres.25

By the late 1960s, the turn towards the newly awarded Nobel laureate, Samuel Beckett was not surprising, as Anthony Roche identifies accounts that record the production of Beckett’s Come and Go, staged at the Peacock Theatre in 1968, attracted “keen and significantly, very young  Hunt, 184–185.




audiences”.26 A developing desire to create a new life and existence, separate from what had preceded the emerging generations of Irish society, was evident. Historian Carole Holohan has examined the ‘long 1960s’ of c. 1958 to c. 1974 and in the context of youth experience in Ireland. Holohan tracks the change in trajectory of the conceptualisation of youth as a demographic category, those who are defined between ‘child’ and ‘adult’ within the Irish State. Holohan also defines the 1960s as typified by ‘accelerated rather than transformative change’ in youth culture in Ireland27 and draws on international (in particular American and European) examples of post-war development and social and cultural change as experienced in Ireland, albeit in a contrasting social and economic landscape. This youth movement was typified by new ideals that centred on the personal and the private rather than the personal and shared concern of a collectivist society. Tony Judt called this rise of the self from the collective “an overwhelmingly youthful constituency”, a movement that, according to Judt, rejected the inherited collectivism of its parent’s generation. This younger cohort saw things very differently. “What united the 1960’s generation was not the interest of all, but the need and rights of each. Individualism—the assertion of each person’s claim to maximised private freedom and the unrestrained liberty to express autonomous desires and have them respected and institutionalised by society at large—became the Left-wing watchword of the hour”.28 This growing individualism, recognised by Judt, led to a wave of new plays that sought to connect this emerging Ireland to wider international concerns. The Country Boy is one example that highlighted conflicting generations of Irish people struggling within the domestic space to reconcile a modernity that extolled a life outside of and away from traditional rural, agricultural norms. This divide occurred along generational binaries—a new generation at odds with parents who grew-up through the Revolutionary period and who witnessed the partition of the island and the establishment of an Irish Free State in the South and the separation by a border from the six-counties that comprise Northern Ireland. The succeeding generation, who reached young adulthood by the 1960s, were the post-World War II generation. These came to adulthood in the fall-out of  Roche (2017, 8).  Carole Holohan, Reframing Irish Youth in the Sixties (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2018) 11. 28  Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 87–88. 26 27



collapse of autonomous empire-building by nations from within Europe and beyond the continent. They were also the first emerging generation to live in an autonomous Irish Republic, following the declaration of the Republic of Ireland Act in 1948.

Addressing Youth Culture in Post-Emergency Ireland In addressing the rise of youth culture in Ireland, and in defining cultural tropes of Irish adolescence, historian Mary E. Daly,29 draws relevant and linked conclusions about how the emergence of the modern Irish State was influenced by and dependent on a young and emerging generation of artists, writers and producers. Social historians Catherine Cox and Susannah Riordan trace the growth of the psychological and ontological make-up of the adolescent in contemporary society and from the mid-­ twentieth century: “The task of revealing a national or transnational history of adolescence is highly complex … [it is] deeply embedded in local concepts of class, ethnicity, gender and demographic and economic development across centuries”.30 Cox and Riordan also identify the gradual elongation of adolescence within Irish contexts. Social factors displaced the ‘premodern, preindustrial and agrarian mechanisms and roles that supported the progression of youths from dependents within family households to heads of and spouses in, new units.31 By the 1960s, economic and industrial policy was moving towards free trade and the attraction of foreign industry and investment into Ireland. In a post-de Valera/economic protectionist era, Ireland was expanding its borders, metaphorically at least, to increase its international presence, role and influence, both as a receiver and as a reciprocate of a homogenising western culture. Judt outlined the verbalising of this change by youth within this movement as being typified by phrases such as ‘Doing your own thing’, ‘letting it all hang out’, ‘make love, not war’; which were all private and self-orientated objectives which led, unsurprisingly, to a similar 29  Mary E. Daly, “The Emergence of an Irish Adolescence: 1920s–1970s”, in Adolescence in Modern Irish History, eds., Catherine Cox and Susannah Riordan (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). 30   Catherine Cox and Susannah Riordan, eds., Adolescence in Modern Irish History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 2. 31  Cox, Riordan (2015, 3).



expression of new thinking within Irish drama.32 This included the establishment and expansion of a Dublin International Theatre Festival in 1957. This was itself an extension of ‘An Tóstal’, an annual tourism-driven project, usually staged within the Easter break by Bórd Fáilte and which included large scale parades and pageants which often had casts of hundreds and which depicted myths and legends from Gaelic culture, such as the Táin Bó Cuailnge and the story of St. Patrick.33 This cultural shift among Ireland’s young generation was extrapolated and found a home on the Irish stage as early as the 1950s. The attitude of Irish youth at this time, as depicted on the Irish stage, summed up the feeling of a new wave of Irish playwrights, which in terms of society, emigration and politics, was weary of having a traditional nationalist and authoritarian position imbibed upon them by and through orthodoxies of Church and state. By the late 1950s, communication and travel by various means were beginning to move more freely than in previous years since the end of World War II. Increased availability of air travel through the growth of Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline, founded in 1936, established transatlantic routes from Shannon since April 1958, affording those with means the opportunity to consider long-haul international tourism out of Ireland. It also gave opportunity for Irish emigrants to come home to Ireland, which again maintained a focus on American markets and trade with Ireland. Irish drama was recognised by Irish industry and business as a vehicle of expressing Irish identity abroad.

The Country Boy and Staging Modernising Ireland In May 1959, John Murphy, a playwright from Charlestown, Co. Mayo, had his debut (and only) play at the Abbey Theatre with The Country Boy. Murphy emigrated to America in the 1950s and this experience made a lasting impression on him, with the plot of The Country Boy loosely following Murphy’s own personal journey from Mayo to the United States and back. The Country Boy was first performed at the Group Theatre in  Judt (2011, 87–88).  For more on the pageantry and performance of An Tóstal festivals, see Joan Fitzpatrick Dean, All Dressed Up: Modern Irish Historical Pageantry (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014) and also notes and correspondence from Professor G.A. Hayes McCoy archive (A35) JHL, NUI Galway. 32 33



Belfast in April 1959. In the preface to the published text of the play, Ernest Blythe described The Country Boy as: “one of the most notable plays to come by the Abbey Theatre for a considerable time”.34 A Dublin drama critic of the time said it was bad judgement on part of the Abbey directors to select for the visitors’ season a play with which the Americans were likely to be displeased. The Board’s decision was defended by Blythe, who also added that Murphy, in his first play, “has shown such psychological insight, such imagination and such a power to create character that we must look forward to his next effort with eager anticipation”.35 For the producers, the play was certainly directed towards the summer tourist market and, specifically, with the American patron in mind. Within the programme for the May 1959 performance of the play are numerous examples of advertisements aimed specifically at the tourist market, including ‘Historic Families’, a heraldic artistry company who can design family crests, of interest to the Irish-American audience passing through Dublin. The advertisement would state that such an item would make “a handsome and suitable gift to your friends abroad”.36 The advertisement for Brown Thomas department store within the show programme claimed it was ‘the loveliest shop in Ireland’. The advertisements depicted the brands on sale at the store and picked out the Irish Linen Company, Waterford Crystal and Dior Boutique, all high-end Irish and international luxury products, aimed primarily at the American tourist market.37 Irish fashion and design was becoming a globally recognised brand, where for the Irish diaspora the wearing of clothing that signified their heritage became a form of performative identity. On 10 August 1953, Life magazine ran a front-cover headline, “Irish Invade Fashion World” with an image of Irish model Ann Gunning-Beckinsale, wearing a cape and a crochet evening gown designed by Irish designer Sybil Connolly. Connolly launched an independent fashion label consisting of high-end luxury clothing, often advertised with posed models who personified mythological and theatrical figures, such as Cathleen Ní Houlihan.38 These traditional Irish images were defined along female mythical figures and  John Murphy, The Country Boy (Dublin: Progress House Press, 1960), Preface.  Abbey Theatre. The Country Boy, 18 May 1959 [programme]. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, 3707_MPG_07 p. 2. 36  Ibid. 37  Ibid. 38  Linda King, “Life Cover—Sybil Connolly”, Modern Ireland in One Hundred Artworks, Fintan O’Toole, ed. (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2016), 112. 34 35



tourist-driven motifs of Ireland and as advertised by the National Theatre and major international publications such as Life magazine. Similarly, in March 1959, Penelope Gilliatt, Features Editor with Vogue magazine, wrote to the Managing Director of the Abbey Theatre, Ernest Blythe. Vogue was planning an extensive feature on Ireland, with a strong focus on the Arts and the Abbey Theatre. “It will be written very much for people who will actually be coming to Ireland on holiday sometime in the summer”.39 This characterisation of the Irish nation as traditional and Gaelic through costume and fashion would be challenged by the work of Carolyn Swift and the Pike Theatre as discussed in Chap. 4 of this book and regarding the costuming and set design for the Pike Theatre Follies. Cultural historian Clair Wills adds that the growth in high-end retail by the returning Irish-American’s in particular to Ireland was a form of anti-­ memory, where they performatively moved beyond the inherited loss and trauma of their forebears who left Ireland during the Great Famine of the mid- and late nineteenth century. As Wills explains, this spending on designer Irish brands and attending plays at the National Theatre (that were actually critiquing those acts), was a form of “nostalgic return to the unspoilt landscapes which had failed to offer them a livelihood”. The holidaymakers then would depart back to their foreign homes in the United States or the United Kingdom at the end of the summer with a lump of Connemara marble in their pockets and the imprint of the Blarney Stone upon their lips.40 The role of Mooney as a director at the Abbey Theatre and having influence over the style and tone of productions must also be taken into account for the projection of a modern Ireland on the national stage.41 Set in rural county Mayo on Ireland’s western seaboard, the stage directions of the opening act of The Country Boy point out that action takes place “in the kitchen of a farmhouse of the type that has now almost completely replaced the thatched cottage”.42 This is an indication that the play, as part of the Abbey’s programmed summer season, is, as Anthony Roche 39  Abbey Theatre. Correspondence re:General correspondence with the Abbey Theatre. 1959–1959. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, ADM_00005864, p. 12. 40  Clair Wills, The Best Are Leaving (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 9. 41  The Enemy Within by Brian Friel depicts the solitary life of Saint Columba in the sixth century upon the isolated island of Iona. Ria Mooney was also the first person to direct a Brian Friel play at the Abbey Theatre with The Enemy Within, 1960. 42  Murphy (1960, 1).



describes, past the ‘PQ’ (Peasant Quality) of its tradition.43 Murphy critiqued the upward class mobility of this time, in this move from peasant and traditional ideal of rural Ireland to a mechanised, electrified and comfortable way of living. These opening stage directions also detail the following evidence for the transition of the domestic cottage setting on the Irish stage: Some modern conveniences are evident such as an electric light hanging in the centre and a radio on a small shelf … The window is in curtained and there is a ‘new’ look about the room as if it has been freshly painted and thoroughly cleaned.44

This visual impression of domestic renewal is also a reflection on the central theme of the play, the returned Irish immigrant from America. The character of Eddie, the son of rural Mayo, has become ‘Americanised’ through moving towards American norms of social acceptance, suggesting a break away from the land and ties of traditional rural and peasant Irish life. The opening scene of the play features Curly Maher, Eddie’s younger brother, a young man in his early twenties. He bursts through into the kitchen in a rage, symptomatic of the ‘angry young men’ movement that would emerge over the next decade, and as exemplified in the plays of John Osborne, Arnold Wesker and others, as part of post-war British drama of the 1950s and 1960s. Tom Maher, Curly’s father, explains: “No one in the whole country can tell him what to do”.45 Murphy outlines a polarisation between youth and middle age in the play that typifies the dichotomy between modern Ireland and the previous austere years of war time (‘Emergency’) Ireland and beyond: “Everything has to be done the opposite way to your way”.46 The disgruntlement of many young men in rural Ireland towards forced inheritance of the family farm, as personified in Curly, was receiving official attention in Ireland directly in the years Murphy was beginning to write his play. The influence of John Murphy’s play upon the later breakthrough play of Brian Friel cannot be underestimated and I would argue that the structure and message of Murphy’s successful play allowed Friel to further 43  Anthony Roche, The Irish Dramatic Revival 1899–1939 (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 86. 44  Murphy (1960, 1). 45  Murphy (1960, 2). 46  Murphy (1960, 2).



adapt and develop his own radical staging of the internal vs. external monologue of his protagonist, Gar O’Donnell in Philadelphia, Here I Come! In a letter to the academic Christopher Murray, Brian Friel states that he could not understand the success of The Country Boy but he admitted to Murray that he nevertheless absorbed some useful hints and took those in a new direction.47 While Friel does not say why he does not understand the success of Murphy’s play, I suggest a possible reason lies in the ending of Murphy’s play, which ends on a comedic punchline and leaves little by way of a cathartic climax, instead delivering a mild resolution to the plot. This outcome was symptomatic of a perceived outdated Irish national drama, befitting of its symbolically dilapidated temporary home at the Queen’s Theatre during the 1950s and until 1966. A more complex and experimental form of Irish drama, to reflect the complexity of the times and also of contemporary international artistic expression and influence, can be seen as lacking in Murphy’s play. In ‘taking of hints in new directions’, Friel takes Murphy’s initial presentation of a young man, conflicted by both family and country, who is struggling to find a rooted place within both facets of place—the home and society, and places him within an experimental dramatic context. Murray further asserts that Philadelphia is less about emigration than about the isolated self that subsists on memories. This ‘self-segregating and isolating self’ is a visibly growing dynamic in the so-called second revival of Irish drama of the 1960s and resonates in the works of Friel, Hugh Leonard and others of the period. It further alludes to issues of personal disconnect from a form of nationalism that was rising in Northern Ireland. Friel was born in Tyrone, educated in Derry, had summers in Donegal and had the majority of his plays premiere in Dublin.48 Such was the impact of Murphy’s play, co-director of the Pike Theatre, Alan Simpson, discussed the then current state of the Abbey Theatre (and Irish theatre in general) and also laments the de-intellectualisation of the Irish public through the growing mass consumption of new forms of culture and entertainment:

47  Christopher Murray, The Theatre of Brian Friel: Tradition and Modernity (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 25. 48  No Friel play after The Doubtful Paradise (1960) until Translations (1980) premièred in Northern Ireland—all other plays premièred at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.



Some of the best plays in the country have come out of the Abbey in the last fifteen years; some of the [M.J.] Molloy plays, The Country Boy, some of the Louis d’Alton plays … Ireland is very properly out of tune with European and American theatre, and particularly with English theatre. Why should we be in tune? But there just isn’t the population in Ireland to enable one to live from any art form.49

Simpson was raising a point that had existed for many years. Irish plays and playwrights were hitherto not expressing the new connectedness of global economies and societies. I would argue that Philadelphia was designed to resonate with Irish audiences in America, a play distinctly for export, while the Country Boy was designed to appeal to the returning emigrant and Irish-American tourist market in Dublin. The setting of The Country Boy, “the kitchen of a farmhouse of the type that has now almost completely replaced the thatched cottage …” is a dichotomous world, which is shaped by past Irish and theatrical tradition but which now has been altered by modernising views on design and form. Described in the play set notes is commentary that describes this process on ongoing modernisation: “Some modern conveniences are evident such as the electric light hanging in the centre and a radio on a small shelf.” Another alludes to the “non-curtained window”50 that offers a clear vista to the exterior world, what may lay beyond the cottage walls and parish boundaries, overseas. However, we can see a discrepancy between the text and the physical world of the new cottage as staged at the Abbey within Murphy’s play. Photographs of the 1959 production reveal Murphy’s vision, and as realised through Mac Anna’s design: the Irish domestic cottage was a place under renewal and expectation. This process of e­ xpedition, of uncertain newness and change, steeped in fluidity, as Shaun Richards explains,51 is present through Murphy’s play: “There is a ‘new’ look about the room as if it has been freshly painted and thoroughly cleaned. It is not in complete order” (Fig. 3.3).52 Murphy, writing this play originally for production in Belfast, would recognise in Irish audiences in the South, a restlessness that was bound in a generation of Irish men and women who expected more than a life on  Interview with Alan Simpson, Irish Times, 22 September 1962, 10.  Murphy (1959, 1). 51  Shaun Richards, “Brian Friel: Seizing the Moment of Flux”, Irish University Review, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Autumn–Winter, 2000) 254–271. 52  Murphy (1960, 1). 49 50



‘getting by’ off the land. Curly Maher, ‘a young man of twenty-five and well built’, represents this inherent rejection of inherited expectations and rushes onto the stage with his face contorted in anger and frustration. Murphy, through the accessible means of a rural/cottage set play, with a motif of emigration in 1950s Ireland, is laying forth a depiction of modern masculinity. This generation, representative of Curly Maher and Gar O’Donnell, are now within early adulthood when expectations and opportunities for rural based young men are available elsewhere and in alternate forms, such as non-agrarian, university educated and urban based work. Clair Wills explores this point and in reference to The Country Boy and in the wider context of 1950s Irish theatre and emigration. Wills identifies the trope of the returning emigrant, displaced nationally and therefore isolated between presence and former existence within the h ­ omeplace/ community, as depicted in new plays by the likes of John Murphy, John B. Keane and others. “In these dramas of rural life, emigration is rarely limited to a colourful character or seamy story; instead the plots turn on attempts to prevent young people leaving home, or to keep them at home once they are back in Ireland for their holidays”.53 The impetus to remain for the likes of Gar and Curly is not only economic progression or social mobility but rather security by means of inheritance of the family home place and land but also to act as security for the previous generation in their ageing and advancing years. Curly’s older

Fig. 3.3  Wide-angle shot of the set of The Country Boy by John Murphy, Abbey Theatre, 1959. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway)  Wills (2015, 17).




brother, Eddie, an emigrant of some fifteen years to America, is returning home to the Maher home. His arrival is noticed by his parents as a risk to Curly in so far as Eddie may lure Curly out of Ireland and to a radically different way of working, living and earning. Tom is indifferent to his son’s economic and professional choices: “a fat lot of good he’ll be. Sittin’ in a soft job drawing big money for the past fifteen years. Wouldn’t remember which end of a heifer the calf was comin’ from”.54 The depiction of the returned immigrant, as outlined by Murphy in the play, is an archetype for the ‘successful’ Irish émigré, who makes their home, family and career far from Ireland. How Irish society and indeed Irish theatre presented these diasporic figures is often through a melodramatic, as in the case of Eddie in The Country Boy, who has not maintained a familiarity with his former pace and toil of life on the family farm. “The Returned Yanks”, an article by journalist Maurice Gorham, published in The Irish Times in 1960, notes: “sometimes [the returned yank] was somebody who had come back well-heeled and settled down to a life more prosperous than he could have had if he had stayed, but even then he looked just like anyone else”.55 While Emilie Pine identifies nostalgia as a key push factor for the returning Irish emigrant,56 so too is the desire to appease their initial of home. Gorham also noted the economic need for some to return to Ireland, “like the yank in The Country Boy, with the empty wardrobe trunk, but on the whole they see their future in America and have no ambition to settle back into our rather depressing scene.57 The stage management files for The Country Boy indicate how design of the set and use of on and off-stage space are utilised to recognise the transience of domestic renewal of the 1960s. These documents within the Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, in various manuscript hands, are not individually dated, indicating an interchangeable and fluid restaging of the play through subsequent productions at the Abbey Theatre, from its premiere in 1959 to future productions through the mid-1960s. Many features remain constant throughout each iteration of the design plans, such as in Act 1, scene 1, the toolbox placed on a bench, which highlights the physical upgrading and modernisation of the farmhouse kitchen. Such  Murphy (1960, 4).  Irish Times, 9 October 1960, 8. 56  Emile Pine, “The Homeward Journey: The Returning Emigrant in Recent Irish Theatre, Irish University Review, 2008, Vol. 38, No. 2. 311. 57  Ibid. 54 55



setting of the setting is similar to so many previous Irish plays that have internalised the action to the heart of the domestic space of the Irish home, the kitchen, which again can be understood to be a ‘feminised’ space by virtue of traditional restrictions on the place and status of women in Irish society. This status is, not least, seen officially recorded in the Constitution of the Irish Republic, which stipulates in Article 41.2.1 that the state recognises “that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”. Similarly, in 41.2.2: “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”.58 The marriage bar on women employed in the Civil Service or in teaching positions and which enforced their immediate retirement was also in effect in Ireland until 1973. In the rural Mayo community of 1959 as depicted in The Country Boy, the domestic space of the kitchen is very much feminised whereas male characters, such as Curly and Tom enter the stage and the cottage on all occasions the back door, leading inwards through the house and kitchen interior (feminine) from the exterior working farm (masculine). Tom has already lost Eddie as his domestic farm labour and now about to lose his second son, Curly, the survival of the masculine space of rural Ireland, the farm, which is now also at risk of being lost to emigration. The archival scenographic evidence indicates the payment for the physical upgrades to the traditional family home has largely come from American money rather than the local farm. Within the stage management files of the Abbey production, we can trace the presence on stage of the ‘Americanstyle table’ in the kitchen, the ‘American raincoats’ on hooks of the kitchen doors and tins of ‘Prince albert Cigars’, the leading American tobacco brand, on the dresser.59 Mary and Tom also speak of Eddie sending home money from America: TOM:

That’s the way. They’ll send you a cheque now and again and you have to spend the most of it getting’ ready for them when they come home.

58­ a5a0-005056a32ee4 Accessed 19 February 2016. 59  Abbey Theatre. The Country Boy, 11 May 1959 [stage management files]. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, 3706_SM_0001, p. 31.



MARY: Well ‘Twas Eddie’s own money that built this for us and whatever you say it’s better than the thatch.60 This internal familial dispute, based upon falling structures and connectivity to tradition in the face of modernity, foregrounds the psychological and ontological need to break away from the family by the succeeding generation. Bring Singleton comments on this father-son relationship depiction in a post-colonial context: The political realities of hegemonic masculinity for the most part have been eschewed by contemporary Irish theatre in favour of performance of patriarchy configured in father-son relationships.61

Singleton further contends that Friel’s play, which draws on John Murphy’s domestic conflict, was a marker for a new generation of Irish theatre in the 1960s. It highlighted the failure of Ireland’s post-colonial patriarchal structures to offer Ireland’s youth any realistic aspirations of personal and professional fulfilment in a modern economy and society. Successive generational inheritance of family-run farms or businesses were not sustainable to those seeking broadening experiences. The Country Boy can be understood to be a key influence on how Philadelphia came to be understood and received by Irish audiences. Brian Friel stated in a 1964 interview that as with Saint Columba in The Enemy Within, in order to build integrity, it was essential for young male characters to break from home and from their father figures. “Gareth was leaving home not only in a local sense but in a spiritual sense too … You have to get away from a corrupting influence”.62 It is important to note here the legal and constitutional rights of citizenship that affected the transfer or succession of land within the family, largely from father to eldest son. The 1935 Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, passed by then Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, ensured inheritance of citizenship was granted to those children of emigrants born in Ireland or those with father or paternal grandfather of Irish birth only. This ensured a male-line of citizenship. The 1956 Amendment Act extended citizenship by descent to the female  Murphy (1960, 5).  Brian Singleton, Masculinities and the Contemporary Irish Theatre (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 55. 62  Christopher Murray, ed., Brian Friel, Essays, Diaries, Interviews: 1964–1999 (London: Faber and Faber, 1999), 2. 60 61



line, and made it easier to claim citizenship, but throughout the 1950s fewer than one hundred people a year with oversees addresses claimed citizenship of Ireland.63 With the world première of Philadelphia at the Gaiety Theatre in 1964, directed by Hilton Edwards, came the presentation to the world of not just a major new Irish play and playwright, but the concept of the meaning and consequence of emigration from Ireland for a new generation. The crisis for Gar is that he fell into a psychological and ontological chasm, out of which he did not (or could not) relate to his position or place within the various societal strata: from the family, to home, to village, community, class, religion, masculinity or country. By his own searching and questioning, Gar, be it in his Private or Public self, is a ‘nowhere man’. He is among a disaffected youth and it is recognised but not understood by his father or by Madge, who says to S.B. of Gar and his generation: Madge: I don’t know. They’re a new race—a new world.64 The youth and youthfulness of Gar is an important characteristic that is prominently considered by Friel. Within the first manuscript draft of the play, housed within the Brian Friel Archive at the National Library of Ireland, are notes where Gareth O’Donnell is listed as being “Aged 29, Tomorrow he’ll be 30”.65 Gar’s age is significant as it symbolically places him in a position of middle ground—he is not an overtly innocent and naive seventeen year old, nor is he an experienced or married man of middle-­age. The development of Gar and the structure of the play, dependent on time, memory and the passing of Gar’s youth and his place within (or outside of) the newly globalising Irish society that was taking shape before his eyes, is further documented within the first batch of notes on the play by Friel: Gareth O’Donnell (Public). Aged 29. Grammar School, UCD for two years, one of Medicine, one of Arts. In his father’s shop for the last eight years. Going to Philadelphia tomorrow. Was a footballer. Was going out with Kate who got married eight months ago. People think he is quiet reserved modest. Thinks of himself as a ‘late child’ and conjectures about the circumstances of his conception.66 63  Mary E. Daly, O’Donnell Lecture, The Irish State and the Diaspora, National University of Ireland, Dublin, 17 November 2008. 11. 64  Brian Friel, Philadelphia, Here I Come! (London: Faber and Faber, 2000), 94. 65  MS37, 047/1, Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin. 66  MS37, 047/1, Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin.



Tony Judt describes this effect of youth and counter-culture seen in American and European societies of the 1960s as being the key factor separating the outlooks of parent-child generations. Judt would support the theory on youth revolt being based out of exasperation rather than larger ideological and high-political idealism with a culture gap between generations at its highest since perhaps the nineteenth century.67 Gar’s self-definition was out of sync in a place and time within which he struggled to see his role. From his unfulfilled university career, Gar straddled the medical and human sciences but found his fit in neither. His economic and business acumen was held within the confines of not just his father’s shop but of the village of Ballybeg itself. An interesting insight into the place of Friel as he was writing these notes and drafts of Philadelphia! is a note writ large by Friel in a scrawling manuscript, declaring: “Everybody Wants Something. Tries to State it. CAN’T”.68 This theme of Beckettian-like ennui that is lamented by Friel within the timeframe of his writing of the play is also an indicator towards the alternate ending that was intended for the play. Instead of ending on the internal questioning of Public Gar by Private, with: PRIVATE: God, Boy, Why do you have to leave? Why? Why? PUBLIC: I don’t know. I—I—I don’t know.69 Friel instead originally extended this final scene beyond this above exchange and created an additional scene: an epilogue. The scene is described by Friel within drafts in his archive at the National Library of Ireland as follows: Epilogue:

On board the plane, outside the window, he sees them all, all the people from his town, his alter-ego. Keep up endless stream of meaningful talk while Gar just sobs and sobs and sobs.70

 Judt (2011, 85).  MS37, 047/1, Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin. 69  Friel (2000, 96). 70  MS 37, 048/1 Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin. Friel is persuaded to remove this additional scene by Tyrone Guthrie and advises the author that: “I think the epilogue is a mistake. It adds nothing and would look, I believe, a little pretentious in performance. The last scene could, if you removed the epilogue, easily be given a bit more of a ‘dying fall.’” This is a multi-page letter in which Guthrie gives detailed feedback to Friel on many aspects of the 67 68



In discussing his treatment of the ending of the play, Friel recounts during its run at the Gaiety that: The ending was a bigger problem and I, almost alone against all comers, believed that Madge’s epilogue should be done as scripted. I now have gone over to the opposition … My objection to that is the play would end on a negative note, but this is not what comes across. What comes across is a young man’s confusion and bafflement and his necessity to respond to an age-old life (to leave home) that he doesn’t understand.71

This conclusion to the play reflected the transition that Friel was still undergoing, from a writer of literature and short stories to one perfecting the craft of drama and theatrical form. The epilogue is a primarily a device of literary fiction, rather than an element of dramatic form. This style and form of epilogue also highlights the volition and dynamics of Gar’s departure. Friel updates and modernises the mode of emigration that is hitherto common in Irish dramatic and literary depictions of emigration from Ireland. The direct societal influence of emigration as depicted by Friel would therefore indicate the play, by its structure of depiction of an Americanising Irish society, is actually at odds with patterns of emigration from Ireland.72 The play, as I have argued, is less about showing or ­depicting the Irish emigrant leaving Irish soil but an examination of psychological assimilation of Irish-Americanism in a youth culture that is already evident in America. The first production of Philadelphia, Here I Come! at the Abbey Theatre on 30 October 1972, featured further tropes of the new modern Irish emigrant on stage. The play was programmed by Lelia Doolan and was directed by Tomás Mac Anna with sound designed by Jim Colgan. The digitised archive sound files from the 1972 production reveal that the introduction to the play is scored by the sound of a train running at speed along its tracks with the familiar sound of a platform conductor blowing a play, regarding structure, language, characters and the split personality of Gar. In a later typescript copy of the same letter, Friel adds in a manuscript note that “I carried out all his suggestions”. 71  MS 37,048 /1, Letter from Brian Friel to Oscar Lewenstein, 21 October 1964, Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin. 72  Dáil Éireann debates Vol. 191, No. 1, Tuesday, 4 July 1961) reveal that air travel from Ireland to countries outside of the United Kingdom. (i.e. the United States) doubled the number emigrating by ship, between 1958 and 1960s, the years when John Murphy’s emigrant play was written and first staged.



whistle and directing train traffic. Overlaid onto this is the sound of an airplane jet engine, which progressively gets louder and supplants the audio of the train departure.73 The programme cover for this production featured a close-up image of a tattered and worn suitcase with a luggage-­ tag visible—it states ‘Aer Lingus—Irish’, with ‘Philadelphia’ scrawled across it as a point of destination. A length of rope tied around the case, keeping it closed, offers the only visual remnant of past destitute emigrants from Ireland. The case is a relic of a previous generation and an outdated means of travel. This confirms a move of the setting of Philadelphia! fully into a modern and contemporary context (Fig. 3.4). The ‘Americanisation’ of Irish popular culture, society, industry was undeniable at this time of the early 1960s. With specific reference to Friel, Helen Lojek writes in reference to vulgar and ostentatious displays of material wealth: “Although Brian Friel is too good a playwright to create mere stereotypes, there are indicators he expects audiences on both sides of the Atlantic to recognise a common cluster of Irish-American characteristics.”74 Further outlined by Kenny is evidence of the internalised questioning by Gar of his departure from Ireland, based on the direct experience of migrants from Ireland in this period to the United States and their struggle to be ‘countryless’, to be somewhere in the metaphorical ‘mid-Atlantic’ sphere of intercultural isolation.75 Phyllis Ryan and Gemini Productions were intended to be the original producers of Philadelphia in Ireland. However, correspondence between Friel and Ryan show that this agreement ended on bad terms.76 Oscar Lewenstein, Friel’s literary agent, relayed to Friel that the breakdown in relations that saw the transfer of the Dublin première production from Phyllis Ryan to Hilton Edwards had a “traumatic effect” on Ryan.77 Following this break, Lewenstein suggested that Hilton Edwards and the 73  Abbey Theatre. Philadelphia, Here I Come! 30 October 1972 [audio]. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, 11009_A_001. 74  Helen Lojek, “Stage-Irish-Americans in the Plays of Brian Friel”, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, December 1991. 78. 75  Kenny (2003, 147). 76  It is unclear from the letters what the exact reasons were regarding the breakdown in agreement made for Phyllis Ryan to produce Philadelphia! It can, however, be argued that Hilton Edwards, as a more prominent director and with more established contacts both through the Gate Theatre and elsewhere, such as in America, could have given Friel the international outlet and billing for the play he had hoped for. 77  MS 37,048/1 Letter from Oscar Lewenstein to Brian Friel, 1 June 1964, Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin.



Fig. 3.4  Programme cover from the Abbey Theatre production of Philadelphia, Here I Come! by Brian Friel, directed by Tómas Mac Anna, 1972. © Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway

Gate Theatre produce Friel’s play.78 Being an established director of an institution such as the Gate Theatre, which Edwards co-directed with his partner, Micheal MacLiammóir, gave the added credentials necessary for Friel’s play to succeed in securing a major American or London production. Friel’s insistence on maintaining his relation with a literary agent based outside of Ireland and in maintaining a focus on securing an international, especially American-based production, further evidences the argument that Philadelphia! was designed for export and to be an instrument for internationalising Irish drama in line with contemporary social, economic and political developments of the 1960s. 78  MS 37,048/1 Letter from Oscar Lewenstein to Brian Friel, 8 June 1964, Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin.



Friel’s fear was that if the play was to be produced in Dublin it would not receive fair consideration from international scouts and critics. Lewenstein convinced Friel that the Dublin Theatre Festival should be the première occasion for Philadelphia! as such a billing was imperative for securing a major American production: I do appreciate your worries about what you called the ‘catty, competitive, hysterical atmosphere’ and about the possibility of critics leaving before the second week [of the festival]. On the other hand, think of the number of Dublin Theatre Festival plays in the last couple of years that have been tried out there and subsequently mounted in the West End. Stephen D, The Roses are Real … I have every confidence that once it has a stage it will proceed in a direct line from Dublin to London.79

Friel’s insistence on an Irish cast for the play in the event of an American transfer would give the play a “special foreign appeal in the same way that an all-English company or an all-French or an all-Russian company has in a foreign capital and an enduring belief that there is an authenticity that the non-native actor can’t supply”.80

Conclusion With the opening of the Globe Theatre Company in 1954, along with other new pocket theatres and clubs such as the Pike Theatre, it is important to examine how a new expression and form of an international(ising) Irish drama was developed. As Lionel Pilkington has outlined, the political and social critique of the plays began to be less overt in terms of didactic messaging, but rather was facilitated by the forms of performance employed and enhanced within intimate performance spaces, which drew audience and performer into close proximity.81 This new theatre movement documented within their respective archives the performance memory of a national drama (and society) in transition. Increasingly American and European popular culture and 79  MS 37, 048/1 Letter from Suzanne Finley to Brian Friel, 16 June 1964, Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin. 80  MS 37,048/1 Letter from Brian Friel to Oscar Lewenstein, 21 October 1964, Brian Friel Papers, NLI, Dublin. 81  Lionel Pilkington, “The Little Theatre of the 1950s”, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). 302–303.



artistic practice permeated the new generation of Irish theatre makers. Inward influence was reflected in the outward export of Irish culture as a recognisable commodity on a global stage. The race, for example, to get an international production for Friel’s Philadelphia was an all-consuming effort for nearly two years between 1963 and 1965.82 By this time the question of staging Ireland ‘authentically’ and what constituted how Irishness was acted and performed had addressed much of the work being presented at Dublin’s Pike Theatre. The production of Irishness was becoming more hybrid (influenced by international cultural styles of performance, direction, design and movement—as evidenced on the growing pocket-theatres of Dublin during the 1950s) and intercultural in its construct and expression. Blending forms of music, performance styles and cultural histories, the Pike Theatre, a leading exponent of this theatrical movement from its first inception in 1951, presented an alternative dramatic vision of modern Ireland.

82  These efforts were led by the literary agents who were representing Brian Friel, namely Spencer Curtis Brown and Oscar Lewenstein.


The Pike Theatre and Intercultural Ireland

The Pike Theatre Club was established with the procurement of dedicated premises, located at 18A Herbert Lane, off Dublin’s Baggot Street, in 1953. Founded by husband and wife Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift, the theatre offered an alternative to traditional Irish theatre by presenting a provocative and varied repertoire of European and American avant-garde theatre. The theatre had capacity for approximately sixty seats in its intimate laneway theatre, but frequently had audiences standing and fitting wherever possible. In 1957, the Sunday Times critic Harold Hobson described the cramped and atmospheric experience of the Pike Theatre, where audiences were jammed together tight as bricks in a wall, sweating, sticking our elbows into our neighbours’, digging our knees into the people in the row in front, sore from the knees of the people in the row behind.1

This chapter will examine the late-night revues and ‘Follies’ which were produced at the Pike Theatre in the 1950s. The Follies were a new departure for the Pike and for Irish drama and which again drew inspiration from European late night revue theatre. The Follies featured a series 1  Colin Murphy, “The Pornographer who invented Wanderly Wagon”, Magill, 15 June 2007., Accessed 16 July 2020.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




of skits, short scenes, music and dance that were often politically satirical and reflective of contemporary Dublin and Irish society of the time. Largely written by Carolyn Swift and produced by Alan Simpson along with Swift, the Follies also drew on input from the collective and the wider cast. The Follies also created new intercultural collaborations, as will be explored through this chapter. The Pike’s story is part of a wider movement that emerged in Irish theatre, primarily in Dublin, during the 1950s. Among this pocket theatre/’Théâtre de Poche’ movement of this time was, for example, the Globe Theatre Company (as discussed in the previous chapter) and the 37 Club, founded by Barry Cassin and Nora Lever. The 37 Club stage measured as little as twelve feet by eight and the auditorium consisted of four tiered rows of wooden benches. A full-house was forty dedicated souls. Cassin recounted how he and Nora Lever were consciously avant-garde in their vision for theatre at the 37 Club, which foregrounded emphasis on atmospheric and modern design. Counting Anne Yeats and later Tomás Mac Anna among their designers, Cassin stated that the Club’s aim was to stage “worthwhile plays not seen in the commercial theatres”.2 Similarly, the Pike Theatre produced new plays that were of an intimate spectacle that was invigorating, stimulating, provocative, often sexually charged as well as highly entertaining. The Pike was the contemporary model of internationally influenced modern Irish culture: versatile, well-produced, streamlined, yet distinctly Irish. As part of their remit, the Pike produced a number of late-night revues that consisted of a large number of fast-paced sketches, known as follies, which were also a social barometer for the time, poking fun while also offering criticism and satire on Irish culture and politics. As Siobhán O’Gorman has noted, “the scenic design [of the Follies] made no attempt at realism, often featuring cloth backdrops painted in abstract or expressionistic designs by artists including Pauline Bewick and later Reginald Gray”.3 2  Cassin also listed some key plays which influenced the 37 Club and which they produced: “I remember Leonarda by Bjórnstjerne Bjórnson, The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash, A Man with a Load of Mischief by Clemence Dane and Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood and Ronald Gow, a play that dealt with trapped lives in industrial England. A number of interesting one-acts included Portrait of a Madonna by Tennessee Williams, in which Nora gave a performance of poignant sensitivity” Cassin, 2012, 68. 3  Siobhán O’Gorman, “Scenographic Interactions: 1950s’ Ireland and Dublin’s Pike Theatre”, Irish Theatre International 3.1 (2014). 13.



Sara Brady and Fintan Walsh consider Irish culture and its history through the methodological framework presented by performance studies. They question how Irish culture was ‘performed’, and also how this culture was assimilated into a cultural brand and exported from Ireland. Irish culture has always, of course, also assimilated and received imported cultures. Brady and Walsh conceptualise how intercultural exchanges through song, theatre, dance, body, gender and race were part of a performative expression of Irish identity and culture within international contexts. In order to reflect on such complex identity constructs, we can draw on a range of approaches to historical archive analysis in order to piece together the performance of a then new Irish identity and internationalisation, reflective of place, time, nationality, geopolitics and of course various performative forms.4 Bernadette Sweeney notes that “Ireland’s performative culture is rich in folk rituals that give the country an arts heritage based not only in text, but also in gesture and embodies, participatory traditions”. Through a tradition of contemporary folk-infused drama which incorporated song, music, body and tradition, Irish ritual and performance traditions complement and complicate the literary in Irish theatre.5 The value of a documentation of such forms of non-literary performance and of embodied interculturalism is the archival memory of rhythms, movement, speech, accent, colour, costume and skin of characters as well as of the actors involved. In the post-Emergency Ireland, this is important to constructing a more nuanced and diverse national performance history.

Further Follies and Cultural Exchanges: Say It with Follies, 1956–1957 In post-Emergency Ireland there was a noticeable shift towards corporal expression and representation which challenges dramatic norms. On stages such as the Pike, post-colonial elements of formal and received expression and communication of identity were challenged through a range of multi-­ faceted performance styles and in particular within the physical presence of the actor, the embodied memory of colonial/post-colonial identity. As 4  Sara Brady and Fintan Walsh, eds. Cross Roads: Performance studies and Irish Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 4–8. 5  Bernadette Sweeney, “Performing Tradition”, in Sara Brady and Fintan Walsh, eds. Cross Roads: Performance studies and Irish Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 21.



dance scholar Helen Thomas describes it, such work foregrounds the body “as a mode of communication, [and] rejects the common-sense idea that language is the central message system or that it is the only channel of meaning”.6 Thomas also suggests that “the ramifications of perceptions of women’s bodies for social relations loomed large in second-wave feminist debates on the unequal position of women in western cultures”.7 Thomas examines the historical and corporal memory of racial and colonial histories through the performance of body in dance: “our bodily histories are not only entwined with our individual biographies and social locations … our bodies’ history have a much longer history and these histories are not necessarily are of our own making”.8 Thomas’ consideration of historical cultural manifestations within bodily and choreographically representation are significant in terms of examining and understanding the personal and trans-national identities portrayed and performed at the Pike Theatre in the 1950s. There is evidence of how some of the performances in the Follies were received and critiqued within a racist and neo-­ colonial language by sections of the Irish media. Cleo Du Pont, for example, an established West Indian cabaret star was billed as a “bronze Sabrina” in one press review, fetishising the ‘exotic’ female body.9 The representation of non-Irish bodies and immigrants on Irish stages has a complex history that must be further interrogated. The reaction to the casting and format of the productions detailed the public reception of the foreign and exotic but also appeal and recognition among local Irish audience members to a hybrid Hiberno-Caribbean culture, where céilís were performed alongside limbo dances. Critical reception depicted the polarising description of cultures, noting foreign ‘exotic’ elements in comparison to ‘native’ Irish artists: “West Indian calypso artistes, Othmar Remy Arthur and Cleo Du Pont and dancers Jeffrey Biddeau and Ena Babb provide exotic effects while native entertainers, Anna Manahan, Noel Lynch, Charlie Roberts, Laurie Morton and superb clown Milo O’Shea, add Hibernian sparkle”.10 6  Helen Thomas, The Body, Dance and Cultural Theory (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 26. 7  Thomas, 26. 8  Thomas, 150. 9  Empire News, 21 December 1958. 10813/388 Scrapbook, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Library, Dublin. 10  Irish Independent, 27 December 1958. 10813/388 Scrapbook, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Library, Dublin. Further examples of comments upon racial concerns in



The Ireland of the mid-1950s portrayed at the Pike Theatre by Carolyn Swift and Alan Simpson was one of complex societal flux, blending European and American dramaturgical influences with innovative performance styles. It also reflected an Irish society that was changing in terms of its demographic composition and internationalisation afforded by cultural influences of imported popular culture growing intercultural tourism and exchange. The complexities of intercultural discourse in Ireland are analysed by Charlotte McIvor, who identifies the often ‘Utopic’ notions surrounding intercultural studies as a direct means within the western academy to open up the possibility of disintegrating an old, and constituting a new, theatre by joining up of a multiplicity of performance traditions. In this paradigm, ethnic-minority communities can transform the meaning of Irish culture without displacing their own native culture.11 Nevertheless, McIvor also identifies the complex realities where criticism of colonial histories and the placement and/or depiction of ‘foreign’ or ‘other’ within (Irish) performance has propagated or supported institutional/national colonial mind-sets through performative constructs. Say It with Follies opened on New Year’s Eve, 1956. It announced a new arrival to the Pike of the actor, Laurie Morton. Described as a “siren” by the Irish Press in its Christmas Eve Special Showpage,12 “Morton’s alluring glance was matched only by chief dancer, seventeen-year old half-­ Indian Clare Dean, whose pièce-de-resistance [was] her Cuban dance spot”.13 Titled “Rum and Cola”, this number was devised by Alan Simpson with Clare Dean’s choreography. The stage was hung with fishing nets and Dublin society at this time was seen in an early draft, c. mid-1960s, of The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche by Thomas Kilroy (produced in 1968, Olympia Theatre) In a draft titled Where Are My Neighbours, Kilroy writes:


 I still think you should have let in those African boys. Add a bit of colour to “ the furniture. Missus: Their ways are not our ways. Kelly: Amen! Missus: … What would the girls upstairs say if they had black foreigners on their doorstep? Kelly: (Mocking gesture) Save them! Isn’t it your Christian confraternity duty? Let not the innocence of Irish womanhood be stained by contamination. Keep it colourless at all costs.” (P103/57 Thomas Kilroy Archive, JHL, NUI Galway) 11  Charlotte McIvor, Migration and Performance in Contemporary Ireland: Towards a New Interculturalism Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 8. 12  Carolyn Swift, Stage by Stage (Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1985), 227. 13  Swift (1985, 22).



Eoin O’Brien, brother of Conor, drama critic of the Evening Press, “sat on an upturned basket clutching a rum bottle, dressed as a fisherman in a big straw hat, ears and costume, making use of props left over from The Little Hut”. The revue sketch was fired by sexual innuendo, a ploy to shock and scandalise the “ladies in the audience”, and Irish society generally. At the end of the sketch backstage Morton would protest by shouting out, “Oh Alan, Simpson, You’re no good”, before Carolyn Swift would reply back from the auditorium to “keep it down”.14 The reputation of the Follies had been steadily growing where just weeks previously the Evening Mail announced the revue would introduce the first mink bikini to the Irish stage. As O’Gorman identifies, “women’s bodies exhibited a potential eroticism that threatened long-held nationalist conceptions of Ireland as sexually pure”.15 Other revue sketches critiques the growing tourist towns and seaside resorts of Ireland, experiencing the monetary benefits of globalising travel and tourism, in a comparison with the French luxury resort of wealth, culture and grandeur in Cannes: Can’t I see Monarchs at play all round Galway Bay, Nor I’m sure in Tramore; Not a single Marquis will have balls in Kilkee, now I swear in Kenmare; Film stars don’t even dream of a café in Sneem,—on my oath—or in Howth; And you can’t lose your all at Casinos in Youghal, But you can in Cannes.16

The Dublin press reviews were uniform in celebrating the success of Say It with Follies, matching Dublin with London of the 1940s, a golden period of the style and form of the revues at the Ambassador Theatre. The Pike, with its topical, comic works and witty satire, was making Ireland an international cultural space. The members of the Pike, who also crossed over into performing at the Gate Theatre or with other smaller ‘pocket theatres’ or independent companies such as the Globe Theatre Company or Gemini/Orion Theatre Companies, travelled and performed internationally during the decade of the 1950s, and often as a result of the Pike success. Milo O’Shea performed a St. Patrick’s Day show in Vancouver, with some added radio and television work in Canada. Dermot Kelly would fill

 Swift (1985, 227–228).  O’Gorman (2014, 14). 16  Swift (1985, 229). 14 15



O’Shea’s role in Canada before himself playing Fluther in O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow. Such was the Pike’s success and status as a theatre of international glamour and excitement; it was on par with the height of French cultural sophistication and haute couture. On the 6 January 1957, the Sunday Press declared that it felt like snatching back the title of Woman of the Year from Princess Grace of Monaco and bestowing it upon Carolyn Swift, “who wrote the book and lyrics of the fastest, slickest, wittiest and smoothed show of its kind … [Swift] has taught us how to laugh at ourselves, and through her eyes, we see politics, the ‘bona fides’, Italian films, Spanish dancing and gate crashers as we certainly never saw them before”.17 Say It with Follies allowed for a direct and multi-faceted political satire on the development of modern Ireland. It addressed contemporary film culture with a sketch of a gangster and his moll who ran a racket on women’s underwear; a sketch set in a primary school where the pupils were serving government ministers, such as William Norton, Gerry Sweetman, John Costello, James Dillon and Noel Browne. In a statement about the non-representation of women in politics, gender-blind casting was used on this sketch with Laurie Morton playing James Dillon. Within the sketch, the ‘students in the class’ were asked to spell ‘greyhound’, to which James Dillon, Minister for Agriculture, replied in full political retort to the pros and cons of the Greyhound Industrial Bill, meaning the country was in fact ‘going to the dogs’. International politics and the import for Ireland’s postcolonial context was also of interest to Swift’s work on the Follies. A sketch titled ‘Rise and Fall’ was written specifically for actor David Kelly and depicted a foppish Trinity graduate with little ‘real-world experience’ and how he would fare given that the British Empire was slowly losing its place of position in power and privilege on the world stage: What’s Happening in the Empire? It’s in a desperate Way: Once, work was sure in Singapore But isn’t so today.18

The sketch was regularly updated to keep pace with political developments in real-time. During the run of Say It with Follies it made reference to the  Swift (1985, 230).  Swift (1985, 233).

17 18



then resignation of British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, who stepped down owing to the non-involvement of US military support for the AngloFrench policy in the Suez campaign of 1956, which heavily eroded British influence in the Middle-East thereafter. The Pike, through Swift in particular, acted as an active barometer for the appetite of Dublin audiences for international political satire and irreverent late-night entertainment. Say It with Follies would run for over one hundred performances in Dublin and tour to London and Cambridge in Autumn 1957. The internationalisation of Irish culture that it ridiculed was made so successful by astute casting of a popular and versatile group of young and multi-talented actors who all shared a sense of comic acting ability as well as more traditional dramatic training to which audiences could relate. By playing on individual cast member’s personal strengths and traits, such as David Kelly’s dandyism and Anglo-Irish accent for the role of the Trinity graduate in ‘Rise and Fall’ and such as the comic-timing and of Milo O’Shea and Lelia Doolan, the Pike aesthetic, in terms of acting, became influenced by the body and speech patterns of its main actors. Carolyn Swift was aware of the required management of such company traits and commented: “I always tried to tailor my material to the particular talents of the cast”.19 Nevertheless, the use of the sexualisation of some women actors at the Pike and the recurrent placement of the female body as sexualised object in itself rather than as a criticism of ‘the male gaze’ towards women is evidenced in many sketches, such as the ‘Flamenco Finale’ of Say It with Follies. The costumes for ‘Flamenco Finale’ were designed by Eileen Long and Deirdre McSharry and featured a mixture of Irish and Spanish [themes], with white blouses or shirts that tied at the waist leaving a bare midriff above red petticoats for girls and dark trousers for the men, who all had Spanish hats.20 The setting for this musical finale was “a traditional pub scene in which Irish folk dance and song was presented with all the panache, head-tossing, fore and sensuality associated with flamenco with the cries of ‘Arís’ and ‘Go Maith’ replaced with ‘Olé’”.21 The achievement of the follies and under the vision of Carolyn Swift,22 with Alan Simpson,  Swift (1985, 235).  Swift (1985, 237). 21  Swift (1985, 237). 22  While Swift was the driving force behind the Follies as a concept, there were contributions from various other people and cast members at the Pike, including Alan Simpson. Swift states in her memoir: “I believe the variety achieved by having so many contributors was 19 20



contributed greatly to the presentation of not just a modernising Irish culture and society but contributed to a new and modern Irish drama. It provided a form of theatrical innovation and production that otherwise was limited in Irish drama. The Pike became a selling-point for international visitors in Dublin who read the frequently positive reviews and were intrigued by the unique late-night performances of the follies, and also for the business delegates visiting Ireland who were brought to shows by politicians and investors (who were themselves being ‘sent-up’ on stage). On display was a youthful, energetic, innovative and cultured Irish society—a performative display of modernisation that belied much lived reality of rural and urban unemployment, poor housing, youth disillusionment and emigration. The Pike venture was considered as a valuable asset by tourism chiefs and politicians who wished to present Dublin as a cultured European capital city that was on par with any major continental city. Theatres such as the Pike showed that Ireland mattered as a destination for both industry, commerce and international tourism, and avant-garde and contemporary art. Intercultural familiarity, with traditional cottages and pubs with turf fires that were also home to Spanish Flamenco dancing and music, signalled a shift in cultural awareness and modernisation among many circles of influence in Dublin, such as politicians and business leaders. This new dramaturgy brought a non-traditional visualisation of Ireland into Irish drama. Gone were bare-footed and petticoat-clad peasant women as versions of ‘Aisling’ or idealised Gaelic Ireland. Likewise, the male hero was not a figure of revolutionary bravery or filled with ‘fine words’, the youth of modern Ireland were portrayed as curious, worldly and cosmopolitan, wearing their new-found confidence in an external display of independence. Costume and the body it encapsulated were tied to a finding a form that was less identifiably ‘Irish’ but more connected to a diasporic and intercultural social reality. As Helen Thomas examines, the communicative ability of corporeal expression of self and identity, enabled a community of actors, under direction of Swift and Simpson, which worked to subvert Catholic teachings and sensibilities around conservative presentation of the body. At the Pike, the body in performance was sensual, exotic, communicative and subversive to conservative sensibilities but yet still presented contradictory forms, such as the sexualisation and what made this revue our most successful and that ideally no revue should be written by one person, no matter how talented” (Swift 1985, 231).



objectification of the female body and also of the considered ‘exotic and foreign’ immigrant body, seen within the follies under racial and gendered constructs.

The Pike Follies and Irish Trade—Irish Culture Inc. The growing realisation of Irish culture as a legitimate commodity for export was recognised by the Irish tourism board, Bórd Fáilte and the Irish Industrial Association (IIA). IIA Ireland was formed in 1949 as part of the Department of Industry and Commerce. It was initially briefed to stimulate, support and develop export-led business and enterprise in Ireland. This covered both indigenous and foreign investment and start­up enterprises. This was against a backdrop of economic protectionism and restrictions on imports. The introduction of the first Programme for Economic Expansion was part of a series of moves in the 1950s to achieve economic modernisation and break with isolationist and protectionist strategies. Devised by T.K. Whitaker, the programme removed such economic protectionism, encouraged foreign direct investment (FDI) and promoted exports.23 At this time that the IIA was courting foreign investment for Irish capital development, the Pike, primarily through Carolyn Swift, was devising and staging follies which included sketches that sought to respond and examine this commodification and commercialisation of the Irish national ‘brand’ and political materialism. Ireland, its land, people and culture were being offered in return as a form of collateral for largescale multi-national development in the country, an incentive for large corporations to embed themselves in the performative modernisation. In August 1958, the Pike staged Irish Coffee, which starred Othmar Remy Arthur in a musical performance that was a fusion of Irish and West Indian cultures and tradition. In the production, Arthur performed a number of Trinidadian calypsos and folk songs, which were interspersed with Irish traditional music and song. Irish Coffee was described as: An all-musical show putting forth the best in Irish and West Indian singing and dancing. The instrument selected to represent Irish music was the uil-, Accessed 29 October 2017.




leann pipes and to the play the uilleann pipes in the show was [Wexford musician] Tommy Reck, known as the best player to use the traditional reed.24

Irish Coffee was written by Carolyn Swift as an intercultural showcase for modern Irish cultural and theatrical influence, fused with West Indian traditional performance and rituals. Bernadette Sweeney signals that “the staging of such rituals and traditions may be seen to educate audiences, to foster an understanding of national expressive practices and to communicate on a range of levels by drawing on distinctly physical idioms. The performance of ritual and tradition as a theatrical construct ensures a vibrancy of form as such expression takes full advantage of the mutual presences of audience and performers”.25 The Pike’s staging of Irish Coffee can also be understood to be a post-colonial statement by the mutual embracement of parallel folk and native music and oral story-telling traditions of both Ireland and Trinidad. The event allowed for alternative performance practices such as musical improvisation by each participating musician: Irish Coffee consists of … ballads of Ireland, the U.S., Brazil, Peru, Mexico and the West Indies. The show is unique in that the singers introduce their own songs in unscripted fashion … the only script is by Carolyn Swift who deals in three choruses with everything from Ronnie Delaney to Sputnik.26

The Evening Herald noted that at the play interval you could buy a coffee for nine-pence but added “naturally without charge at all—a present of a drop of Irish in the coffee”.27 For a production steeped in West Indian culture and tradition, it was made ‘more Irish’, more authentic, by its Irish fusion, a ‘drop of Irish’. This staging of the internationalisation of Irish society through the blending of cultures, through the symbolic mixing of coffee—a commodity not grown in Ireland with native Irish whiskey to form a new and hybrid cultural product which, like the Irish-American 24  “Irish Coffee, starring Othmar Arthur sings calypsos”, Evening Mail, 1 August 1958. 10813/388 Scrapbook of Press Cuttings, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. It starred Noel Lynch, Harry O’Reilly, Seamus Dunne, May Ollis (who sang ballads by Donagh McDonagh) and John Dowdall on accordion. 25  Sweeney (2009, 31). 26  Irish Press, 11 August 1958, 10813/388, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. 27  Evening Herald, 2 August 1958, 10813/388, Scrapbook of Press Cuttings, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin.



transatlantic exchange outlined in the previous chapter, was now a new Irish cultural export in itself. It was clear how the ‘Irish’ element was supplied by singers, dancers and so-called liars (comedians) with the ‘coffee’ supplied by a cast of Indian dancers and West Indian singers, including ‘Calypso King’ Othmar Remy Arthur. However, this cultural distinction can be read as problematic through the divisions drawn between Irish and West Indian performers along racial lines, between white Irish citizens and people of colour from emigrant backgrounds. The use of the term ‘black coffee’ represented the non-Irish performers by alluding to both skin colour and native industry that was becoming increasing exploited by western consumer culture and increasing demands and tastes for coffee in western society. To further demonstrate that Ireland was now an international capital city on par with others on a global stage, as early as 1958, “the coloured singer28 [Arthur] who writes his own Calypsos as well as singing in opera, to make the mixture complete, has a go at an Irish reel while the whole company join him in The Sly Mongoose”.29 Notwithstanding the usage of such terms and their implications for potentially othering non-Irish performers, the fusion of recognisably Irish and Caribbean performance, music, dance and song, through the medium of a famous Jamaican calypso, sees the Pike functioning as a multi-national theatre and one that was performing an experimental interpretive examination of contemporary Irish and international society. With this point in mind, we must go further into the archival performance memory and examine how the works were staged at the Pike and how the performers were received by Dublin audiences and critics. Remy Arthur was described by the Irish Independent as giving the revue “a slightly international flavour with some excellent renderings of negro spirituals and West Indian calypsos to his own accompaniment on guitar” (He also joined in with piper Tommy Reck and John Dowdall in performing a number of Irish airs.).30 The Evening Press led with a headline of “Turf Fire and Good Craic”—“Irish Coffee is a cleverly devised miscellany of 28  The description of Othmar Remy Arthur by elements of the Irish media, such as the Evening Mail, as a “coloured singer” reveals the racist undertones still present within Irish society of this period. 29  Evening Mail, 2 August 1958, 10813/388 Scrapbook of Press Cuttings, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. 30  Irish Independent, 5 August 1958, 10813/388, Scrapbook of Press Cuttings, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin.



ballad singing, dancing and music making with a bit of gas thrown in … grand entertainment and strongly recommended for visitors”.31 Further evidence of the internationalisation of Irish culture and its equivalence within Irish theatre, through the Pike Theatre and through the work of both Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift, was noted by the critic of the British-based The Stage newspaper who reported on the production under the headline of ‘Gaelic Coffee’. The Stage review focused on the parallel event of the Dublin Horse Show, taking place in Dublin at the same time. The Pike programmed the revue to take place simultaneously with this major annual international sporting event, a week when many British and American tourists and equine enthusiasts would be in Dublin and also be open to exploring Dublin culture and night-life. The Pike aligned itself as an alternative experience for a visiting audience to Ireland, as much (if not more so) than for a Dublin or Irish audience. The marketing and media around the Pike production (which would have been largely orchestrated by Carolyn Swift) indicated the awareness of such an audience within Dublin and who were seeking to experience authentic Irish culture. As the archival records indicate, the Pike was pitching the revue as “international entertainment”: Breaking away from their usual custom of presenting intimate revues during Dublin Horse Show Week, the Dublin Pike on Monday present “Gaelic Coffee”, an international entertainment which opens with songs and dances from various nations and concludes with a sing-song with all the artists on the stage.32

Both Swift and Simpson were ambitious, skilled in theatre production as well as being aware of the increased role new media and marketing played in reaching new audiences. The Irish Coffee revue was broadcast on short-­ circuit television to Dublin’s Mansion House, seat of the Lord-Mayor in Dublin. A photograph of Alan Simpson with Remy Arthur was published in the Evening Mail, standing next to the new and then state-of-the-art professional film-camera equipment used for the broadcast. Simpson and Swift were keen to be more involved in new media of the time, such as 31  10813/388 Scrapbook of Press Cuttings, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. Evening Press, 6 August 1958. 32  The Stage, “Gaelic Coffee” 31 July 1958, 10813/388, Scrap Book, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin.



television and film, through the growth of new independent film companies in Ireland.33 Following the success of Irish Coffee, one year later in 1959, Carolyn Swift devised another revue, Follies in the Sun that would further explore this intercultural motif, with particular reference to Irish-Caribbean performance style, music and dance. Follies in the Sun, written by Swift, was staged at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in December 1959. The cast included four West Indian entertainers, with eight performers from “home [Ireland], perhaps in an attempt to weld these opposites together”. Cast member, Jeffrey Bideu, was a ritual and folk drummer as well as an expert in many forms of percussion. Interested in the ethnographic context and study of folk and traditional music, Bideu previously conducted a special study of West Indian folk rhythms and dancing. Bideu reported having often spent weeks in the remote West Indian islands collecting folk music of his people in much the same way as Seamus Ennis and Sean Mac Reamonn and others had done for Irish folk music.34 The West Indian dance arrangements for Follies in the Sun were arranged by Edric Connor and Boscoe Holder, both regarded as pioneering Trinidadian artists—composer and visual artist/choreographer respectively. Amanda Bidnell investigated British and imperial identity, decolonisation, and colonial migration through the BBC careers of Trinidadians, Edric and Pearl Connor.35 Connor began his career at the BBC in the early 1950s, near the high water-mark of that institution’s enthusiasm for colonial artists, and the cultural connection between Great Britain and her Empire that they represented. As Bidnell notes, It was a perfect fit: not only did Connor possess natural singing and dramatic abilities, but he was a trove of information about West Indian culture and history.36 Follies in the Sun became a formal and politicised event when attended by officials such as Minister for Education, Jack Lynch and the Irish

33  In Chap. 4 of this thesis, I note that Alan Simpson wrote to theatre manager Louis Elliman seeking to apply on behalf of himself and Swift for any openings in Elliman’s new film company, 1962. 34  Irish Independent, 16 December 1958, 10813/388, Scrap Book, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. 35  Amanda Bidnell, West Indian Interventions at the Heart of the Cultural Establishment: Edric Connor, Pearl Connor, and the BBC, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2013, 58–83. 36  Bidnell, 68.



Ambassador to France, W.P. Fay. New and modern Irish cultural performance, away from traditional middle-class bases, such as the Abbey Theatre, was becoming fashionable for those in positions of power and influence to attend in personal as well as professional capacities. At the Gate Theatre production of Follies in the Sun, a spirit of jovial entertainment was recorded, with “a packed house … with the more musical element tapping their toes to the Calypso rhythms of the West Indian musicians”.37 Through her writing of the book and lyrics for Follies in the Sun, Swift examined and offered a new dramatic representation of contemporary Ireland, through an inter/multi-cultural exchange of music, song, dance and drama. By weaving in subtle but important satirical comment on Irish industry, cultural reception and racial perception, modern Ireland was depicted as a receptive space for inward cultural adaptation and integration, as well as a converse export of traditional Irish cultural norms and stereotypes.

Follies in the Sun: The Emerald Isle and the Caribbean The cultural links between performance, dance and folklore are deeply rooted between Ireland and parts of the Caribbean dating back to the seventeenth century. Montserrat was known as ‘the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean for its number of Catholic Irish settlers and missionaries. Pageant and dance forms documented across the Caribbean, including Montserrat, developed masquerade traditions with distinctive features, with variations identified which incorporated western European performance styles, including mumming traditions from Ireland and Scotland— result of complex circum-Atlantic cultural influence and exchange along imbalanced routes of power, dating back to the seventeenth century.38 Swift had a guiding role in the design of Follies in the Sun. Much of the setting reflected the emigration experience of those who would become known as the Windrush Generation. The people commonly known as the Windrush Generation are British citizens who came to the United Kingdom from Commonwealth countries in the period 1948–1971. The 37  Irish Independent, 16 December 1958, 10813/388, Scrap Book, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. 38  Kathleen A.  Spanos, “Dancing the Archive: Rhythms of Change in Montserrat’s Masquerades”, Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 49, 2017. 72.



S.S. Empire Windrush was a British ship that in 1948 carried some of the first post-World War II passengers from the West Indies to the United Kingdom in search of work.39 Follies in the Sun also alluded to those emigrants who were physically bound across generations, roped and tied to life within the transatlantic slavery. The commodification of black bodies on such tragic journeys was made visible and present by the Follies set design, situating the staging somewhere between a ‘jungle’ and a trade ship. Swift also had a guiding role in the design of Follies in the Sun. Set materials and props were made from sisal, the raw material of rope, and sourced from Irish Ropes Ltd., as noted in the show programme, which was a major employer in Newbridge, Co. Kildare, and which counted the West Indies as one of the many countries it exported its materials to. The set materials that reflect the trade of commodities as well as in human bodies reflects the transport of slave bodies to and from the Caribbean, as well as of commodities such as sugar to coffee. These are allegorically present in Swift’s writing of Follies in the Sun. The archival memory of these absent bodies, made visceral in contemporary images of families arriving to Britain to help fuel the post-War British empirical industry and economy, are integral elements to reflecting modern Ireland’s position as regards its own foreign policy, international trade development and wider social-cultural change between the 1950s and the 1970s. “Pike Revue Aids Export Trade” ran the headline of the Irish Times in January 1959. The article outlined the significance of product placement within some Pike Theatre productions. It was recognised within Government and industry circles that The Pike was fashionable to be associated with, representing an engagement from official and modernising Ireland to a global stage. The Pike engaged international musicians and dancers from ‘exotic’ locations but while still producing an ‘Irish product’ in terms of new forms of theatre. The following account makes clear how the stars of the Pike were sought out for marketing and publicity purposes by Irish trade and industry partners, as well as sponsors of their productions. Irish products such as whiskey and Irish-made rope were pushed and promoted for sale in the West Indies and in the Caribbean, drawing on the local ‘brand recognition’ of stars like Othmar Remy Arthur in their homelands to boost sales and create new Irish trading partners:

39  Charlotte Taylor, “Representing the Windrush Generation: Metaphor in Discourses Then and Now, Critical Discourse Studies, 17:1, 2020. 6–7.



Last summer when the Pike Theatre Company presented in its back lane theatre a musical entertainment called Irish Coffee, photographs of the star, Othmar Remy Arthur enjoying the drink which gave the show its name were used by Córas Tráchtála Teo, to promote its sales of Irish Whiskey back in his native West Indies. Now, once again, photographs of a Pike show are being used to boost exports to the Caribbean. This time it is the products of Irish Ropes Ltd. From which are made the colourful West Indian Settings for the present revue at the Gate Theatre … the raw sisal used in the show to make everything from jungle settings to a gat market scene.40

In 1958 and following the Pike production of Irish Coffee, another special event took place at the Mansion House in Dublin to tie-in with Follies in the Sun. Dubbed a ‘Calypso Céilií’, the performance featured the Caribbean stars of the Pike revue perform the Irish folk dance, the Walls of Limerick, with Irish music group, Gael Linn. Star of the Pike revue, Chloe Du Pont stated she was curious to see “just how alike Irish music and dance have a lot in common with our own [West Indian culture]”. Despite a sprained knee, dancer Ena Babb resisted Doctor’s orders and danced at the ceilí with Gael Linn (who previously produced An Giall by Behan in Irish at An Damer Hall), saying, “I just could not resist the Irish music”.41 For Ireland’s cultural reputation, the Pike, in the absence of a fully functional National Theatre at the Abbey (while it was temporarily relocated to the Queen’s Theatre following the fire at the Abbey in 1951), offered a modern alternative vision for a modern and cosmopolitan Irish theatre. Inspired by a European Théâtre de Poche aesthetic that proclaimed its status as a forum for avant-garde performance, the Pike’s remit was not to be Irish, but international. However, as Ireland was also broadening its cultural, political and economic concerns, the Pike could also be seen as a symbol for Ireland’s ambitions as a growing nation upon an international stage. With energetic management and skilled directors in Simpson and Swift, who were both interested in developing their venture into a statement of artistic achievement and ambition, the Pike was a unique venture in the development of Irish theatre, from its beginnings at the start of the 1950s. 40  “Pike Revue Aids Export Trade”, Irish Times, 14 January 1959. 10813/388 Scrapbook, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Library, Dublin. 41  Irish Times, 27 January 1959. 10813/388 Scrapbook, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Library, Dublin.



Between 1958 and 1959, The Pike, particularly through the work of Carolyn Swift in devising such revue works, acted as an alternative theatre for the expression of contemporary urban society and presented Dublin as a cosmopolitan city. It was also concurrently seen by those in position of power and political influence to represent new Irish economic and cultural confidence. Within twelve months of the publishing of the white paper on economic reform, drafted by T.K. Whitaker, the Pike was performing its own role as an international theatre within Dublin. In performing this role at symbolic venues such as Dublin’s Mansion House, home of Dublin’s Lord Mayor and centre of city administration, and at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, a cosmopolitan theatre steeped in a modernist and expressionistic vision of Ireland within Europe and the world, The Pike was centrally placed within the modernisation of Ireland. The Pike did so as part of a cultural exchange through which Irish audiences were experiencing unique theatrical productions that blended traditional Irish music and dance with Indo-­Caribbean performance, language and music, as well as a hybrid mix of both performed cultures. The revues, under Swift’s direction employed use of clowning, mime, comedy and cabaret to create an altogether alternative form of modern Irish drama. While the Pike’s intent was to subvert and unsettle expectations surrounding Irish theatre and what constituted Irish culture by its focus on European and American avant-gardism, it also risked participation in the capitalist market economics of free-trade, which was strongly favoured at this time by the incumbent Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, and by his civil service staff in the Department of Finance, particularly, T.K. Whitaker. The Pike was not without self-awareness in such concerns. It played and presented itself as cosmopolitan and European in artistic vision. Simpson and Swift were part of a vanguard of new Irish artists, comfortable operating in a sixty-seat pocket theatre but who could also easily move in circles of government ministers, ambassadors and business executives. The Pike traded on its risqué and provocative image. Simpson and Swift were savvy marketers and saw that the most effective advertising was through word of mouth. The press who reproduced titillating images of female actors and took pleasure in quoting the more suggestive of lines from the revues broadcast a sense of subversive irreverence. Ironically, the small and cramped venue on Herbert Lane helped the Pike achieve notoriety as to the communal feeling of excitement and revelry from managing to gain access. In contrast to the Abbey company who were then performing at the Queen’s Theatre, an overly



large, ill-equipped and poorly resourced music-hall, the Pike’s advantage was to programme work that enabled the audience to emotionally connect to the actor’s work as performed in the intimate surrounds of Herbert Lane. In describing the repertoire of plays performed at the Pike, Alan Simpson said: “I find it difficult to put these plays [works by Jean-Paul Sartre, Diego Fabbri, Eugène Ionesco and others) into any sort of category, except to call them plays of emotion, dealing with the relationship between men and women”.42 To be part of modernising culture in Dublin and Ireland was to be at the Pike and see first-hand the intimacy and emotionally charged and intellectually challenging theatre was forming an avant-garde artistic counter-culture that was aimed at renewing Ireland from within.

Conclusion How we read, remember and consider Irish theatre within national or international contexts is a necessary and continuing conversation that must take cognisance of widening and more diverse histories. Moreover, how we construct our national histories must take into account the international and globalising constructs of the contemporary context. Lonergan adds that in contemporary Ireland, nationality is more commonly defined by identifying oneself as part of an “Irish nation”, “which is related to but separate from the physical territory”.43 The place and meaning of the positioning of the female sexualised body, in particular, aligned with intercultural performance frameworks of race, song, folklore and colonial history also dominated the work of Carolyn Swift’s later follies at the Pike Theatre. In protected industries, as historian Phillip Ollerenshaw reminds us, Irish enterprises in post-Emergency Ireland were typically small with low labour productivity and further characterised by limited success in export competitiveness. Apart from food, drink and tobacco products—already established before the 1930s as Ireland’s major manufactured exports— the remainder of the manufacturing sector exported only six per cent of

 Simpson (1962, 14–15).  Patrick Lonergan, Theatre and Globalisation: Irish Theatre in the Celtic Drama Era (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 21. 42 43



output in 1951.44 The significance of this economic performance increases when it is recalled that the need to import domestically unavailable capital goods, industrial components and raw materials led to severe balance-of-­ payments problems, deflationary budgets, recession and increased emigration. As seen within the Pike productions and Follies including Irish Coffee and Follies in the Sun, the export agenda and economic repositioning of a post-protectionist and export-led manufacturing economy, reconciled the Pike Theatre as a contemporary critic for the modernisation of Ireland and its economic as well as its political conservativism. The archival memory of the internationalisation of Irish theatre reveals that it was heavily influenced by international media and popular culture as well as political and economic factors of the time. It also richly intercultural, fusing international music, dance and folk memory within comparable Irish forms of traditional music and dance. The archives of the works presented here also indicate the presence of new and experimental forms of Irish drama, moving from familiar realist style to revue-type satires and entertainments. The records of these works, which are today digitally reconstructed, reflect a form of ‘national drama’ that was in transition, reflecting the state also in transition and moving towards a position for it to later into a European Economic Community (and later again, European Union). Despite the manifesto45 of the Pike Theatre being dedicated towards avant-garde drama concerned with European and American forms that spoke to contemporary society and of high artistic merit (and having record of considerable achievement in this regard), the Pike, nevertheless, was sought out in association under the auspices of many state agencies who were propagating the new Irish cultural brand for commercial and 44  Phillip Ollerenshaw, “Business and Industry”, in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History, ed. Alvin Jackson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 162–163. 45  The Pike Theatre artistic manifesto, published in the programme of the production of G.K. Chesterton’s The Surprise, stated that “our policy is to present plays of all countries on all subjects, written from whatever viewpoint, provided they be of interest and be dramatically satisfying. As our theatre is a small, intimate one, we intend to avail of the opportunities afforded to stage productions which, for various reasons, would not be seen on either the larger or smaller commercial stages, and we hope to give theatregoers opportunities to see more of the struggle going on at present in the world of theatre to introduce new techniques and new subjects in play writing. On the lighter side, we intend presenting late-night, intimate revue during Christmas and other holidays” (Swift 1973, 105).



political gain. The Pike was adventurous, risky, irreverent, youthful and fun. Notwithstanding this, the Pike frequently challenged the state and its overtly conservative moral viewpoints. The protracted and well-­ documented legal battle between the Pike, the Catholic Church and the Irish State regarding the charges of indecency levelled at the Theatre, and at Simpson and Swift, ensured this vitally important theatrical venture would come to a sorry end. Financially ruined, demoralised and exhausted, the theatre’s founders would never recover. The Pike was artistically revolutionary for Irish theatre and wider culture. It challenging and provoked strong responses from official sources and from the senior hierarchy of the Catholic Church. It also, however, fulfilled many of the goals desired from a new outward-facing and internationalising Irish State. The Pike was entrepreneurial, and innovative. It engaged new international partners and celebrated Irish culture and its parallels with other native forms of music, performance, dance and art. It symbolised what Ireland imagined it could become.


Radical Dramaturgies: Censorship and Dramatic Expression

In March 1943, Ireland, like much of Europe, was still under the current wartime conditions, known specifically within Ireland known as ‘The Emergency’. In the midst of existing policy of isolationist neutrality espoused by Taoiseach Eamon de Valera’s government, the direct intervention by high-ranking members of the Catholic Church into cultural programme and production in Ireland was becoming increasingly more visible. In March 1943, fears were growing in certain circles of Dublin about permission for a secular orchestral performance to go ahead at the Gaiety Theatre. The performance was under threat, as it fell during Holy Week that year. The Gaiety Theatre was scheduled to host a recital of Sir Edward Elgar’s classical orchestral rendition of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s poem, The Dream of Gerontius. The work tells the story of a man who dreams that his soul has left his body and has entered Purgatory before finally ascending to heaven.1 The concert was on the brink of being cancelled before, at the eleventh hour, the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, intervened and granted permission for the performance, but not without expressing his displeasure at such a scheduling clash.2 This intervention by the Catholic Church acted as a prelude for the heightened sense of tension and interference that would threaten the artistic and intellectual growth of post-war Ireland in the succeeding decades. 1 2

 “Oratorio for Holy Week”, Irish Times, 6 March 1943. Dublin Diocesan Archive, XXV/62.  Ibid.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




This chapter explores and reassess the close and oppressive impact and influence of censorship upon Irish theatre from the period of the 1950s through to the early 1970s. It will address complexities in what constituted ‘Irish drama’ versus British drama, and the discrepancy this dichotomy often presented in terms of ‘official’ reception, intervention and sanction. It will also explore radical dramaturgies and character/acting style and form, in providing accountability for the sanctioning of particular plays over others. This period is notable for many reasons. It is of key importance to understanding the development of the post-Emergency Irish State. During this time, cultural conservativism was in operation within parameters of state-sanctioned censorship. This was primarily in the form of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland and a moral and theocratic censorship and policing of social and cultural acts and also through state ‘official’ censorship, such as by the Censorship of Publications Board. Despite the fact that no official or legislated censorship of the theatre was in operation in Ireland at this time, as opposed to that which operated in the United Kingdom (where all plays were submitted for approval prior to production to the Office of the Lord Chamberlain), the 1950s earned itself the reputation as an artistically and intellectually repressive period, frustrating for Irish writers and also for Irish dramatic producers and playwrights. While there are many valid reasons to support this, the 1950s can also be understood as a decade of cultural transition. For example, a new generation of theatre-makers emerged with new ideas, energy and a vision for Ireland’s cultural renewal. This period was also influenced by a growing influence of modernising and internationalising culture through the arrival in Ireland of programmed television, a proliferation of new theatre activity, the import of European and American theatre and popular culture. I argue that incidents that resulted in the closure of plays through the direct intervention of senior figures in the Irish Catholic Church, such as the closure of J.P Donleavy’s The Ginger Man in 1959, among other works, provoked a changing attitude to clerical cultural censorship in Ireland among theatre-makers and audiences. The Ginger Man was designed to be deliberately provocative to the Irish State and its dominant conservative ideology. The play set out to function as an Irish Look Back in Anger, John Osborne’s play that premiered in London 1956 and which was credited with contributing to a new revolution in post-war British theatre. The treatment in Ireland of other new Irish plays, such as Brendan Behan’s The Hostage, would also indicate how these works propagated a



dramatic reassessment of society, class and identity, and which criticised the Irish and English states and structures of anti-intellectualism through criticism of middle-class materialism. The Donleavy papers,3 allied with selected papers from the Dublin Diocesan Archives, Dublin, the Project Arts Centre Archive and the Alan Simpson papers, offer fresh appraisals of the official record of censorship in Ireland in the 1950s. With access to these papers for the first time, the intersection of new Irish and British theatre of post-Emergency Ireland, and their shared modernising agendas, can be studied in tandem through an approach of archival and social memory. The Donleavy papers comprise vast amounts of manuscripts drafts of the writer’s prose and fiction, including manuscripts of his novel, The Ginger Man, and of his many later works. The archive includes correspondence with his literary agents and publishers, drafts of dramatic works such as Fairy Tale of New York and Helen, press files, posters and programmes as well as box-office records from theatre productions, including American and English productions of the adaptation of The Ginger Man. However, no manuscripts or drafts appear to survive of the adaptation of the play The Ginger Man itself. In totality, the papers are a detailed and complex resource from which to observe the impact of Donleavy’s dramatic work of the period. James Patrick (J.P.) Donleavy (1926–2017) was born in Brooklyn, New York, one of the three children of an Irish immigrant family. When Donleavy was aged seven, the family moved to Woodlawn, in the Bronx. His parents were comfortably off and Donleavy spent his teenage years “in a curious fairyland of privilege”. Athletic and a keen boxer in his youth, Donleavy served in the US Navy during World War II. Following the war, Donleavy moved to Dublin to study law in Trinity College, Dublin, with comfortable financial support from his parents. The American GI Bill, which provided aid to American veteran students studying abroad, also provided financial assistance to his Irish sojourn. Donleavy’s most celebrated novel, The Ginger Man, first published by the Olympia Press in 1955, became one of the most controversial events in modern Irish 3  In the course of researching this book, I was granted access to the literary papers of J.P. Donleavy while they were still located at the Donleavy home in Co. Westmeath. I am indebted to Bill Dunn for his help and knowledge of the papers in arranging access and in helping my research. The Donleavy papers have since been transferred to the National Library of Ireland.



theatre when its adaptation was sensationally pulled from the stage of the Gaiety Theatre in 1959. The censoring of the play The Ginger Man in 1959 was a profound event in the archival memory of modern Irish drama. The play, which was shut down after just three performances, was typical of contemporary international theatre movements that sought to provoke the establishment as well as contemporary dramatic repertoire. It did so by offering a critique upon modern globalising consumerism and rising bourgeoisie mentality. Such plays contributed to challenging post-colonial attitudes and an intellectually liberal modernity that again furthered the subversive agenda of a non-nationalist Irish drama. This cumulative contribution to a new-­ national theatre movement from the early 1950s through the 1970s, sought to reassess Ireland’s Anglo-Irish relationships as well as its own cultural and theatrical identity.

Links to Theatre Movements in Great Britain By the early 1960s, British playwright Joe Orton had been drafting a number of works in fiction and drama largely in collaboration with his partner, Kenneth Halliwell. Orton’s plays, such as Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964) and Loot (1965) followed the trajectory of shocking but also comedic satire that John Osborne, Brendan Behan and J.P. Donleavy had achieved in the previous decade. Biographer of Orton, John Lahr, said of Orton that like all great satirists, Joe Orton was a realist. He was prepared to speak the unspeakable; and this gave his plays their joy and danger … his laughter was etched in the despair, isolation and violence of modern life and offered instead of stasis the more apt metaphor of frantic activity.4

This ‘frantic activity’ became an element of dramatic form common to many new theatre ventures of the period such as at the Pike Theatre or Globe Theatre in particular, through presentation of satire and comedy through farce and revues. With specific relevance for the potential impact of theatre and live performance, in place of, for instance, published novels, Orton made clear his manifesto:

4  Joe Orton, Orton: The Complete Plays, Introduced by John Lahr (London: Methuen Drama, 1997), 7.



To be destructive, words must be irrefutable. Print was less effective than the spoken word because the blast was greater; eyes could ignore, slide past dangerous verbs and nouns. But if you could lock the enemy into a room somewhere and fire the sentence at them you could get a sort of seismic disturbance.5

Entertaining Mr. Sloane6 became the first play by British playwright Joe Orton to be professionally staged in Ireland at the Olympia Theatre February 1967. It was directed by Godfrey Quigley, who compared Joe Orton to Brendan Behan in terms of impact on contemporary theatre in both the United Kingdom and Ireland by each writer.7 The play was reviewed and described as “an English black comedy”8 by the Evening Herald. The branding of the play as ‘English’ early in the public reviews created a sense of awareness among readers and indeed audiences that this was an atypical piece of theatre, not the norm for Irish audiences. Key to this play was the casting of Irish actors who were conscious of their kinetic, emotional and psychological connection between character and audience. For the dark, surrealist form of the play to succeed it had to involve the audience and not alienate them. It required skill and precision in terms of comedic expression of both language and body to convey a sense of chaos, amorality and danger but with an underlying element of tangible realism to contemporary experience. Anna Manahan was described as having “mastered the massive dottiness of Kate” while Jim Norton “projected the violence of Sloane” to all those within the vast Olympia theatre.9 Within a month of this production opening in Dublin, the management of the Olympia Theatre had already applied for the rights to produce Orton’s other play, Loot. Casting of such demanding roles was crucial. Anna Manahan10 was a mainstay of the alternative and smaller venues around Dublin from the 1950s onwards. In an interview with Manahan on the occasion of starring in Orton’s Mr. Sloane in Dublin in 1967, she was described as being “one  Orton (1997, 8–9).  Entertaining Mr. Sloane was first produced in London at the New Arts Theatre on 6 May 1964 and transferred to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre on 29 June 1964. 7  “An Irishman’s Diary”, Irish Times, 11 February 1967, 9. 8  Evening Herald, 14 February 1967, 8. 9  Evening Herald, 14 February 1967, 8. 10  The Anna Manahan papers are located at Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street, Dublin. 5 6



of our [Ireland’s] very best actresses for a number of years”.11 Yet, Manahan’s only appearance at the Abbey Theatre, for instance, was a minor ensemble role in a production of Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernardo Alba in 1950. Manahan would not have a main starring role at the Abbey until playing ‘Biddy Madigan’ in a revival of Dion Boucicault’s The Shaughraun, produced in July 1990.12 The roles of smaller fringe and independent theatres, such as the Pike and the Eblana13 theatres and companies such as the Globe Theatre Company and Orion productions show how they nurtured and developed a new generation of actors and theatre makers, honing a new repertoire. Manahan’s collaboration with producer Phyllis Ryan over many years was testament to her career trajectory through a variety of roles that exemplified powerful stage presence with strong female characters. Manahan exclaimed that Mr. Sloane was much more than its billing as an English ‘modern shock comedy’: “it is also a sort of social satire. Its extraordinarily funny but it also has a lot to say about life as it is lived today”.14 The play depicts a young loner, Mr. Sloane, who takes lodgings in the home of a middle-aged but sexually engaging landlady, Kath. Her elderly father and brother conclude the four-hander. It becomes known that a previous child born to Kath was given up for adoption at the insistence of her brother. Sloane indicates that he is also an orphan. As the play continues, tensions about past personal histories and identity, as well as authority and control within the home. The Irish première of the play at the Olympia Theatre, directed by Godfrey Quigley, was advertised with the warning in the Dublin press as being for ‘Adults Only’ and was met with protests by members of the audience. The play attracted contempt from audience members, with one woman who left the theatre with her family calling Mr. Sloane “the most indecent play [she had] ever seen … We are not narrow-minded, but this play is immoral and indecent. A man changes his underwear on the stage”.15 The play, however, attracted 11  “Woman of Many Parts in the Theatre”—Interview with Anna Manahan. Irish Press, 17 February 1967. 12. 12  Abbey Theatre. The Shaughraun, 05 Jul 1990 [programme]. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, 0545_MPG_01, p. 18. 13  The Eblana Theatre was located in the basement of Busáras station in Dublin City. It was used primarily as a theatre space by the Globe Theatre Company and Gemini Productions, which was led by Phyllis Ryan between 1958 and 1995. It seated approximately 225 guests. 14  “Woman of Many Parts”, Irish Press, 17 February 1967, 12. 15  ‘Woman’s Protest at Comedy’, Evening Herald, 15 February 1967, 9.



little official comment from the Catholic Church in Dublin and no evidence of it being vetted in advance of production (as many such plays often were by members of the clergy or assigned lay individuals) is present in the Archbishop’s personal and diocesan archive. The theatre censorship files within Archbishop’s archive today document the extent to which new Irish theatre in particular, as well as plays by American and British playwrights were subject to prior vetting and viewing by clergy or lay people at the behest of Archbishop McQuaid. Evidence and examples within the files indicate that new British drama, by Orton and Osborne for example, received lesser attention or recommendation for closure in Ireland compared to those by Brendan Behan or J.P. Donleavy. The influence of contemporary performance and that of the spaces of such dramatic presentation, from the basement Eblana Theatre to the larger Gaiety Theatre, made Orton’s plays, like that of Osborne and Donleavy, fitting experimental works for Irish audiences. As theatregoers may be more used to seeing the upper-class lifestyles as staged by Coward or Shaw, the importance and change seen in this new wave of plays is largely a question of geography. The kips and lodging houses of The Hostage, The Ginger Man, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and others, created a wild domestic space, populating working-class worlds through which the equally wild desires of the mind and soul were running unperturbed without control or sanction. As the by-line for the Irish [Cork] Examiner review of Loot read: “Authority is corrupt and corrupting, is stupid, is all powerful and is completely invulnerable”.16 Loot received its Irish premiere at the Eblana Theatre in February 1970. Produced by the Amalgamated Artists and directed by Roland Jaquarello, it was described as a “tour-de-force of surrealism … hilarious and disturbing, it exploits our notions of death, expediency and authority … to subvert our traditional assumptions of authoritive control”.17 The comedic but disturbing flippancy with which morals are dispensed with in the play, through the desecration of a dead body in order to secure financial gain and usurp legal intervention, created a form for expressing a bleak concern for an equally bleak modern society. The influences of Joyce, Beckett, Osborne, Behan, Wesker and Pinter created a space for moral questioning of self as well as of wider society by audiences. The physical world was at odds with the present ‘lived’ dramatic experience. “The set”, as described  Irish Examiner, 18 February 1970, 12.  Irish Press, 18 February 1970, 3.

16 17



by Irish Press critic, John Boland, “[was] a functional piece of naturalism” within which sat surrealist farce that came ‘disconcertingly close to ‘ordinary behaviour’.18 Orton and Osborne succeeded with this trajectory in Britain. In Ireland, Swift, Simpson, Donleavy and others did likewise. They championed a style that sought to revolutionise and radicalise the theatre experience. It was designed to move past a pure naturalism and reinvent it rather than eradicate it. The ‘frantic activity’ was a reaction in response to an absent energy, a vacuum that was to be filled through dramatic reinvention and exploration of the lived contemporary experience. Orton’s desire was to move past the limits of naturalism on terms of language, expression and embodiment of everyday life. Naturalism, he decries, is believable, “but there’s nothing incredible about it”. He cites the long tradition of Anglo-­ Irish wit, satire and social commentary: through Sheridan, Congrieve, Swift and Wilde, where Orton himself was once dubbed “the Wilde of the welfare state gentility”.19 The ‘Ortonesque’ scenes of grotesque and obscure violence wrapped in flowing dialogue were akin to earlier plays derived from the likes of Donleavy’s dramatic writing in the mid-1950s. In Loot, the play opens with the line of order and instruction: ‘Wake up, stop dreaming.’20

The intention to not just jolt audiences to attention but rather to intensify the intimacy of collective witnessing. Orton was said to have had an effect on British audiences similar to that of Behan upon Irish audiences—revealing the weaknesses in societal structures through an innovative and revelatory format of drama, and one that outraged, titillated and delighted audiences. Plays such as Behan’s The Hostage presented the farcical setting of a kidnapped IRA man detained within a brothel in a music-hall-like world of unreality. Hugh Leonard reviewed author John Lahr’s biography of Joe Orton and contended that the shocking element of Orton’s work was not the amoral and degrading actions depicted, but rather the tacit imploring of support and normality of the acts themselves, or as Lahr commented: “like all great satirists, Orton was a realist”.21  Irish Press, 18 February 1970, 3.  Orton (1997, 9). 20  Orton (1997, 195). 21  ‘Stranger than fiction’, Irish Times, 30 September 1978, 13. 18 19



Even without official censorship of the theatre in Ireland during the 1950s, and beyond, Irish playwrights and Irish theatres still faced great pressure and surveillance from official channels. Despite this pressure, playwrights and producers in Ireland did push back. They challenged the extent to which dramatic license could be taken and the limit to which artistic expression could be freely maintained.

Theatre, Ireland and the 1950s: New Beginnings Writing of the growth of Irish drama from the mid-1960s, Anthony Roche states that “drama has once more regained its urgency, as it did in the approach to Irish independence as the site in which old models can be broken up and reshaped, re-imagined through the medium of play”.22 Roche also rightly surmises that the often quoted date of 28 October 1964 as the beginning of contemporary Irish drama (the opening night of Brian Friel’s play Philadelphia, Here I Come!), is a belated. Roche notes that the energy that fired the emergence of major figures such as Thomas Kilroy, Brian Friel, Tom Murphy and Samuel Beckett, among others, did not originate from encouragement at or from Ireland’s national theatre. Most (if not all) of the early successes of these writers happened away from the Abbey Theatre, or indeed, as evidence shows, not always even on this island. At the crux of this new drama was a change in form and theme. “Contemporary Irish drama”, Roche contends, “does not so much rely on a plot as on a central situation, whose implications are explored and unfolded in a process which is likelier to be repetitious than straight-forward”.23 Furthermore, I would suggest that the break from traditional mimetic realism of previous Abbey (and therefore accepted ‘Irish’) plays was strongly representative in the new plays and imported productions seen in Dublin from the early 1950s. It is the situation, the current ‘here and now’ of Irish society that gave these plays such immediacy but which also attracted the threat of censorship from those within the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy. Declan Kiberd identifies the years leading into the 1960s as the period in when a new phase of secularisation began to take

22  Anthony Roche, Contemporary Irish Drama: From Beckett to McGuinness (Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1994), 5–6. 23  Roche, 6.



hold, as holidays abroad and television programmes at home aroused longings for material comforts and sexual fulfilment.24 As unofficial censorship began to take greater effect on Irish theatre as well as on literature and magazines, a distinct diatribe developed between Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid and Irish theatre audiences. Theatre was at the centre of An Tóstal festivals, the Dublin International Theatre Festival, the amateur drama network and the sprouting of numerous new pocket theatres and theatre groups in Dublin during the 1950s and so ensured powerful reasons for McQuaid to be conscious of the effect theatre could and would have on expanding liberal opinion. Plays like The Bishop’s Bonfire by Sean O’Casey at the Olympia Theatre in 1955, which was roundly attacked in conservative press such as the Standard and the Irish Press for its alleged moral ineptitude, were typical of such mutual confrontation between Catholic Church opinion and audience desire. The play still attracted record audiences with over two thousand people crowding outside the theatre seeking admission on one occasion.25 Pilkington summarises this episode by concluding that the incident was not quite the stringent blow for artistic freedom but rather a sign of the increasing popular force of Ireland’s modernisation process. Audiences flocked to O’Casey’s play not because it was regarded as nationally representative but because it proclaimed a new and dissenting resistance to the traditional, paternalistic role of Irish Catholicism.26

Pocket theatres and independent theatre groups provided an alternative answer and outlet for theatrical energy and innovative transient and radical dramatic styles and would provoke as well as confront existing (un)official censorship.

24  Declan Kiberd, After Ireland: Writing the Nation from Beckett to the Present (London: Head of Zeus, 2017), 92. 25  Pilkington, 151. 26  Pilkington, 151.



The Catholic Church, Censorship and Monitoring of Irish Theatre The impact of pocket theatres and new theatre companies to Dublin’s cultural landscape during the 1950s can be traced through archival documentation from a number of sources. The archive of Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid is particularly relevant in this regard. Large tranches of materials detail the vetting and monitoring of new Irish theatrical works as well international work often performed in Dublin theatres for the first time. The evidence within the files reinforces the point that while Irish theatre was not subject to official state censorship, the ‘unofficial’ censorship systematically applied by the Irish Church resulted in a high level of scrutiny regarding what cultural works Irish audiences could witness. One report sent to Archbishop McQuaid by Fr. Joseph Cooney revealed the extent of coverage ‘indecent plays’ in Dublin were receiving from the Archbishop. The report appeals for a censorship of theatre to be rigorously enforced: We have a censorship of films, and of literature, more needed today than when first enacted. It is the greatest legislation of our time. And the fact that, almost every country in the world has a form of censorship is proof of the wisdom of ours … A theatre censorship is non-existent. Here, is where some thinking has got to be done. Men and women who can think—wanted! In Dublin there are plays (?) being staged in professional and amateur theatres (some called “clubs”) that are immoral indecent and profane:

(a) “Rose Tattoo” by Tennessee Williams (b) “Time and Again” by The [ ] (c) “Streetcar Names Desire” by Tennessee Williams (d) “The Respectable Prostitute” by Jean Sartre (e) “Tea and Sympathy” by Robert Anderson (An American production)27

Cooney’s report also warns of the risk an unregulated theatre in Ireland can have on the moral standards of a people: “A bad play destroys the fibre of a nation”.28 Archival evidence shows that Cooney requested a report on John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger, such was the impact it had within  Dublin Diocesan Archive, DDA XXV/64/4.  Ibid.

27 28



British theatre audiences and wider society and the risk it posed to Irish moral values: We did have it seen when it was in London … It seems to deal with people with no moral standards at all, and of course there are such people but they reduce life to the level of a pig-sty. Look Back in Anger was described by the Herald critic as “the worst in thirty years” People who saw it said it was most disgusting. Some walked out of the theatre. A young man with whom I know gave me details of it. They are unprintable. The author of this play is only 26 years of age.29

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland deemed Osborne’s play representative of a people beyond normal human morals and outside of spiritual recovery. They were also of course not Irish, and viewed as a very British problem in the eyes of the Catholic hierarchy. Director Roland Jaquarello later recounted that the Joe Orton’s play, Loot, was not widely remembered, largely owing to it being seen as ‘un-Irish’, in its origins, theme and form. A farce caper with comic violence and of middle-class accent. Jaquarello added: When Donal [McCann] died, nobody in the Irish press mentioned this performance. Maybe because the production had a short run, or it didn’t fit into the scheme of things, not being an Irish play. This was a pity as it was one of Donal’s best—a brilliantly inventive, comic interpretation by an Irish actor in a modern English classic … For those fortunate to have seen it, it was truly memorable.30

The set of Loot, designed by Peter Avery, “created a deceptively eerie atmosphere, ordinary on one level, with its suburban trappings, but with hints of the macabre with its ostentatious crucifix and tomb-like wardrobe”.31 John Lahr reminds us of the combination of sex, hashish and sun (during a period Orton and Halliwell spent in Tangiers) fulfilled the Dionysian intention that lies behind Orton’s comedies. They celebrate instinct and gratification, and Orton aspired to corrupt his audience with pleasure.32 This type of play, when produced in Ireland in the late 1950s,  Ibid.  Jaquarello (2014, 15). 31  Ibid. 32  John Lahr, Prick Up Your Ears (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1978), 15. 29 30



in the form of The Ginger Man, yet a few years in advance of Orton’s notorious excesses, received censorious reaction from authorial figures and also from audiences. As thousands of books by Irish and international writers passed through the hands of those on the Irish Censorship Board, Irish theatre was a curiosity among the Arts that did not receive ‘official’ state scrutiny in Ireland. During the 1950s, and particularly through organs such as the Dublin International Theatre Festival, a trend was initiated for banned novels and also novels that were expressing a desire for intellectual modernity and personal freedom found their expression through adaptation on the Irish stage. Over the following two decades, an unprecedented number of novels were adapted for the stage. This included the work of many writers that attracted the ire of the Catholic Church, such as James Joyce, John McGahern, Edna O’Brien, Frank O’Connor and J.P. Donleavy. This was in itself an act of artistic subversion and a flouting, in a perfectly legitimate means, of the pervasive and erratic censorship of literature in Ireland. A movement against censorship orchestrated by Irish writers arose in 1966 and announce itself from the stage of Dublin’s Gate Theatre. A public conference was held to a “packed house” and the Censorship Reform Committee was established from among prominent Irish writers, directors, playwrights and journalists. The group included Jim FitzGerald, founding director of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Hugh Leonard, Edna O’Brien, Micheal MacLiammóir, James Plunkett and Bruce Arnold. Leonard spoke of the writer and the censor being natural enemies—“one dealt in truth, the other in morality, or rather in protecting the conventions of a surface morality”.33 The full extent of the intersection of theatre, Church and state censorship can be traced through an excavation of the historical and archival record of this period and for the preceding decade and a half. As early as 1949, Swift and Simpson were engaged in discussions surrounding the securing of rights for various plays that were largely already banned in the United Kingdom but which would also challenge audiences (and authorities) in Ireland. In February 1949, Alan Simpson sought permission for a play, We Dig for the Stars, by T.B. Morris, that was already banned in the United Kingdom, for a summer production at the Gaiety

 “Reform Society Queries Powers of Censors”, Irish Independent, 5 December 1966, 8.




Theatre.34 The play was based on the life of British poet and painter Gabriel Dante Rossetti, and the relationships he had with women and muses in his life. Carolyn Swift adds that both she and Simpson are keen to produce the play but are aware of the likely controversy and sanction it would generate in Dublin: “we are worried about one point: although there is no play censorship in this country, feeling is very strong here about anything that can be construed as offensive to Roman Catholic Belief … we would be quite prepared to put up with criticism from ignorant people who delight in finding plays offensive”.35 The play was produced at the Pike in May 1955, starring Carolyn Swift, Pat Nolan, Fergus Cogley and Cathleen Delaney. Fallon’s reply to Swift supports the staging the play on merit but feels it is not right for Dublin owing to “Fanny’s obvious position as Rossetti’s mistress [which] would cause very unfavourable comment here—we are very old-fashioned in these respects!”36 Fallon recommended a second script, Reflected Glory, as another option. This play, by George Kelly, was set in 1930s and focuses in the character of Muriel Flood, a flamboyant young actress and the theme of female urban social isolation. Reflected Glory would still “shock the prudish” and “not what they are interested in” advises Fallon, as he adds that “People in this country are inclined not to show interest in plays with an English setting unless they are about some famous person (such as Rosetti) or can be billed as “London’s longest run!”

34  10813/395 (2) Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin. Letter from T.B. Morris, Tetbury, [Glos], 8 February 1949, in response to Alan Simpson’s letter of interest in We Dig for the Stars for a summer production at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. The play was first produced at the Experimental Theatre Club, Manchester in March [1949] but as a private non-­ professional production. The play was officially banned in the United Kingdom by descendants of the Rossetti family. It was originally planned for an Easter production run at the Pike Theatre but was postponed, possibly due to casting issues. For the May production, Fergus Cogley, of the Studio Theatre Club, was drafted in to play the lead role in We Dig for the Stars (Irish Times, 7 April 1955, 6 and 14 May 1955, 11). 35  10813/395 (8) Reply letter from Carolyn Swift, 23 February 1949. Simpson and Swift also pass the script of We Dig for the Stars to Gabriel Fallon, their friend and drama critic at the Catholic newspaper, the Standard, for comment. 36  10812/395 (11) Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. 23 March 1949. The script of We Dig for the Stars is also sent to Cyril Cusack for comment, who would star as Rossetti and also co-produce the play if it went ahead. Cusack’s unavailability is likely why the play was postponed and Cogley drafted in to play Rossetti.



Swift outlined in a letter to T.B.  Morris how censorship and wider socio-cultural intellectual morose was fatally stalling the production of new, modern and challenging theatre both in Ireland and in the United Kingdom. However, Swift contends that official censorship was not the only factor, but was wary of wider clerical conservativism and power held over the public morality of the nation: “I am sorry for your sake that the Bill to abolish censorship has faded out, but although I disapprove of censorship, I can’t help but feeling that the commercial managers may be right in thinking it the lesser of several evils—our experience in this country, where there is no censorship of plays, rather bear this theory out”.37 Morris agreed and reported that there was a similar risk present in the United Kingdom, where the dual experience of anti-intellectualism towards the arts was evident through both official censorship and religious conservativism.38 Morris’ warning at the outset of the 1950s would prove prophetic. By the end of the decade, the latter years in particular would prove to be among the most conflicting and frustrating periods for Irish theatre production since the development of professional theatre in modern Ireland. The ‘watch committees’ of various persuasions of Catholic Church conservativism would intervene in the direct closure of many crucial artistic and theatrical events. The Pike suffered first-hand in 1957 through the affairs surrounding The Rose Tattoo. By 1959, another tumultuous act of censorship by the Catholic Church would again police the programming and production of new plays in Irish theatre.

The Birth of The Ginger Man and Ireland’s Look Back in Anger The Ginger Man was first published in novel form in 1955 in the ‘Traveller’s Compendium’ series, an imprint of Paris-based Olympia Press, managed by Maurice Girodias. Olympia Press published works in English by avant-­ garde writers such as William S. Burroughs, Samuel Beckett’s French trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable, and works by Henry Miller and Vladimir Nabokov. The Traveller’s Compendium, however, was as 37  10813/395 (14) Letter from Carolyn Swift to T.B.  Morris, 25 January 1950, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. 38  10813/395 (15) Letter from T.B.  Morris to Carolyn Swift, 30 January 1950, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin.



imprint of Olympia that specialised in the publication of semi-­pornographic works of paperback and pulp fiction. The birth of Donleavy’s novel in publication would soon be followed by an equally, if not more controversial birth of a stage play, a stage adaption of the novel by Donleavy himself. In 1956 Donleavy began experimenting with writing for dramatic and theatrical production. A public call issued from the B.B.C’s ‘Excellence in Radio Drama’ prompted Donleavy to begin work in earnest on a piece of drama. Donleavy dramatised the opening scenes of a new play, then titled Helen, set in New York. Though not completed to a full-length piece for some years, it would also be the beginning for Donleavy’s 1973 novel, Fairy Tale of New York. The short play Helen was shortlisted by the BBC for broadcast. Donleavy recounts how this experience was a defining moment in his theatrical development. He described how he “soon was to find [him]self amid actors and listening carefully as [his] words ethereally floated out over load-speakers to an English public still listening to the radio”.39 Donleavy recounted having being prompted by [ ] Armstrong, who had recently seen John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger in London, he commenced the first draft of the play based on his novel The Ginger Man on 4 July 1956.40 In November 1956, as drafting of the play continued, Donleavy was resident in Fulham, London, with his family, experiencing first-hand the direct fall-out and reaction to Osborne’s play. Look Back in Anger premiered in Ireland at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin in April 1957. The reviewer in The Irish Times described the play as a piece that makes objectivity impossible if only because the author makes detachment also impossible.41 Jimmy Porter, the central character of Osborne’s play is described as a ‘lonely, frustrated and embittered young man’, who maintains a mercilessly sustained attack course on the sensibilities of the audience: “At war with himself and everything else [Porter] feels any sign of security or tranquillity around him as a wound”.42 Osborne’s play, and the movement it was part of in Britain, inevitably had much impact and links back to Ireland. Marion Harewood, Chair of the ‘Look Back in Anger Film Première Committee’, based at the Royal  Ibid., 468.  Ibid., 470–447. 41  “Look Back in Anger”, Irish Times, 23 April 1957, 9. 42  Ibid., 9. 39 40



Court Theatre in London, wrote to Sean O’Casey on 21 January 1959, inviting O’Casey to be on the organising committee for the screening of the film version of Osborne’s play that was planned to mark the Royal Court’s third birthday in May 1959.43 Osborne’s play was also sought after by Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift at the Pike Theatre. Simpson wrote to Osborne in December 1956 seeking Irish rights for the play, seeing it as a theatrical vehicle to further the Pike’s progression as an experimental and risk-taking venture in the Arts. Simpson described the Pike as being “generally regarded as the most progressive theatre in Dublin”, while adding that Look Back in Anger “would very much suit our theatre”.44A production of the play at the Pike, in an Irish context, with its small and intimate environment would have made for a natural if not also powerful setting. The hopeful Pike production of the play, however, did not materialise. Simpson was wary of taking on The Ginger Man production in the wake of The Rose Tattoo affair, which in 1957 had crippled the theatre following the play’s European premiere at the Pike and which saw Simpson as its director arrested on charges of indecency. Donleavy offered the script to the Pike, adding in his letter to Simpson that “I would hate to have you end up in court again but I have the script of The Ginger Man …. Production here is being toyed with at the moment but I’d love for it to have a Dublin première.” Simpson replied that he is “agog to see the script of The Ginger Man”, adding that he was definitely interested but couldn’t risk jail for it.45 Donleavy sympathised with Simpson’s predicament, stating he was aware that in Ireland of that moment, “nothing could be done”, alluding to the control that the Catholic Church held over artistic and theatrical production. It is necessary to put in context how Irish plays, such as The Ginger Man or Behan’s The Hostage, which both had premiere productions in 43  Letters between Sean O’Casey and George Devine/The Royal Court, MS, 38, 063 Sean O’Casey papers, National Library of Ireland. Ahead of the Royal Court’s third birthday celebrations on the second of April 1959, Harewood notes that John Osborne and Tony Richardson have offered the premiere screening of the film version of Look Back in anger to the Royal Court as recognition and gratitude from Osborne. Harewood invited Sean O’Casey to be on the committee. This screening was to take place between 30 April and 9 May, just before it being shown at Cannes Film Festival. 44  Letter from Alan Simpson to John Osborne, 10 December 1956, 10813/436. 45  Letters between J.P. Donleavy and Alan Simpson, Pike Theatre papers, Trinity College Dublin, November 1958, 10813/106 and 111.



London before transferring to Dublin, were seen as a means of antagonising the forces of censorship in Ireland who considered these plays as imported, indecent and unsuitable for consumption in a conservative Ireland. Letters within the archive of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, relate to this point in reference to both The Hostage and The Ginger Man, which are both judged to be subversive to Catholic sensibilities in Ireland and antagonistic to the Irish nationalist outlook. Fr. Gerard Nolan, S.J., wrote to Archbishop McQuaid in October 1960 to forewarn him of the impending transfer from London of Behan’s The Hostage to the Olympia Theatre: The play is entirely unsuitable for the Dublin public and that, from every standpoint that matters. It is an utterly amoral piece, in part obscene, in context degenerate, and at times blasphemous and so totally devoid of any artistic value, as to be worthless. … I pointed out [to Mr. McCabe and Mr. Illsley, managers of the Olympia Theatre] that in one scene there occurs an exact repetition of the incident that made The Ginger Man, of recent ill-­ fame, the occasion of major trouble for the management then involved. I have told them that even with cuts, the play can only soil their theatre and their own reputation for discretion and prudence in programming, and will probably result in considerable worries for the, at the civic level.46

The publicity surrounding both these plays in London ensured it was a struggle to separate the subversive talent of both writers, Behan and Donleavy, from each other. Behan was also the first person to read the manuscript of The Ginger Man, after breaking into Donleavy’s Wicklow cottage.47 At this time, Behan, who was in the midst of writing Borstal Boy, also decided to write some amendments to Donleavy’s manuscript, much to Donleavy’s chagrin. Despite this intrusion, Donleavy has confirmed that he did incorporate some of Behan’s suggestions. Behan also makes a cameo appearance in the novel as the wild Barney Berry.48 Harold Hobson, theatre critic at the Sunday Times, declared that there were “two modern 46  Letter from Nolan to McQuaid, Dublin Diocesan Archive, XXV/70/1 (69). 16 October 1960. 47  “The Ginger Man at Sixty”, The Irish Times, 17 July 2005, https://www.irishtimes. com/culture/books/jp-donleavy-s-the-ginger-man-at-60-1.2287489, Accessed 14 August 2018. 48  “JP Donleavy’s The Ginger Man at 60”, The Irish Times, culture/books/jp-donleavy-s-the-ginger-man-at-60-1.2287489, Accessed 17 July 2015.



plays in London through which [blew] the winds of genius”.49 Hobson was referring to The Hostage and The Ginger Man. This fanfare description was used to publicise The Ginger Man in Dublin, alluding to the fact that if the play was approved in London, it may have naively been thought as a seal of approval prior to its planned transfer to Dublin. Widespread debate over the effects of theatrical and cultural censorship in Ireland would continue to take place in the weeks that followed the transfer of Donleavy’s play to Dublin. On 2 November 1959, the Wexford Festival Forum included a wide-ranging discussion on aspects of contemporary Irish culture and theatre. A panel included Dr. C.S.  Andrews, Chairman, C.I.E (Coras Iompar Éireann), Sir Stewart Wilson, Director of the Birmingham School of Music; Mssrs Brian George and John Snagge (BBC commentators) and playwright Padraic Colum. Among the topics for discussion were the viability of the revival of the Irish language; the influence of Behan’s presence in the theatre upon his plays and current levels of censorship of the theatre. While opinion offered both positive and negative answers, it was uniformly agreed that official censorship of the theatre in Ireland was not a desirable thing to aspire to. Andrews noted that though not in favour of censorship, some discretion was necessary on the part of theatre owners but not to the extent that actions would encourage the public to hold sway in opposition to particular plays or playwrights. “Twice in Dublin recently he [Andrews] had seen public opinion outraged and it was deplorable that such plays should be staged”.50 When asked if he was referring to Sive [by John B. Keane] or The Ginger Man, Andrews replied that he had not seen Sive but that The Ginger Man went far beyond the bounds of decency. “It is one of the worst things I have ever seen on the stage. There is not much difference between it and the strip-tease in the Windmill in London”.51 In response to these discussions and calls for censorship of the Irish stage, Taoiseach Seán Lemass commented that any such theatre censorship or expanding legislation for censorship to works outside of film and literature would be unconstitutional. “We regard these regulations as being in exactly as the same category as other regulations which prevent the sale of putrid meat or contaminated milk. We have here no political 49  Harold Hobson review from the Sunday Times, quoted on play handbill, The Gingerman, J.P. Donleavy Papers, Donleavy Estate. 50  “Festival Forum at Wexford”, Irish Times, 2 November 1959, 6. 51  Ibid.



censorship and no censorship of ideas and our constitution prevents the Oireachtas from passing laws for the establishment of any such censorship.”52 Though the Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, was stating that there was no official law that provided for state censorship in the theatre, the Taoiseach provided a clearly worded dictum as to how public opinion might address the recent trend of controversial stage productions. “As regards plays, we seem to have at the present time a rash of playwrights who try to attract notoriety by a liberal use of blasphemy and other offensive materials”.53 The article would continue to push for an audience-centred and public-­ based form of censorship, one which would have the consensus of the theatre-going public: The best censorship to apply to plays of that kind was a strong reaction from public opinion. If the public did not go to these plays, then these playwrights would soon disappear from the billboards and make way for those who could produce a much better and less offensive type of production.54

This form of ‘public-driven censorship’ is what C.S. Andrews forewarned ten days earlier at the Wexford Festival debate. Public opinion that was fuelled by such comments as made by Lemass—that the state could not intervene in policing theatre’s ethical and moral standards, but the public could. Lemass cited the Abbey Theatre as a model producer with a recent history of staging works that were not only commercially successful but also without being ‘offensive to decency in any way’. Lemass delivered a veiled warning to those who would risk flouting public decency: as any legislation that provided for censorship of plays would be ‘impractical’ to enforce: “there was ample power to institute proceedings against the proprietors of any theatre who produced indecent plays and that power had, in fact, been exercised in recent years”.55 With this point, the Taoiseach emitted a warning to every theatre manager in the country. As the Censorship of Publications Act did not extend to theatre performance, plays and playwrights could not be publicly censored in Ireland. Yet, Lemass was insinuating, just two years after The Rose Tattoo affair at the Pike Theatre (1957) and the Dublin International  “No Censorship on ‘Ideas’ or Politics”, Irish Times, 12 November 1959, 1.  Ibid. 54  Ibid. 55  Ibid. 52 53



Theatre Festival, which saw the play closed and its director Alan Simpson charged with indecency, that works of theatre considered indecent would not be tolerated. It can be argued that this statement had the effect of warding off would–be damage to Ireland’s international reputation at a time when political impetus was focused on promoting Ireland’s reputation abroad as a mature and modernising nation, rather than one engaged in arguments with a conservative Catholic Church. With the case of the censorship of The Ginger Man that was unfolding at this time, Ireland’s theatre was again falling foul of an unofficial censorship that was at risk of stagnating the growth of a new wave of Irish drama.

The Ginger Man and Staging Domestic Conflict Donleavy’s adaptation of his own novel saw the play undergo substantial changes from its original form. All action of the play is confined to the interior and domestic lives and world of the characters, Sebastian Dangerfield, Marion Dangerfield, Kenneth O’Keefe and Lily Frost. This was in line with trends in contemporary British drama by John Osborne and Joe Orton, which saw cramped and claustrophobic interior and domestic settings mirror and enhance the tension as it unfolded on stage and was received by audiences. The play opened in the rented and dilapidated flat of the Dangerfields, situated at no. 1, Mohammed Road, Dublin. The opening stage directions describe in detail the interior of the flat, located in a south suburb of Dublin city. It is a chaotic mess. Implements and signs of navigation and exploration are scattered about the stage. Dangerfield “sits on a stuffy armchair. He watches three chairs in front of him on which are signs: twelve o’clock, three o’clock, and six o’clock. A large celestial telescope stands lonely at the window. On an orange box sits an old gramophone. On the wall are three pictures of ships in distress”.56 The world outside is in perpetual motion. “A trolley car roars past the window and screeches to a halt up the street. Shadows pass the window”.57 The 1950s saw a series of plays that radicalised the naturalistic domestic drama as a form of ‘theatre of revolt’, a style of play that Nicholas Grene

56  The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy, in “J.P. Donleavy, The Plays (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1974), 59. 57  Ibid.



contends inaugurated the style of ‘kitchen-sink realism’.58 Such domestic sites were contested locations of conflict—physically, emotionally and psychologically. This entailed a more prominent engagement with performance aesthetics such as body, movement, sound and lighting, in order to create and curate an atmosphere that was receptive to and critical to a deeper psychological and emotional engagement by audiences. For Irish theatre production, we can identify such influence on style and performance from contemporary British theatre, among other sources internationally, and as I have outlined above in relation to work by Joe Orton and John Osborne. For example, Samuel Beckett’s Fin de Partie (Endgame)59 opened in London in 1957 and presented a dysfunction view of a dystopian home-place, where containment of actors’ physicality as well as character’s worlds were dramatised through the staging of immobility. This was implied by the presence of bodily restrictions within trashcans, rocking chairs or physical ailments such as blindness. This form of setting was influential on Donleavy, who was growing increasingly interested in emerging dramaturgies. Grene supports the importance of such settings and form in the development of Irish drama at the time: The iconic home on the stage remained a powerful part of theatricality vocabulary of this sort of theatre. Endgame (1957), with its enclosed room in which Hamm sits with his aged parents in bins while the pseudo-son/ servant Clov waits in the kitchen to be called, is a parody of the traditional residence of the nuclear family.60

The stasis of Dangerfield’s interior setting is at odds with the increasingly fast pace of both urban and suburban Dublin life. When the exterior threatens to enter the Dangerfield’s home and intrude upon their interior and private world, Dangerfield panics and seeks to hide, unsure how to reconcile the private with the public. Dangerfield’s companion, Kenneth O’Keefe is a fellow American GI Bill veteran who came to Ireland to seek employment, education, social amelioration as well as sexual liberation. Failing on all these fronts, O’Keefe and Dangerfield begin their relationship in the same vein as Jimmy Porter  Grene (2014, 9).  Beckett’s play was originally written in French (titled Fin de Partie). Beckett himself translated it into English. The play was first performed in a French-language production at the Royal Court Theatre in London, opening on 3 April 1957. 60  Grene (2014, 10). 58 59



and Cliff Lewis in Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. A duo of lost and disillusioned young men who expect more than what society and opportunity has afforded them. Instead, they live week-to-week on the allowance afforded them under the GI Bill: O’Keefe: These guys at Trinity think all American’s are loaded with dough and I’m starving. You get your check yet?61

The opening scene sets forth the tone and the deliberately shocking and subversive message of the play by presenting a critique on Irish Catholic Church and state, the shallow advancement of the Irish middle classes and the exploitation and inequality of Ireland, both domestically and publicly, towards women. Dangerfield is a crass, drunken, violent, manipulative self-promoter while O’Keefe is a weak, uncommitted and unconfident loner that is dazzled by the bravado and performative life of extravagance portrayed by Dangerfield, as he constantly seeks the impossible—a comfortable middle-­ class existence and sexual gratification to match his desires. From the outset the play confronts audience sensibilities on the constructs of femininity and male aesthetic expectations of women within defined (patriarchal) gender roles. Both Dangerfield and O’Keefe direct crude and vulgar language towards women, with O’Keefe calling all Irish women “tubs of lard”.62 Dangerfield also criticises the Trinity College-­ educated professional classes as he adopts the public profile of the professional classes and associated networks of privilege in order to claim public credit: “DANGERFIELD: Kenneth, how do I look in Trinity rowing pink … always best to provide a flippant subtlety when using class power.”63 Donleavy ascribes role, gender and clothing to suit one’s class and place in social strata, “Women”, brags Dangerfield, “know their proper place, wear cheerful chains at the stove”.64 This is symbolic of Alison Porter in Look Back in Anger, who is constantly positioned behind an ironing board within Osborne’s play, depicting her gendered and social position as subservient to a patriarchal society, imprisoned behind domestic labour. Commentary on Irish women and the sacrament of marriage ends the first  Ibid., 60.  Ibid. 63  Ibid., 61. 64  Ibid., 62. 61 62



scene with a tirade from Dangerfield directed towards his wife Marion. When Dangerfield failed to collect their daughter owing to his drinking, he screams at Marion to ‘shut up’. In a cry out against such domestic verbal abuse Marion despairs: “O stop it, O stop it. I don’t intend to go on living like this”.65 The opening act of The Ginger Man contemplates the place of Dangerfield and O’Keefe in a new contemporary Ireland. Racial tensions are evident, as prejudice and ignorance towards non-Catholics reference the emigrant experience of not only Dangerfield and O’Keefe but Donleavy himself as an Irish-American transient figure. Young boys run past the window of the flat and shout in “Jews! Jews!” O’Keefe responds with similar hate in his voice with, “That’s what I like about the country. So open about its hatreds. “Irish! Irish!”66 Passing time is tracked by manual acts by Dangerfield, such as the moving of chairs with the ‘Six o’clock’ sign to coincide with hearing the Angelus bell strike outside. O’Keefe despairs at the life they have within such an existence where time is marked by the call of the Catholic evening bell to prayer. “This sad room. Dark gloom. We live like beasts.”67 In condensing a vast and sprawling novel into a concise dramatic work, Donleavy recreates the play into a dark and troubling social commentary. The violence that simmers in Dangerfield is directed at the crying infant: “DANGERFIELD: I’ll kill that kid. God dammit, I’ll kill it, if it doesn’t shut up”.68 With equally shocking and predatory threat, O’Keefe boasted of his attempted rape of his ‘retarded’ cousin while on a family visit to a secluded part of Connemara. The scene ends with Dangerfield alone on stage, ‘a sinner’ appealing to God for strength, to put his shoulder to the wheel and push like the rest. The character of O’Keefe sets out case after case of what he believes are the problems of modern Ireland. He describes visiting his father’s relatives in rural Ireland and while there being forced to go to mass. “There I was on hard cold stone, mumbling ‘Hail Marys’, thinking of the good atheist parties I was missing in Dublin”.69 What O’Keefe aspires to, and what  Ibid., 62–63.  Ibid., 64. 67  Ibid., 66. 68  Ibid., 66. 69  Ibid., 75. 65 66



Donleavy aspires to challenge through this play, is the comfortable and shallow middle-class life. The new Holy Trinity, where O’Keefe is concerned, is chiefly, money, food and sex. The contradiction within the play is not inviting the audience to sympathise with Dangerfield or O’Keefe, but rather to view the complexities and failings of modernity that prolonged gender and economic disparity. Marion, an American citizen, bemoans the foulness of the flat and blames Ireland as the corrupting influences upon Dangerfield himself: “MARION: You weren’t like this before we came to Ireland. This vulgar, filthy country”.70 As an American and therefore as an outsider, Marion voices her disgust not just at Ireland but speaks out from a position of oppression from which Irish women were still fighting to emerge from. This ‘foul’ Irishness is an inheritance from previous generations and which acts as an inheritance for her own baby daughter. “MARION: And to have my child raised among a lot of savage Irish and be branded with a brogue for the rest of her life”.71 In satirising the greed, power, patriarchy and piety of the middle classes, Donleavy is critiquing the majority theatre-going audience of Dublin, which was solidly middle class in background and outlook. In an example of influence upon Donleavy by the French dramatist, Alfred Jarry, Donleavy disrupts the domestic quarrel with an outburst of profanity to mirror the shallow and materialistic development of an unequal society. Jarry wrote in his short essay, Theatre Questions, that his dramaturgical intent was to present to the audience and the public at large the exaggerated vices they themselves possessed. In doing this Jarry (and later Donleavy) used profanity, violence and dialogue, to showcase the base and uncivilised characteristics of modern society and to provoke a self-­ recognition through disgust of these traits within audience members. As Jarry stated: I intended that when the curtain went up the scene should confront the public like the exaggerating mirror in the stories of Madame Leprince de Beamont, in which the depraved saw themselves with dragon’s bodies, or bull’s horns, or whatever corresponded to their particular vice. It is not

 Ibid., 77.  Ibid., 78.

70 71



surprising that the public should have been aghast at the sight of its ignoble other self.72

Dangerfield crashes a chair to the floor to the shout of “Shit”. Marion visibly suffers at the act of threat and at the profane word, begging for Dangerfield to “stop using that ugly word to me”. Dangerfield responds by screaming “Shit” once more. In a final outburst Marion threatens: “I’ll leave this house. Use that language with your working-class friend but I shan’t stand for it … you’ve ruined me socially”.73 In a reflection of the status of women in Ireland at this time of the late 1950s, Donleavy’s play highlights male suppression of female equality and choice. Like John Osborne’s play, where the character of Alison Porter suffers emotionally and mentally at the intense verbal degradation of Jimmy Porter. In the opening stage directions to Osborne’s play, Alison is described as “Standing, left, below the food cupboard. She is leaning over an ironing board. Beside her is a pile of clothes. Hers is the most uneasy personality to catch in the polyphony of these three people”.74 Dangerfield’s counterpoint in Look Back in Anger, Jimmy Porter, mirror’s Dangerfield’s contempt for women. Jimmy is tormented by the aural presence of women’s gendered identity—the sound of their existence: “Slamming their doors, stamping their high-heels, banging their irons and saucepans—the eternal flaming racket of the female.”75 These women ‘act out’ their ‘interiority’, a method by which both Osborne and Donleavy support the patriarchal world in reality of the time. Jimmy continues to attack the living means of women to the point of forcibly trying to remove a group of female neighbours from his building: JIMMY: The most simple, everyday actions were a sort of assault course on your sensibilities. I used to plead with them. I even got to screaming the most ingenious obscenities I could think of, up the stairs at them. But nothing, nothing, would move them.76

72  Alfred Jarry, Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, edited and translated by Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson-Taylor (London: Methuen and Co., 1965). 83. 73  Ibid., 83–84. 74  John Osborne, Look Back in Anger and Other Plays (London, Faber and Faber, 1993), 6. 75  Ibid., 21. 76  Ibid., 21.



The Ginger Man presented such dramatic forms and questions of women’s roles within society to Irish audiences. The prior rejection of Noel Browne’s ‘Mother and Child Scheme’ in 1951, branded as being “anti-­ family”, was in reality, a decision that was evidently anti-woman. Marion, Dangerfield’s wife, vocalises these institutional rejections of sex equality. “I want to be free instead of hiding behind these walls.”77 Dangerfield’s misogyny, and as is reflected in wider Irish society of the time, is summed up in his treatment of Marion when she admits to exposing his actions to her father. Dangerfield reacts in contorted anger, physically and verbally chastising Marion for her supposed indiscretion against her him. Smashing a glass bulb and threatening her, Dangerfield demeans Marion within a society that demands and expects perceived female perfection: “You’re a scheming slut”, he declares.78 He orders Marion out of the family home, threatens strangulation and blames her for his own failings: “You’ve made me like this”.79 The Ginger Man is a sharp critique upon ‘de Valera’s Ireland’ and upon the unequal society supported by the 1937 Constitution of the Republic of Ireland, which stressed that the official place of women was seen to be within the confinement of the home place and in servitude to their male counterpoints and to the family.80 In one final direct attack on the twin pillars of Irish society, Church and state, Donleavy presents Dangerfield with a parting salvo that alone would have been certain to attract not just the criticism of the Church, but also the certain censure and closure of his play. In doing so, he critiqued the sacrificial and mysterious foundation of Christian faith. Dangerfield mimics and performs the act of the crucifixion. The stage directions outline: “[Raising arms slowly, turns, stretches his back in a cross against the wall]. DANGERFIELD: Put in the nails”.81 Donleavy bore a heavy risk in choosing to portray on stage a violent psychopath such as Dangerfield, who

 Donleavy (1974, 84).  Ibid., 86. 79  Ibid., 87. 80  Article 41.2 of the Constitution prioritises a woman’s domestic role over work. It reads: “The State recognises that that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved … The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” 81  Donleavy (1974, 90). 77 78



then would also physically mimic and portray Christ at the crucifixion and in so doing also seek salvation through resurrection. The second act of the play moves its location to the growing and comfortable south Dublin suburb of Glenageary, and the arrival of a young Catholic boarder, Miss Frost, with the stage directions describing the scene as “The dining/living room of a suburban villa”.82 In this act, the influence of Beckett upon Donleavy becomes further evident through seeking to understand the moral and ethical deterioration of society. In wishing to criticise the economic malaise of Ireland, Dangerfield, wearing a bowler hat, a symbol carried over from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (and also of the moneyed upper classes), contemplates suicide due to the pressures of economic pressure: “DANGERFIELD: Could you even lend me a scarf? I’m afraid the one I’m wearing is most unsatisfactory. Disconcertingly feels like a rope”.83 Further admonishing of the undue level of influence in the personal lives of Irish people by the Catholic Church, Miss Frost reveals the stigma attached to her by Church, family and society by having a previous affair with a married man. Here, she partakes in an on-stage sexual act with Dangerfield. In the aftermath she suffers an attack of conscience, fearing having committed a ‘mortal sin’. In an exchange between Donleavy and Miss Frost, she reveals so-called previous moral transgressions and sexual acts that would if known publicly, would provoke shame in society. She alludes being sent to a religious institution for women, a Magdalene Laundry: MISS FROST: They’ll send the priest to my house. DANGERFIELD: Miss Frost, has this happened before? MISS FROST: Yes … they sent me to a convent in Dublin to do a penance.84 In the final scene of the play Miss Frost resolutely condemns Ireland as no ‘country for women’ which offered ‘nothing to a girl like [her]’. O’Keefe, with Donleavy critique Irish nationalism as weak and shallow, as O’Casey achieved with such previous success, mocks the attempts of the armed IRA: “DANGERFIELD: Everybody gets long faces, rolls up the  Ibid., 93.  Ibid., 109. 84  Ibid., 121. 82 83



tricolour, puts away the bombs and we all go into the first pub and get drunk. The police man with us and all. Do you know, I think the North should take over the South”.85 Theatre scholar Joan FitzPatrick Dean argues that Irish theatre of this time enjoyed a status of international celebrity particularly among those in the United States.86 The period of the late 1950s created a catastrophic breakdown in artistic freedom due the long reach of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The Abbey was forbidden by Sean O’Casey to produce his plays and Samuel Beckett ruled likewise in response to the treatment O’Casey and others such as Alan Simpson at the Pike Theatre received from the Archbishop. Even in the nearest ‘international’ realm of the United Kingdom, there was a disparity in the reception of Irish plays concerning Irish matters than was otherwise experienced in Ireland. Writing in The London Letter column in the Irish Times, the journalist wrote in dismay at the ignorance of Irish authorities and also of audiences in relation to condemning plays with controversial or challenging social questions, despite often indifference to their literary or theatrical quality: I find myself increasingly in the position of describing plays which for non-­ theatrical reasons, evidently are not likely to be seen in Ireland—plays by Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey and J.P. Donleavy.87

Just ahead of The Ginger Man’s London première at the Fortune Theatre in 1959, the theatre management requested a special police squad to be on duty. This was not against ‘English’ audiences and their reaction, but specifically in predicting a hostile reaction from Irish people living in London, a play, the article describes as containing “controversial matter about Ireland and the Irish”.88 The play, therefore, was not only presenting a characterisation of the selfish and ultimately shallow rising middle classes of Ireland but also mocking the physical as well as ethical and moral decay of Dublin and Ireland. Despite Ireland modernising in a globalising industrial and economic network, and achieving ‘global celebrity’ as Dean mentions, the aspirations of personal grandeur and a life of middle-class  Ibid., p. 131.  Joan F.  Dean, Riot and Great Anger: Stage Censorship in Twentieth-Century Ireland (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), 148. 87  “London Letter”, Irish Times, 2 November 1959, 4. 88  “Guards for new play about the Irish”, Irish Times, 15 September 1959, 6. 85 86



entitlement as desired by Dangerfield and O’Keefe in the play, summed up the anti-nationalism of the new generation. The urban sprawl of Dublin as described by Donleavy in the play, with couples living in dilapidated tenement-like flats (as also described by Thomas Kilroy in his 1968 play The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche), reveals the physical neglect and deterioration of the inner-city Dublin and of its great Georgian streets, squares and houses. This changing Dublin also was apparent for cast member and Edinburgh native Rosalie Westwater (who played Miss Frost in Donleavy’s play), who expressed her surprise at Grafton Street not being recognisable to her pre-imagined ideal of wide thoroughfares, cobblestones, trams and quaintness, as told to her by her mother and grandmother, who regularly visited Dublin prior to the war years of 1914.89 Dean outlines that key influences were growing in the late 1950s through politicians, journalists and civil servants who were asserting pressure on the Board and Director of the Abbey Theatre. The establishment of an ‘International Theatre Festival’ in 1957, for example, set out to reinstate Ireland and indeed Dublin as a global capital of literary and dramatic imputes. However, with growing influence upon Irish theatre by those in positions of authority, such as by Taoiseach Seán Lemass and as outlined earlier in this chapter, Dean concludes that what evolved at this time was a serious and concerted effort to impose a rigorous and consistent censorship of theatre production in Ireland that ultimately sought to stifle the artistic space.90 Deane outlines how the case of The Ginger Man was an act of arrogance and intrusion into the social and artistic fabric of Irish society, not to mention an act of censorship that resulted in serious consequences for the financial stability of the Globe theatre company as well as reputational, financial and personal consequences for the team behind the play: The stage adaptation of J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man is the most blatant instance of Irish stage censorship in the fifties. Like the 1955 novel, the stage version of The Ginger Man was calculated to épater not just la bourgeoisie but le monde as well.91

 “An Irishwoman’s Diary”, Irish Times, 2 November 1959, 9.  Deane (2004, 148–149). 91  Ibid., 165. 89 90



Archival Memory and Evidence: Recovering The Ginger Man— Censorship and Reception The series of letters held with the personal papers of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid at the Dublin Diocesan Archive, many of which previously unexplored, would support this consideration upon the impact of the play. The letters also reveal the ‘hand-in-glove’ relationship with manager of the Gaiety Theatre, Louis Elliman and the Archbishop through their warm and cordial personal letters. By its third performance The Ginger Man had made the front page of the Irish Times. With the headline “Gaiety Play Withdrawn”.92 However, the report does not document scenes of outraged reaction from the audience that would warrant closure of the play as reported in the headline. “The theatre was half-full last night and the audience repeatedly applauded portions of the play. A few people left at the end of the second act and did not return”.93 The review of the play from the Irish Times, some two days earlier noted “the mingled love and loathing of Dublin, expressed in words that glitter and cut like a welding torch is not a pastiche of Joyce, but a recreation …. Mr. Donleavy almost achieves his ambition of turning Dangerfield into a latter-day Hamlet. Last night’s production brought only a few shouts from the audience …. Philip Wiseman’s production is brilliant”.94 The play, which summoned the direct intervention and censorship of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, received only minor and limited fracas in a production described as “brilliant” and where the cast were uniformly cited for strong performances. Norman Fruchter said of Donleavy that from The Ginger Man to Fairy Tale of New York (produced at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, in 1971), “[Donleavy] has traced a wily, subterranean trail from joy to ambivalence, from sensual to sensuous pleasure to partial withdrawal, from anarchy to compromise”.95 Dangerfield refuses to compromise his desires and passions to spite any consequences: “The joy of

 “Gaiety Play Withdrawn”, Irish Times, 29 October 1959, 1.  Ibid. 94  “The Ginger Man at the Gaiety Theatre, the Irish Times, 27 October 1959, 4. 95  “Where is the Ginger Man?” Norman Fruchter, The New Left Review, March–April 1961., Accessed 14 October 2016. 92 93



woman’s flesh, the joy of love-making; the joy of liquor; the joy of friendship with the very few people who have not betrayed him”.96 Fruchter continues to identify how Archbishop McQuaid sought to remove this play from the view of Dublin audiences: “He [Dangerfield] permits to no concessions to any morality … so he is free. What limits him is no inner structure of will or doctrine, no fear of inhibition, but only the boundary-defining prohibitions of the outside world”.97 Donleavy would say of Dangerfield that “most people misunderstand him. You have this problem, say with actors who might be playing Dangerfield on stage. They forget that he wants to take his place in society. He is not interested in the down-trodden or the worker but rather in his private income”.98 On 29th of October, a letter sent to Archbishop McQuaid from the ‘front of house’ at the Diocesan headquarters sought to clarify speculation made in the previous day’s late edition of the Daily Mail. The press article cited an alleged quote from Louis Elliman stating that McQuaid was the reason that The Ginger Man had been taken off stage the previous night. Journalists from the Daily Mail requested to speak with a ‘Monsignor Nolan’, who apparently introduced himself when speaking with Elliman at the Gaiety Theatre and with two of the cast on the previous evening. An annotation by McQuaid in response to this query writes: “they must mean Fr. Nolan, S.J., Chaplain to the Catholic Stage Guild”.99 A further letter arrived to the Archbishop on 29 October from a James Ardle Mac Mahon, likely a lay administrator at the Archbishop’s residence. The letter stated that Fr. Gerard Nolan S.J. requested a meeting with McQuaid to update him on the nearly five hours of meetings he recently had with Elliman concerning The Ginger Man. The level of direct influence the Church was implementing upon the management of the Gaiety Theatre, a commercial theatre, was unprecedented but also not unusual where/when Elliman was personally involved. Actor and director Barry Cassin recounts in his memoir, that Elliman’s reputation and persona as a figure of power and position preceded him:

 Ibid.  Ibid. 98  “Only for the moment am I saying nothing”: An interview with J.P. Donleavy, Thomas E. Kennedy. The Literary Review. Vol. 40, No. 4, 1997. 660. 99   Letter to Archbishop McQuaid, 29 October 1959, Dublin Diocesan Archive, XXV/69/2. 96 97



Over the [Gaiety] theatre ruled T.R. Royal, a cover-name for the impresario Louis Elliman, also owner manager of the Gaiety, known universally as ‘Mister Louis’. Underlings like myself did not actually bow in his presence, but we thought about it. At the dress rehearsal, he sat out front to vet the show. Comedy sketches, especially, attracted his attention. At the slightest hint of a double-meaning joke, his voice was raised—‘Cut’.100

On the day after the play was cancelled at the Gaiety, Richard Harris wrote directly to the Archbishop on letterhead from Jury’s Hotel, College Green, Dublin. Harris wrote in an openly apologetic manner, seeking the forgiveness of the Archbishop for any offence to “our religion”101 in performing in the play. Harris accepted responsibility for his part in supporting the play being performed in an unexpurged form and in not agreeing to the cuts as suggested by a representative of McQuaid, likely to be Fr. Gerard Nolan, S.J. Harris stated that “[he] approached the part as a Catholic”. Harris added that he “found from the sentiments and theme of the play, that though it was without the façade of purity, it was honest and most artistic in its taste”.102 Harris requested a private meeting with McQuaid to discuss these points, especially as he planned to perform the play in New York in the near future. McQuaid, however, replied via his secretary, and stated that if Harris had “any moral problem concerning your post in the play to which you refer, His Grace feels sure that you can find the direction you may need with your usual spiritual advisor”.103 This action was an obvious attempt by McQuaid to avoid any public association with the scenario while it was yet ongoing. Being acutely aware of such controversy involving Irish theatre in recent years, including The Drums of Father Ned/The Rose Tattoo debacles.104  Cassin (2012, 50).  Letter from Richard Harris to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, 30 October 1959. DDA XXV/69/5. 102  Letter from Richard Harris to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, 30 October 1959. DDA XXV/69/5. 103  Letter from Gerard Nolan S.J. to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, 30 October 1959. DDA XXV/69/6. 104  The planned production of O’Casey’s The Drums of Father Ned and an adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1958, were dropped owing to the Archbishop withdrawing from a ceremonial mass to be performed and which led to the eventual postponement of the Festival. In the previous year, 1957, one of the most infamous of all acts of Church-led censorship upon Irish theatre, the case of The Rose Tattoo at the Pike Theatre, 100 101



McQuaid’s papers reveal this was a calculated action on his part. While careful not to comment publicly, the Archbishop was actively receiving communications and making judgements upon the affair. On 30 October, Fr. Gerard Nolan S.J. forwarded McQuaid a detailed report on “the events leading up to the booking and subsequent closing down of the play [The Ginger Man]”. The report states that the Globe Theatre Company management had an unspecified booking with the Gaiety Theatre from 26 October to 7 November 1959, subject to the approval of the Gaiety management. The suggestion was made to Elliman to book The Ginger Man. Elliman subsequently dispatched William Ryan and Godfrey Quigley to London to vet the play. Quigley, his wife, fellow Globe Theatre member Genevieve Lyons, would join two of the English actors in the Dublin cast and rehearse for ten days in London prior to returning to Dublin. Owing to this close cooperation between the English and Irish cast members, only a walk-through of some parts was deemed necessary in Dublin. Following the opening night, Elliman immediately demanded Donleavy and Wiseman make cuts to the text. Following the second night’s performance, Elliman issued an ultimatum that the cuts must be made to the passages “objectionable and offensive to taste and opinion here”.105 The list of cuts is not included in the report to McQuaid. Fr. Nolan cited reasons to deflect the claims and attention of ‘the English papers’ who claim the origins of the call to ban this play stemmed from pressure from the Irish [Catholic] hierarchy. Firstly, the management of the Gaiety are bound by their patent not to present plays which “be in no way offensive to audiences”.106 Wiseman had hoped and looked for a banning of the play owing to reputational damage already done, banning would afford a higher level of publicity. Crucially, there is evidence given in this interview that Wiseman and Donleavy were considering the cuts suggested in order to save the play. The reaction to The Ginger Man in the Irish print media was uniformly bleak in its condemnation of the play. Its violent sequence of attacks upon the moral decency of Dublin life and people, coupled with the expression of mock-crucifixion by Dangerfield (and so portraying himself as a directed by Alan Simpson, led to the personal breakdown of the Pike Theatre and major reputational damage to Dublin and Ireland as a centre of world drama. 105  Report on The Ginger Man, Dublin Diocesan Archive. XXV/69/1, 1. 106  Report on The Ginger Man prepared by Gerard Nolan S.J.  October 1959. DDA XXV/69/11 (49).



modern-day Christ figure), reversed the traditional Catholic Church image of women passively at the side of Jesus through his crucifixion, embodied by Mary Magdalene. A review in [The Irish Independent] wrote: [The Ginger Man] is one of the most nauseating plays ever to appear on a Dublin stage and it is a matter of some concern that its presentation should ever have been considered. It is an insult to religion and an outrage to normal feelings of decency.107

Elliman was now at risk of having his bluff called. He reverted to his previous ultimatum of ‘cuts or closure’ and took the decision at that moment to close the play or risk legal proceedings for breach of contract. Elliman telephoned Donleavy and Wiseman and informed them of their supposed breach. The decision to close was given at 4.30 pm in the presence of Fr. O’Neill and conceded to fifteen minutes before curtain. The play was over before it had fully begun.108 Donleavy left Ireland for England the following day after the closure of the play and spoke of the disappointment of the episode but also struck at McQuaid’s and the Church’s policy of enforcing censorship upon works of perceived indecency, saying: “If the Archbishop had seen the play it might have been different”.109 In December 1959, one month after the initial closure of ‘the Dublin play’, Elliman wrote to McQuaid, thanking him for his recent personal letter. In thanking the Archbishop for his support in the case, Elliman wrote: In the business of play production it is possible to exercise full control where the subject originates at home. Imported matter is much more difficult and in the recent unacceptable play, though viewed on my behalf, did not measure up to the standard set for our theatre.110  [Irish Independent] Dublin Diocesan Archive, XXV/69/19.  Donleavy admitted he was “shattered and shocked” but not surprised that Ireland’s conservative Catholicism enforced closure of the play on grounds of blasphemy: “There is a terrible amount of confusion between the cast, myself and the management … I thought there might be trouble with the play in Dublin but I did not think it would lead to this.” “Ginger Man off after three nights”, Daily Mail [29 November 1959] Dublin Diocesan Archive, xxv/69/15. 109  “Archbishop will not see Ginger Man actor”, Sunday Express, 1 November 1959. Dublin Diocesan Archive, XXV/69/173 C. 110  Letter from Louis Elliman to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. 1 December 1958, Dublin Diocesan Archive. XXV/69/16. 107 108



As Donleavy exiled himself from Ireland following the treatment of the play, an act of collusion and censorship by the Catholic Church and the Gaiety Theatre management, Harris too left Ireland to be admitted to a Cornish nursing home on medical advice. “I have got to rid my system of The Ginger Man”, Harris explained. “The aftermath of this is terrible”.111 At the root of this case is the realisation that Donleavy and others such as Carolyn Swift, Alan Simpson, Edna O’Brien, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey and others of this time, were seeking to challenge a society and its orthodoxies, as well as traditional theatrical form.

Conclusion Though largely neglected in theatre memory today, Alan Simpson outlined just why The Ginger Man is a significant play in Irish theatre. Simpson directed a revival of the play at the Eblana Theatre, Dublin, in 1971, designed by John Ryan and starring Eamon Morrissey in the role of Dangerfield. In his unpublished essay, “Some Thoughts on the Ginger Man”, Simpson foregrounds the social realism of the play and again draws attention to the links with the work of Brendan Behan: Many people regard the novel The Ginger Man as a fantasy. This is not the case. It is as realistic a “slice of Life” as Borstal Boy. It is an extremely accurate portrayal of a group of people living on the south side of Dublin, circa 1949.112

Simpson also reveals his pity at not being able to direct the first production of the play when submitted to the Pike Theatre in 1957. Ian R.  Walsh describes the programming of the Pike Theatre as having “a clear manifesto and were self-consciously experimental and avant-garde”.113 The Ginger Man would have perfectly suited the Pike Theatre’s vision and programming. Simpson concluded that the full extent of censorship upon The Ginger Man was due to its ingrained anti-Catholicism. Similar to the later plays of Sean O’Casey which attracted the criticism and censorship of 111  “Ginger Man actor for nursing home”, Irish Times, 9 November 1959, Dublin Diocesan Archive, XXV/69/21. 112  “Some Thoughts on The Ginger Man”, [1971], Alan Simpson Papers, James Hardiman Library NUI Galway. 1. 113  Ian R. Walsh, Experimental Irish Theatre After Yeats (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 164.



the Catholic Church in Ireland, plays such as The Drums of Father Ned and The Bishop’s Bonfire, Simpson surmised that the treatment of O’Casey was received due to the ‘unconscious influence of his father [O’Casey’s] than his own atheist-Marxism. Behan’s plays on the other hand are more warmly remembered than the plays of Donleavy or of O’Casey’s later works as his “fair minded swipes at the lunatic fringes of both Orange and Green are clearly stated and with good humour”.114 Simpson’s insights as a director clarify the lack of a more comprehensive production history for the play. Donleavy’s hyper-realism was difficult to relate to outside of the direct socio-religious Irish context. In comparison, Behan’s plays were ‘the easiest for both native and foreign actors and directors to interpret’.115 The Ginger Man was a radical and necessarily provocative anti-nationalist and anti-authoritarian statement. In Simpson’s words: “[It] may be a period piece [in 1971] but it seems to be current affairs to younger Dublin”.116 The play marked a watershed moment in Irish theatre that proved to be a clear statement of defiance against Irish traditional and inherited orthodoxies and it opened a door for more progressive works of the ‘new wave’ of Irish drama and dramatists that would emerge in this period.

 Simpson (1971, 3).  Simpson (1971, 3). 116  Simpson (1971, 4). 114 115


Staging the Memoryscape of Middle-Class Ireland

Speaking in Chicago in October 1963, at a dinner in his honour, Taoiseach Seán Lemass addressed business, political and civic leaders about the changed landscape, both physically and ontologically, of modern Ireland: At home, Ireland has changed and is at present changing faster than ever before and the change is far reaching. The Ireland of the mists on the bog is gone forever. The bogs have been drained and the mists have been replaced by power-plants which produce electricity from the peat. The shamrock is the symbol of Irish International Airlines which operates highly efficient jet services across the Atlantic. And the land of the jaunting car is today manufacturing automobiles. The spirit of the rising generation of Ireland—a generation full of self-assurance and confidence and the will to succeed—is exerting a new and powerful impact on our psychological climate and on the pattern and pace of our economic growth.1

Lemass’ depiction of Ireland as a nation already transitioned into industrial and economic prominence was in itself a performance of modernity. This development was reflected in two major supporting facets: the modernisation of the Irish landscape from a passive to an industrially productive asset, coupled with the emergence of a prosperous and educated middle class, in support of the national modernisation project. The chapter will investigate, through examining the performance records, 1

 “Taoiseach addresses Chicago leaders”, Irish Times, 15 October, 1963, 5.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




correspondence, unpublished essays and speeches of playwright Hugh Leonard, how the physical and economic development of Ireland was satirised and critiqued through innovative dramaturgy and the questioning of time and place on stage. For the playwright, screen-writer and columnist Hugh Leonard, the question “Why don’t you write a play that says something to us?”—put to him by a Dublin journalist, reminded Leonard that he yet lived and worked in a provincial society. Leonard would strongly deny the charges that his plays did not address the urgent and radical social issues of his time. “The title character in Da is a product of class and religion … In A Life, young Desmond Drumm may be likened to a sapling that has become a gnarled and stunted tree because of the arid soil—his native village, The Patrick Pearse Motel was, until Kill was written, my most overtly social play, deploying fact to reveal the abyss between revolutionary ideals and the later reality of a huckster’s shop republic”.2 Yet, Leonard’s plays are widely considered as lacking deeper contextual and historiographical study. Within Leonard’s plays, there is a convergence of both past and present Ireland—the passing traditional Ireland is challenged by an emerging affluent and middle-class society, more attuned to personal gratification in a consumer-culture driven society than with connectivity to or cognisance of past Irish heritage and tradition. Fintan O’Toole reminds us of the perceptive and socially reflective dramaturgy of Hugh Leonard that foregrounded the ambivalence to memory of new generations in the wake of monetary affluence: “No one captured the comedy and melancholy of ‘new money’ better than Hugh Leonard”.3 By revisiting the documentary evidence of the theatrical construction, the innovative use of place and dramatic locations, and the fracturing of time as a dramatic device, it is possible to position Leonard as an overlooked playwright within the development of contemporary Irish drama.

 Hugh Leonard, Kill, Introduction (Galway: Campus Publishing, 1995), 3.  Fintan O’Toole, “Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks: 1973—Da, by Hugh Leonard”, Irish Times, 19 December 2015.­100artworks-­1973-da-by-hugh-leonard-1.2471045 Accessed 12 January 2018. 2 3



Leonard and the Irish Canon—The Outsider and an Uneasy Relationship Within contemporary Irish theatre Hugh Leonard occupies the curious space of an ‘outsider’. He is continually mentioned in the same breath as major Irish theatrical canonical figures: Brian Friel, Thomas Murphy, Thomas Kilroy, and others. Leonard’s reach and connection to Irish audiences and to theatre audiences internationally, through vehicles like the Dublin Theatre Festival and also through Tony Award success in America, ensures Leonard is among the ‘most-viewed’ of all Irish playwrights of the last half-century. However, no monograph is dedicated to the critical and analytical study of his literary career. The paucity of dedicated scholarship on Leonard’s plays is to the detriment of a fuller and wider understanding of the intersection of Irish contemporary drama and society.4 Christopher Murray, writing in 1997, considered the omission of Leonard from inclusion in the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing was a ‘significant error’.5 Leonard’s career, which included some twenty-five professionally produced original plays (including six one-acts) and a further ten full-length adaptations (of some of Ireland’s most prominent literary works, such as those by James Joyce and John McGahern), two volumes of autobiography, two novels, a host of work for Irish and British television, not to mention a weekly column for over two decades, The Curmudgeon, in one of Ireland’s widest circulating broadsheets, The Sunday Independent, should present a legacy of interest to scholars, as well as revival productions. The opposite is the case however. As is noted in his obituary in the Irish Times, Leonard was: “A popular playwright and busy adapter, whose work filled theatres rather than volumes of criticism, he paid for this popularity”.6 4  Dedicated chapters on Leonard include “Leonard’s Progress: Hugh Leonard at the Dublin Theatre Festival” by Emilie Pine and published in the book Interactions: Dublin Theatre Festival 1957–2007. Grene, Nicholas and Lonergan Patrick, with Chambers, Lillian, eds. (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2008); Lisa Coen, “Urban and Rural Theatre Cultures: M.J. Molloy, John. B. Keane and Hugh Leonard”, in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre, Nicholas Grene, Nicholas, and Chris Morash, eds. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016). Christopher Murray dedicated detailed attention to Leonard in his chapter “A Generation of Playwrights” published in Mirror up to the Nation: Twentieth Century Irish Drama (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997, 1997). 5  Christopher Murray, Twentieth Century Irish Drama: Mirror Up to the Nation (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 162. 6  ‘Playwright with full mastery of his craft’, Irish Times, 14 February 2009. http://www. Accessed 16 December 2016.



Chris Morash dedicates perhaps the largest coverage of Leonard’s work in his book, A History of Irish Theatre 1601–2000. Morash identifies three major plays by Leonard from the 1970s, Da (1973), Time Was (1976) and A Life (1979), that all function as important social commentaries on a society that was increasingly shaped by the moral and commercial interests of a new urban-middle class. In doing so, Leonard charted a culture that was tearing away from its past, alternately seduced and fearful of the pleasures of nostalgia.7 Playwright Thomas Kilroy explores the many and often divergent questions surrounding the expression of ‘the self and society’ in Irish writing. Kilroy admits he is acutely aware of an inherited Anglo-centric literary tradition that places certain expectations upon the writer in society.8 Leonard disregards this inherited tradition through not seeking to indulge literary high-art. Leonard is unapologetically ‘popular’ in his dramatic composition and themes. Kilroy further qualifies this point and forges a place for the style of drama championed by Leonard by contending a ‘literary snobbery’ was and is active against such works that do not squarely fit the mould of the ‘Anglic’ tradition. “The idea of High Art and Low Art is deeply rooted within this tradition, a symptom of social presumptions which this country, like each one anglicized through colonization, has inherited”.9 Christopher Murray also considered the political and social position of Leonard’s work within the context of the Irish canon. He places Leonard at the other end of the spectrum, away from the working class and ‘new’ urban Dubliners, to holding a mirror up to Dublin’s new bourgeoisie. In Leonard’s plays, from his earliest professional works such as A Leap in the Dark (1957) A Walk on the Water (1960) through to his Tony Award highs of the 1970s with Da, a duality of presence occurs. There is a current ‘present’ but also a noticeable absent past. Fintan O’Toole elucidates this point by stating that (Fig. 6.1): Hugh Leonard doesn’t write tragedies. Tragedies are about the problems of striving, but the middles class has already fulfilled its aspirations. It has got

7  Chris, Morash, A History of Irish Theatre 1601–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 249. 8  Thomas Kilroy, “The Irish Writer: Self and Society, 1950–1980”, in Literature and the Changing Ireland, ed. Peter Connolly (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1980), 179. 9  Kilroy (1980, 178).



Fig. 6.1  Poster from A Life by Hugh Leonard, 1979, Abbey Theatre, Dublin. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway)



to where it wanted to be. Instead, those who have made it have a gnawing fear of returning to the past, of slipping down the ladder, back to where they came from. Their particular neurosis is schizophrenia; they are at once products of their own pasts and terrified of it.10

The complexity of these scenarios, in terms of production, direction and audience reception, are masked by a veil of comedy, which Leonard wraps around his dialogue and characters. Some works may struggle to be perceived as delving into the inner psyche, fears, tragedy and identity of a nation or of citizens when one is laughing and enveloped by humour. O’Casey and Synge constructed a national drama and did so with farcical and comedic ability in places and through certain characters (Fluther Good in The Plough and the Stars; the slew of female admirers of The Playboy of the Western World, Christy Mahon himself, for example) but also deconstructed class anxiety, colonial discourse, nationality and identity with deep tragedy and conflict. Eric Weitz comments on the impact that laughter and humour can offer in order to understand the audience reception of a play. Weitz considers how comedy reveals much about the ‘cultural codes’ that audiences bring to the theatre, where their reaction, or not, to humour can reveal as much as thousands of hours of any anthropological fieldwork.11 This is an important factor to bring to a consideration of Leonard’s plays—Irish theatre historiography does not always situate comedy or farce as canonical or important literary works of drama. Yet the study of the production and reception of Leonard’s plays offer important insights into the changing tastes and humour of Irish theatre audiences, as well as staging a contemporary reflection of the Irish middle classes. Leonard did not so much present the broad edifices of Irish nationality for ridicule—such as Church and state, but rather surgically examined them through narrow cracks that provoked an unsettling space. Leonard probed the fissures that later playwrights exposed with great aplomb. In the case of the Catholic Church, this came in the form of “a trilogy by different hands”, as Morash described—Tom Murphy’s The Sanctuary Lamp (1976), Thomas Kilroy’s Talbot’s Box (1977) and Brian Friel’s Faith 10  Julia Furay and Redmond O’Hanlon, Critical Moments: Fintan O’Toole on Modern Irish Theatre (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2003), 297. 11  Eric Weitz, The Power of Laughter: Comedy and Contemporary Irish Theatre (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2004), 2.



Healer (1979). While these plays broke traditions and structures of form, space and time, Leonard’s works of the period also offer commentary on social condition of Ireland, notable the clash of tradition and modernity, memory and presence and also physical heritage in a radically changing Irish landscape. As Brian Friel also accounted for in his political farce The Mundy Scheme (1969), the Irish landscape and the physical country itself were under a deep malaise. O’Toole described the arrival of upward social mobility in 1960s Ireland as the change from “the clash of the ash to the flash of the cash”.12 What began with rejection from the Abbey Theatre for Jack Keyes Byrne in 1955 began anew for ‘Hugh Leonard’ in 1956. The Big Birthday, a retitled play by a renamed playwright, presented ‘the outsider’ with an open door at the Abbey Theatre. Soon, the nation and its predominantly growing affluent class would feel the sting of Leonard’s pen.

Becoming ‘Hugh Leonard’ Leonard’s personal experience of being an outsider became the norm in his life long before he became ‘Hugh Leonard’. Leonard was born as John (Jack) Byrne in Dublin in 1926, to Annie Byrne. His adoption as a young infant contributed to a recognisable trait in Leonard’s plays, where characters are often in motion. We often find them journeying outwards from home places seeking their own space and identity, or journeying homewards, seeking to reconcile the past. Leonard commented on his own life’s journey that he was “attempting to find a place where I might ‘belong’”.13 Leonard grew up in a modest house on Kalafat Lane in Dalkey, south county Dublin. His adoptive father, Nick Keyes, worked as a gardener for a local wealthy Anglo-Irish family. When that family, depleted through age and death, sold the estate it was purchased by a wealthy Catholic family. The effect and impact this had on the young Leonard came to the fore in later plays such as Da (1973) and Kill (1982) but also drew his attention to the recalibration in class and family structures in the towns and areas around him as a microcosm for change in Ireland itself. In choosing the Presentation Brothers Primary School over the other local Christian Brothers School, the young Leonard witnessed how 12  Critical Moments: Fintan O’Toole on Modern Irish Theatre, Furay, Julia, and O’Hanlon, Redmond, eds. (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2003) 297. 13  Leonard, Home Before Night, 1979, 37.



identity and class ascribed to him from his name and address could be as simply bought as if a piece of land in a newly gentrified area. This theme would dominate Leonard’s 1974 play, Summer,14 which was set on Killiney Hill. The idyllic coastal landscape is being engulfed by prospective developers. Three middle-age couples meet for a picnic and struggle to reconcile their hopes and aspirations to how reality and happiness do not always intersect. The split-time device (common to Leonard’s plays of this period) displaces memory and shifts expectation for the couples’ children as they witness how the shallowness of their parents’ generation result in ‘cause and effect’ repercussions for their future. So too for the young Leonard who endured a schooling where he felt of how ‘place’ ascribed him an identity he tried to untangle himself from: I gave my address as the not so lowly and quite imaginary Anastasia Terrace. It fooled nobody … I knew that to be what they [his classmates] called illegitimate was an occasion of deep shame. There had been a sin of some kind, and because of it you were not the same as the children who had parents.15

Playwright Denis Johnston became a formative influence on the dramatic style and writing of Leonard. Leonard would imagine about choosing a father-figure to look up to. He outlined “one reason that I picked on Denis Johnston was that he was the only dramatist writing the kind of play that, when young, I wanted to write. I thought The Moon in the Yellow River was a masterpiece”.16 Leonard’s deep respect for Johnston, as a figure of contempt for establishment, mirror’s Leonard’s own artistic vision. Leonard surmised that Irish theatre audiences (and as a microcosm of middle-class Ireland itself) are unconnected to the plays of Johnston and therefore his own work also, as he [Johnston] is the wrong shape and size for pigeon-holing … the English think of him as Irish, whereas the Irish have never known what to make of him, and at times they beget the suspicion that a member of the literary

14  Summer was premiered in America by the Hudson Theatre Guild at the Olny Theatre, Maryland. The play received an Irish premiere at the Olympia Theatre, 7 October 1974, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. 15  Ibid., 55. 16  Hugh Leonard, Foreword, in Orders and Desecrations: The Life of the Playwright Denis Johnston, Rory Johnston, ed. (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1992), vii.



quality is deriving amusement from what Myles na gCopaleen termed the Common People of Ireland.17

From within the position of non-belonging,18Leonard, as Johnston did before him, questioned the Ireland he saw around him and held the controlling class of a modern Republic up to task for failing in their social contract to protect and cherish ‘all children of the national equally’. Leonard would describe his childhood as being “with poor Catholic parents and within an ‘up the rebels!’ environment, [in which he] had come increasingly to feel like a cuckoo in a Sinn Féin nest”.19 Leonard’s politics and his own personal opinions on Ireland’s socio-­ political make-up are central to a rounded understanding of the dramaturgy and mechanics of a Leonard play. Leonard was anti-armed Republicanism and a vocal critic of armed measures in pursuit of a united Ireland. He was interested in and influenced by European and cosmopolitan thinking and ideals. He was chiefly concerning with depicting the universality of the human condition and how the experience of those within a microcosm of Ireland’s new middle classes were representative of concerns of identity, nation and class, internationally. As Leonard framed this thought: “Literature is, or should be, a celebration of one’s membership of the human family … In Ireland however, it seems that the function of the artist is not to demonstrate that we are a part of human kind, but that we are apart from it”.20 This outlook places Leonard in line with the intellectual and artistic experimentalism pervasive in the mid-twentieth-century resurgence in new Irish drama. Grene mentions both Hugh Leonard and Bernard Farrell as two contemporary Irish exponents of this style but who instead position the focus of Irish naturalism within the social margins of their respective work. Grene also adds that “Irish drama has had to be seen to be Irish to be recognised as such, as this has skewed the tradition towards the representational, if not the naturalistic”.21 Grene argues that the tendency has been for Irish playwrights to create plays identifiably ‘Irish’ (peasant plays  Ibid., viii.  Leonard further said that Denis Johnston belonged neither to the tradition of the Gate Theatre nor to that of the Abbey Theatre. 19  Ibid., viii. 20  MS 41/960 (2), “The Unimportance of Being Irish”, Hugh Leonard Papers, NLI, Dublin, 10. 21  Grene (1999, 265). 17 18



of West of Ireland, cottage kitchen-based, tenement plays of working classes). This identification comes by virtue of the traditional vision of Ireland often in a colonial setting (e.g. in works by Synge, Lady Gregory, Friel or O’Casey) or in their representation of what is considered ‘Irish’ subject matter or in an ‘Irish’ location. Leonard instead experiments with this Irishness as being something not entirely ‘Irish’ by virtue of its setting or its dialect (south county Dublin) but rather by its ‘otherness’. Irishness, in Leonard’s works, exists in numerous forms and contexts. These include an ‘other’ Irishness, outside of traditional Republican and Catholic tropes that were synonymous with post-independence Ireland. Leonard would expand on this point in saying: [Perhaps] it may be that we still suffer from the fruits of independence, when a peasant clergy and a race of gunmen-turned-statesmen apotheosized Irish dancing (in black woollen stockings, need one say), simple folk tunes on fiddle and tin whistle, and stories mumbled over a turf fire punctuated with spittle, as the pinnacle of native art.22

Leonard would describe his admiration for the plays of Denis Johnston in terms of “[them] giving] off neither the stench of tenements nor the headier smell of farmyard manure, but also because he had the same contempt for Anglophobic nationalism that I had’.23 For Leonard, the hitherto unrepresented world of the middle classes, the primary constituent of the modern Irish theatre audience, would prove fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of a new national theatre experiment: to make subversive and satirical theatre about those who now were in control of large tracts of Irish society, high office and political influence.

Leonard’s New Ireland and Losing the Land Thomas Kilroy considered Leonard’s adaptation of works by James Joyce, Stephen D (1962), as a play that chiefly ushered in the new era of contemporary Irish drama.24 Kilroy further considers Stephen D as “striking, modern, alive to the dislocating perspectives of the mid-century and the fluidity 22  MS 41,960 (2), “The Unimportance of Being Irish”, Hugh Leonard Papers, NLI, Dublin, 11. 23  Leonard (1989, 186). 24   Thomas Kilroy, “A Generation of Playwrights”, Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre, ed., Eamonn Jordan (Dublin: Carysfort Press 2000), 2.



of expression possible on stage with modern lighting, design and direction”.25 In keeping with global and national uncertainties of the decade, Leonard both locates and dislocates his plays and audiences. Primarily, the settings of his plays are specific locations in Ireland and more precisely within south county Dublin, often being the affluent areas of Dalkey, Killiney or Foxrock. Within these locations, the world of the characters shifts out-of-sync with realist existence, while time shifts in and out of temporal sync. The Padraig Pearse Motel (1971) begins in an expansive front room of a Foxrock house, complete with eighteenth-century English kitchen, before moving to a motel in the Dublin Mountains with eighty-four rooms, each named after heroes in Ireland’s national struggle. Madigan’s Lock (1958) presents a setting based at the end of a lost canal and an equally lost pub, which will reward those who discover it with “free pints ‘til God calls time and gently leads them upstairs to His own lounge bar above”. Time Was (1976), the only of these plays to premiere at the Abbey Theatre, is a comedic fantasy in which the overbearing weight of nostalgia for a simpler past time ruptures the continuity of the present. This allows the past to be reanimated and populate current Irish society, a live archival memory in performance. A position in London offered Leonard an oblique understanding of the place of the playwright.26 Leonard’s own self-imposed exile, unlike that of Beckett, Joyce or O’Casey before him, was not purely of an ideological stance. He was not strictly seeking to ‘outfly those nets of language, nationality of religion’, to cite Stephen Dedalus in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.27 It enabled Leonard to work without the pressure of being ‘an Irish playwright’ or an ‘Abbey playwright’ in Dublin. On this point Leonard considered himself lucky to able to write on Irish material but without the hindrance of audience preconceptions.28

 Ibid., 2.  Leonard took up a role with Granada Television as a script editor in Manchester in 1961, before moving to London to work as a freelance writer in 1963. 27  James Joyce, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Modern Library, 1928). 238. 28  Hugh Leonard Obituary, The Guardian, 13 February 2009. https://www.theguardian. com/stage/2009/feb/13/hugh-leonard-obituary Accessed 23 January 2017. 25 26



The Arrival of Hugh Leonard Leonard wrote of the domestic everyday of middle-class urban society, and addressed contemporary national questions of identity and modernisation while adapting impressionistic and complex, often fragmentary, plot constructions. Emilie Pine situates Leonard’s work within a complex position—one that does not, on the surface, contest or challenge national orthodoxies or governmental or Church doctrine but rather the personal and individual experience of those who reside within reach of the outgoing ripples of affect. Pine identifies that while plays by contemporaries such as Brian Friel and Tom Murphy accrue greater critical acclaim and productions, Leonard’s plays grow ever increasingly marginal.29 Leonard’s first production at the Abbey Theatre, The Big Birthday30 in 1956 would, according to a preview article in the Irish Times, be a ‘history-­ making production’.31 A source from the Abbey Theatre confirmed it was the first time that “the Abbey Company will have a play right from the heart of the amateur dramatic movement”.32 The play was positively received by audiences but not so by critics, describing it as lacking the assured structure of comedy more accustomed to Lennox Robinson and Louis D’Alton. The experience did, however, enable Leonard to realise his skill as a writer, crafting instantly relatable figures for audiences and characters. The change from rural peasant plays to urban Dublin comedies of the middle classes would also alter traditional place and setting in the Irish play. No longer was the wild and unkempt west of Ireland landscape or country cottage kitchen to provide an allegorical representation for the country as a whole. Modern Irish life as was now being recorded as a contemporary memory of middle-class Ireland within the expanding and affluent Dublin suburbs. Within Leonard’s dramas, this was to prove to be the new location for experiencing Irish life, located on the fringes and suburbia of an internationalising capital city.

29  Emile Pine, Leonard’s Progress: Hugh Leonard at the Dublin Theatre Festival, Interactions: Dublin Theatre Festival 1957–2007 (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2007), 48. 30   The play was first written in 1948 and produced by an amateur company in November 1950. 31  “First performance of new play at the Abbey Theatre”, Irish Times, 21 January 1956, 3 32  “First performance of new play at the Abbey Theatre”, Irish Times, 21 January 1956, 3.



A Walk on the Water—Escaping Society and the City Leonard’s third play, A Walk on the Water (1960), was also his breakthrough. It was important for a number of reasons. It was staged at the Gas Works Theatre in Dún Laoghaire, which was been the home for many important and experimental productions by companies on the fringes of Irish theatre, such as Orion Productions, The Globe Company and other such work by Godfrey Quigley, Phyllis Ryan, Norman Rodway and others.33 Leonard set and positioned this play on an unspecified ‘old Pier’ in Dublin sometime in post-Emergency Ireland: OWEN: We used to come here because we were bored by the war, by the safety of being out of it. We’d listen to the band on the far pier, watch the mail boat go out … It only lasted one summer ALMA: It’s a long time to stay anti-social.34 Barney and Tom are waiting for a figure known as “the Citizen” Kane, who is the central figure and focus of the other character’s presence, attention and discussion: BARNEY: They’re late again TOM: Why not. It’s all part of being anti-social. I explained it to you. BARNEY: I’m the ignorant one, remember? And what for do we have to come all the way out here? It’s freezing. TOM: The Citizen says it’s a symbol. It’s the furthest we can get. From Society.35 The Citizen has orchestrated this group into a loose alliance of individuals, generally figures who seem ostracised from society, from personal relationships or even from their own sense of identity and place. The pier is a geographic manifestation of this questioning of Irish society, a liminal location whereby distance from community and society is possible. The pier is also symbolic as a point of departure for Irish emigrants, with emotional and psychological connotations of departure and the leaving behind 33  The play was also produced at the Eblana Theatre, Dublin City, 19 September 1960, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. “A Walk on the Water at the Eblana”, Irish Times, 20 September 1960, 5. 34  MS 41, 954 / 1 Script of A Walk on the Water, Hugh Leonard Papers, NLI, Dublin, 1–2. 35  Ibid.



of Ireland and Irishness. It also offers a place of refuge in Dublin further from the sprawling and expanding city and suburbs. The group, by their ‘anti-social’ ideology, is separate from the growing middle-class economic stratum. The sea offers a stability, a stasis and ever-presence in face of the rapidly changing and disappearing Irish culture. Present on stage are characters including Tom, described as “a potential painter and a potential homosexual; Barney, a pug, a simple, decent muscleman and a bit of a waster; J.J., a rigid Gaelic nationalist; Dick, a private soldier with a messed up marriage; and Nina, a loose-living, enigmatic girl”.36 The Citizen, whose real name is Jimmy Porter (in a nod to John Osborne’s influential play, Look Back in Anger, 1956), returns and meets the others after the passage of eight years. Fractured time and the recurrence of the past within the present is a device often employed by Leonard. The breaking of the temporal present through the live reoccurrence of the past, in plays such as in Time Was (1976) Da (1971) and Summer (1974), reconfirms Leonard’s main theatrical premise: to reveal the failures of present society through embrace of economic capitalism to the detriment of the public and also personal sense of Irish identity. This non-­recognition of self and society is represented through the dramatic form of place and in particular the changing Irish urban and suburban landscapes. The Irish Times review concludes that A Walk on the Water draws obvious comparisons with James McKenna’s play about the experience of ‘Teddy Boys’ in Dublin city in The Scatterin’ (1960), but Leonard’s misguided and ultimately aimless individuals have more to say about contemporary Irish experience, do so more subtly and with inevitably less sympathy for its characters. It was said the play called for “interwoven contemporary action, flashbacks and chorus commentaries, and [was] very cleverly handled by the joint directors, Godfrey Quigley and Jim FitzGerald”.37 In the first act, Owen and Alma, a couple in their mid-thirties, are bickering following being at the funeral of Owen’s father. We learn that Owen has arranged this get-together with his friends for around the time of the funeral. Despite the loss of his father, he is also consumed by an uncomfortable but uncertain memory, that he has caused upset in the past to his friends:

 ‘A Walk on the Water, at the Eblana’, Irish Times, 20 September 1960, 5.  Ibid.

36 37



OWEN: Told you—I ruined them … I must have. I sent Barney that note because I wanted to find out … what happened. Afterwards … I didn’t wait, you see. It’s like going back to see if you’ve left the tap running or the light on. You don’t want to.38 The lighting plan for the play utilised by Leonard in the stage directions emphasise a direct focus on the dichotomy of presence and place, between the present and the past. This has the effect of internalising and externalising the moment of memory recollection, that is, the above exchange of memory from Owen to Alma is scripted with stage directions that show “[Owen] crosses into the other area. The light begins to fade on Alma”, thus bringing the past foregrounded into the present and directly to the audience. Given the small scale of the Eblana stage, this would have accounted for an intimate atmosphere and experience.

Summer—Place, Heritage and Landscape The decline and loss of Ireland’s natural heritage as well as traditional values is also a foregrounded presence in Leonard’s work. The novelist Aidan Higgins, writing from London in a letter to Thomas Kilroy in October 1974 described his recognition of the downfall of Irish heritage and destruction of the landscape in the name of modernisation: [I] rarely pass over to Ireland but when last there I was struck by the curious ugliness of progress, Irish style, single domestic dwellings planted like sores here and there, stand on Killiney Hill and marvel at suburbia (here designated ‘slurb’) marching into Co. Wicklow.39

Terence Brown supports Higgins’ point through his observation that ostentatious consumption in a society enjoying a rapid rise in its standards of living marked the late 1960s and 1970s in Ireland. Motor cars, houses and foreign holidays became major preoccupations, if not passions. In 1978, for example, as the Irish Independent reported, half of all new houses in Dublin were detached houses, built for the upper end of the market.40  MS41, 954 (1), Script, A Walk on the Water, Hugh Leonard Papers, NLI, Dublin, 1–13.  P103/433, letter from Aidan Higgins to Thomas Kilroy, 10 October 1974, Thomas Kilroy Archive, JHL, NUI Galway. 40  Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922–2001 (London: Harper Collins, 2010), 248. 38 39



Geo-cultural scholars, Ken Taylor, Archer St. Clair and Nora J. Mitchell, speak of global indigenous cultures and their connection to local landscapes: “Where people and nature are regarded as inseparable in the philosophical sense of landscape being incomplete without people”.41 As Taylor et al. argue, progress is celebrated or lamented by the actions of those who live within a sustainable society.42 This line of argument can be traced through Leonard’s plays and dramatic representation—the sense of loss of people and habitation. In John Murphy’s The Country Boy (1959), Curly’s possible departure from the family home and the country at a crucial juncture—such as when the parental generation reaches age of physical infirmary and also economic unviability, represents a threat to the national economic modernisation and development project of the country. This idiom is also explored by Brian Friel through the climactic decision of Gar in Philadelphia! as the filial duty of son, Gar, is represented through his expected succession within the village shop and homeplace of rural Ballybeg. Irish policy and government outlook were aware of major housing concerns in Ireland within this period. The Fianna Fáil Minister for Local Government of the early 1960s, Neil Blaney, authorised the construction of the Ballymun tower blocks in order to counteract the growing population demand and urban sprawl of Dublin City. This programme was one of the defining features of Irish urban and ‘new town’ planning of the 1960s and 1970s in particular. Leonard’s plays offer a blurring of traditional dramatic boundaries of time and place. As Luengo surmises, during the decade of the 1970s, a shift occurred in relationships between territorial identities and the conservation of local heritage and natural resources. In line with wider globalisation practices, the sense of one’s place was dramatically impacted as emerging generations sought to reconcile their identity and role in historical and spatial memories of place. “The shifts are probably accentuated by new communication technologies that have erased our traditional concepts of time and space and as a result, unfamiliar relationships are being established”.43 Traditional Irish realist dramatic convention stipulates a specific temporal and chronological stability to the 41  Ken Taylor, Archer St. Clair and Nora J. Mitchell, eds., Conserving Cultural Landscapes: Challenges and New Directions (New York: Routledge, 2015), x–xi. 42  Ken Taylor, Archer St. Clair and Nora J. Mitchell, eds., Conserving Cultural Landscapes: Challenges and New Directions (New York: Routledge, 2015), xi. 43  Taylor et al., xii.



on-stage action—a set of characters in recognisable locations in a recognisable time involved in recognisable acts. The psychological effect on behalf of Irish audiences to such locations and times creates a non-recognition of contemporary Ireland through their own lack of physical connection to the land, new suburban localities and heritage. Julian Smith appeals to the necessity for an entirely new cultural landscape theory and practice that recognises the move from an object-centred focus to one which recognises the wider ecology of the settled and unsettled landscape, one that considers the relationship among objects as much as their individual distinctiveness. And more importantly, it is an ecology that is both natural and cultural, involving humans as integral parts of these relationships.44 In terms of Irish drama generally, this shift too is necessary in order to look beyond the surface level of place and into the stratified multi-layered ecology of Leonard’s Dublin sites. The pre-Celtic stone cross that is present at the opening of Summer is one such example of the move from isolated object to interconnected ecology. The tangible item that is wilfully neglected by the indifferent public in the play is highlighted by the as yet off-stage suburban development beneath Killiney Hill. Smith places an ecological framework to the consideration and treatment of historical places and on the objects ‘in relationship to each other and to the people who shape them and use them … the treatment of historic places within an ecological perspective does not necessarily tend towards physical conservation, restoration or reconstruction. Instead, various forms of revitalisation—economic, social, cultural and political as well as physical—become more common.45 Smith argues this is apt because ‘historic places are understood as layered’, where tangible and intangible connectivity sustain the integrity of specific places. “Architecture and landscape become interwoven with cultural practice”.46 Smith also argues for the recognition of the importance of experience when assessing place as a site of archival remembrance, a repository of cultural presence: The rituals of cultural practice define the shape and meaning of the urban environment as much as the physical forms within which they occur. Ritual and artefact define each other, and their cultural meaning emerges at the

 Taylor et al., 182.  Julian Smith, in Taylor et al., 185. 46  Ibid. 44 45



point of intersection. Cultural landscapes are places informed by cultural imagination, understood and valued through experience.47

This cultural landscape theory can be applied to the staging of the Dublin backdrop of Leonard’s plays. The world in which Leonard develops on stage are never passive vessels in which his characters live and happen to be located in, but instead are active shapers of the environment and lives of the people we encounter. The canal waters in Madigan’s Lock, for example, offer a medium of escape to a fantasy pub paradise. The home of Charlie and his father in Da, allows for a physical containment of memory and ghosts within the family home itself. The lived experiences of these sites are evidence of a definitive and vital break from the peasant cottage of realist Irish drama and a move into modern, site-shifting and fluid worlds that are themselves under development within the play. The Irish society of the 1970s, of which Leonard was both a product of and a commentator on, included an emerging disparity of class and economic position in terms of housing and the ascribed social position one’s address placed them in the eyes of others. Irish theatre-going would not be exempt from the effects of this expanding housing boom. Programmes of plays produced at the Abbey Theatre, for example, carried advertisements from banks offering increasingly competitive mortgage rates. ‘Abbey Builders’ would trade on the national theatre’s name and status in attracting business from an audience seen as being comfortably middle class, earning steady wages, married and having families and consciously ‘upwardly mobile’ in accruing social status.48 In the Irish-language premiere of Tom Murphy’s Famine, translated by actor Mick Lally and staged at the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in 1975, a glaring error of judgement was published in the programme. On a double-­ page spread, the left-hand page features a triptych of images depicting three stages of the effect of the Famine in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland—starvation, emigration and desertion of Irish towns and villages. Adjacent to this lays a full-page advertisement for Fahy Builders, offering premiere building services and best rates with an image a two-storey  Ibid.  For more about advertising and the Abbey Theatre programmes see Patrick Lonergan, “The academic impact of the Abbey Theatre Digital Archive”, at NUI Galway Symposium, Digitising the Abbey Theatre Archive—Journey and Destination, Accessed 12 November 2020. 47 48



Fig. 6.2  Programme excerpt from An Taibhdhearc production of Gorta (Famine) by Tom Murphy and translated by Mick Lally. (©Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Archive, NUI Galway)

detached home, garden and white picket fence—the very image of white American middle-class suburbia that was influencing such similar development in Ireland (Fig. 6.2).49 In 1974, plans to redevelop the Liberties area of Dublin city were covered in a report for Seven Days on RTÉ television. The message from the residents was clear—the essence of the Liberties was community, often built on familiarity through generations of successive families living side-­ by-­side. Stringent opposition was presented against the proposed relocation of residents to new developments and estates in Dublin’s suburban hinterland. The report informs viewers that “the houses of the Liberties 49  T1/4/285 programme, Gorta, translated by Mick Lally, from Famine by Tom Murphy, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe Archive, JHL, NUI Galway.



and the older parts of Dublin have been gradually disappearing. Despite the drain of life that has already taken place in the heart of the city, [residents] are determined to stay put.”50 Broadcaster and journalist Marion Finucane was interviewed during the student occupation of a series of Georgian building’s on Stephen’s Green and Hume Street in 1970. As a then architecture student, Finucane stated it was part of her responsibility as a student funded by the tax-payer but also as a Dubliner.51 Such civic responsibility and engaged consideration for Irish tradition and heritage is an absent trait in the characters across Leonard’s repertoire. Maxwell further points out that the urban plays of Thomas Kilroy, Hugh Leonard, James Douglas and others, are constant reminders of what is past and lost—among others things—an Anglo-Irish architectural heritage: The lives of middle-class city dwellers and suburbanites have increasingly become a subject. The slums of Dublin and its inner-city flats are the fallen world of Thomas Kilroy’s plays. Its essence is a legacy, whatever the cruelties of its making of ‘tall house, tall windows, tall doors with steps to every door’ and the indignities brought upon it by its sad, lost inheritors.52

Critic David Nowlan reviewed the Irish premiere of Summer at the Olympia Theatre in October 1974. “Very few serious playwrights”, Nowlan observed, “have attempted to look seriously into the middle-class soul of Irish suburbia. In Summer, which opened to a rapturous reception in the Olympia last night, Hugh Leonard peers into the limbo of south Co. Dublin, and despite an obvious warmth in the writing, finds a rattle of skeletons in the concrete cupboard”.53 Nowlan’s one criticism of the play is that beneath the comic and witty dialogue and obvious dramatic merit of the play, it lacks a fulsome social criticism on the wanton destruction of Irish natural heritage. The play remains, however, “the closest thing to Tchekov that Irish drama knows—a compassionate exposition of small, real people, kicking around in their ruts with little enough, god knows, to 50  “Demolition and Development of The Liberties”, RTÉ ‘Seven Days’, 8 February 1974, Accessed 19 February 2017. 51   ‘Wednesday Report’, RTÉ, 14 January 1970. 0114/497696-hume-street-occupation-1970/ Accessed 19 February 2017. 52  Maxwell (1984, 172). 53  “Play by Hugh Leonard at Olympia”, Irish Times, 08 October 1974, 10.



talk or dream about All this is tricked out and bedecked with a succession of gags and epigrams such as only Hugh Leonard can provide and it is played with superb skill by everyone concerned”.54 Summer is set and opens upon Killiney Hill, on the coast of the south Dublin suburb of Dalkey where Hugh Leonard grew up. Act 1 is staged in summer of 1968 with the second and final act bringing the groups of couples back to Killiney Hill six years later in late summer of 1974. Leonard describes the setting in his opening stage directions. “An age worn Celtic cross juts up at an angle near the summit. There is a suggestion of trees, and there is a wooden picnic table with flanking benches. The debris of the picnic has yet to be cleared up”.55 The image is striking with the harsh grey worn stone cross reminiscent of an early Christian Ireland, rich in Gaelic Irish custom and traditions. High crosses often functioned as marking points, indicating many significant roles but notably the location of borders or meeting places. These stone markers are visible and tangible links to Ireland’s traditional and topographical past, one that is increasingly forgotten in the increasingly industrialising economy and homogenising landscape. The stone relics are also at odds with the setting of the picnic for the three sets of couples. The crosses delineated a sacred space, a place of quiet solitude and spiritual reflection. In setting the picnic table with its growing discarded waste strewn on the ground, the visitors have decided to turn their back on religion and Christian sentiment and instead embrace commercialism and material comfort as a representation of personal amelioration. Tom Murphy would take a similar critique within his play The Sanctuary Lamp, performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1975. Murphy’s play set out an occupation of the interior church space, by a down-and-out and other seemingly disjointed individuals. The figures are loomed over by immense stone columns, “to dwarf the human form”, and rage against God, society and the place of religion, economy and class in Irish life. Like Leonard, Murphy cites the middle classes, ‘glutinous pigs’, as one of the harbingers of the collapse of contemporary Ireland, where monetary greed and personal aspiration has made redundant the concept of a fair and equal society. As Francisco recounts to Harry about the loss of his roving compatriot owing to their Bohemian lifestyle: “FRANCISCO: But, of course, that had to end. My best friend deserted me. Got married,  Ibid.  Hugh Leonard (1992, 235).

54 55



middle-class values, the lot, a little woman.”56 As Leonard presents an opening scene of a now obsolete holy Christian relic, it is positioned, worn and slanted, surrounded by the detritus of the disposable consumerist society, religion is recognised to be slowly dying out. As Francisco says to Harry in The Sanctuary Lamp, “FRANCISCO: You are flogging a dead horse there, Har.”57 Act 1 of Summer opens in the recent past, “one day”, an indiscernible moment when ‘Stormy’ recounts how he got that nickname from a Christian Brother in his school. Stormy represents a masculine presence in his own mind but also symbolises the tempestuous relationship he shares with his wife, Jan. The other married couples, Jess and Myra and Richard and Trina, are representative of the married middle classes that Leonard paints with a generally negative brush in his plays—couples who have unsteady marriages, copious sexual affairs, but are often of strong Republican politics. They tend to perform their social respectability rather than seek to embody it. The thick haze of the opening scene masks the view of the coastline but also allows a silhouetted view of the new homes that Stormy, an independent developer, is building. He adds that he “is in the trade” and that “there’s a fair few quid in the country now”.58 The second act begins after the passage of six years. In the intervening period industry and ‘progress’ has won out over heritage and concerns of preserving Ireland’s past. The stage directions read: The Celtic cross is gone; in its place is a notice board. The trees—if any were visible previously—have been chopped down. There is a suggestion that the area is being cleared for ‘development’ … the sunlight has a harshness which suggests a chill in the air.59

The scene begins with an act of non-recognition of place and of time. As obsolete as the recent past is, located beyond memory, Leonard presents his characters as not fully recognising the present. It is unsettling and ultimately unfamiliar: STORMY: This is not the place. 56  Tom Murphy, “The Sanctuary Lamp”, Tom Murphy Plays: 3 (London: Methuen Drama, 1994), 138. 57  Murphy (1994, 156). 58  Leonard (1992, 238). 59  Ibid., 271.




There used to be a Celtic cross … (reading) St. Eanna’s Cross, which stood on this spot, has been removed to the National Museum of Ireland.60

The value of land is now based purely on monetary terms, rather than for any cultural value that may be present in a preserved physical heritage. As Leonard castigated the resurgent nationalism and republicanism that fuelled the border campaign of the IRA in the late 1950s in his play, A Leap in the Dark, in Summer he presents this as the new occupation of Irish soil and land—the colonisation of the landscape for capitalist exploitive gains. Brian Friel mirrors this point in his political satire, The Mundy Scheme, first performed at the Olympia Theatre in June 1969. In a set-up of the perceived prevailing political culture within 1960s Ireland, the Taoiseach on Friel’s play, F.X.  Ryan receives the offer a scheme to save Ireland from bankruptcy. American speculator, Mr. Mundy, sees valuable urban land going to waste all over the world through use as graveyards. Mundy’s plan involves an offer of $100 per acre of ‘worthless’ rural Irish land, namely in the west of Ireland, for use as a mass graveyard, seen as the most suitable of resting places for the dead of western society who have long lost all appreciation for ecological or heritage issues. Stormy is able to recognise the developed lands beneath Killiney Hill as being the work of ‘Bellavista Homes’. “STORMY: How did those buggers get permission? … to build homes. Down there used to be country.”61 The disregard for national history and public heritage is dismissed by Jan, saying, “JAN: Who cares … No one does”.62 The group reminisce and gossip about friends and neighbours and events of the last few years. Stormy discusses his business developments and the callous and uncaring stance of the developer: “it’s the modern concept: space elimination”.63 Richard and Jan rekindle discussion of their unfulfilled affair, just as simultaneously Lou and Michael also raise their potential but equally unfulfilled love affair from six years ago. Lou reveals she is now separated from Pearse, that marriage was in his view, in haste, and she is now pregnant with his child. Michael concludes that the reason Lou and Pearse broke up was owing to Pearse being from a broken home:  Ibid.  Ibid., 272. 62  Ibid., 272. 63  Ibid., 282. 60 61



“MICHAEL: That’s the cause of it. Broken home. My god, its textbook, he hadn’t a hope”.64 The dialogue slips interchangeably between couples and between generations, young and old. Time and place are intermingled and simultaneously disfigured. The apparent happiness of each couple slowly unravels as the fabric of their Ireland and their respective communities becomes undone. RICHARD: It takes so many years and you do so much harm before you own up to it that in your whole life there is you and there are strangers and there is no one else.65 Richard and Jan are caught by Myra discussing their six-year affair. Their sexuality is likened to animals, unchristian and the material for idle village gossip. The play ends with a final confrontation between the two generations, Michael and Lou are talking when Stormy interrupts and accuses the youth of being unable to find their own culture and so must adopt that of their parents. Michael and Lou reference the signs of a renewed music and youth culture in Dublin, with links to the punk movement of urban Dublin that is influenced by the London music scene. Teddy Boys were mainly jazz aficionados and here Leonard mirrors the rock musical The Scatterin’ by James McKenna. At the end of the 1970s, and with Leonard placing his characters within the passing of youth cultural trends, this passage is an allusion to further oncoming cultural shifts, that of Teddy Boys giving way to the punk movement in Ireland, inspired by British bands such as The Clash and the Sex Pistols, among others (Fig. 6.3).

‘Unreal City’—Leonard and Encountering Memory Erika Hanna defines the city as a site where a multiplicity of identities and agendas were visualised, debated and given a concrete reality.66 While Hanna’s in-depth study focuses on the visible and tangible change to the urban landscape in modern Dublin, Leonard’s plays offer a glimpse into the unreality of the time—the dramatised non-recognition of this social change by characters that are consumed with their own personal monetary and social amelioration. The functionality of the physical spaces inhabited  Ibid., 293.  Ibid., 295. 66  Erika Hanna, Modern Dublin: Urban Change and the Irish Past, 1957–1973 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013), 2. 64 65



Fig. 6.3  Scene from The Scatterin’ by James McKenna, Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 1973. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway)

by Leonard’s characters is sacrificed for the optics of a modern and affluent middle-class lifestyle, which has all but forgotten any sense of a common and shared existence. This changing representation of inhabited space is manifested within the dramaturgy and scenography of Leonard’s plays. This point is evident in The Patrick Pearse Motel (1971) where the play is set in the living room of Dermod and Grainne. It is described as ‘an abject lesson in gracious living’,67 where even the most simple coffee table is marble and an under-stairs space is converted into a bar, a space so cramped and unsuitable that “no one who is more than five-foot-two inches in height can stand erect in it”.68 The first Irish production of Da was held at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on 8 October 1973, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Its world premiere was held at the Olney Theatre, Maryland (USA), in August  Leonard (1992, 89).  Ibid.

67 68



1973. In Da, Charlie returns to his home in Dublin for the funeral of his father, but the ghost of Da is still present and he and Charlie confront their shared pasts and memory. The setting has resonance for the unfolding of the play. The childhood home, a place which in reality for Leonard was a space dominated by his mother’s rules but influenced by his father’s actions, has now moved beyond being in the mould of the traditional Irish rural family. Instead, for Charlie, his life has fissured from time and allows him a place to openly confront the memory and spirit of his deceased father. Ireland and its realities of suburban sophistication is ideologically distanced from Charlie who is nostalgic for the past and the security of childhood. The audience witness the memory and the legacy of Charlie, Da and their familial past as it is represented by documents and archival remnants that now reside in a drawer in the kitchen. Leonard’s opening stage directions place Charlie in his overcoat standing at the kitchen table sorting family papers, letters and photographs. Leonard writes: There are many playing areas. The main one is the kitchen. This is the kitchen living-room plus hallway of a corporation house. There is an exit at the rear to the scullery and the hint of stairs running up from the hall. There are two areas at either side of the kitchen and a series of connecting steps and ramps which climb up and over, behind the kitchen.69

The internal domestic space is consistent with traditional Irish realist drama—a familiar and recognisable kitchen space. However, as the set moves down to the forestage, it immediately breaks with tradition. The presence of a cross-stage ramp offers an undulating break between interior and exterior and also between the present and the past. The majority of remembered scenes take place at this forestage that is a purgatorial-like space located between past memory and present reality. The present exterior is situated again at a sea-front location, where there is a park bench and a hilltop; all places and items that are present in earlier Leonard plays, such as the sea-front pier in A Walk on the Water and the hill of Killiney in Summer. Da is concerned with the past still existing within the present—archival memory of the past is made cognisant and recognisable to the characters 69   Abbey Theatre Digital ADM_00001322, p. 70.










in the present by archival documents such as letters and personal ephemera. These facets of the past, signifiers of an ethereal alternative present, are identified by Charlie as unwelcome intrusions in the present: “CHARLIE: Old faces. They’ve turned up like bills you thought you’d never have to pay”.70 This allegorical questioning of the past in order to seek out a deeper connection to the present is brought out by Leonard’s work and seeks to answer the contention: are we fully present as a collective society or merely existing as individuals? Da first appears and reanimates his relationship with Charlie from an off-stage space, entering from the scullery at the rear of the stage. However, as seen in Leonard’s earlier play, A Walk on the Water, Leonard creates another space within the stage outside of the confines of present realism. It is described as “a neutral space … defined by lighting. This can be a number of locales”.71 This point defines much of Leonard’s work which oscillates between past and present, between the obsession with memory and commemoration which paradoxically makes it impossible to forget. As Charlie reminds us: “[I]t’s not then, anymore, it’s now”.72 This line can also be taken for a cry for the condition Irish theatre in general and its reliance on an out-dated historic canon; a need for a radical and urgent reflection upon the contemporary Irish social condition. The play spoke to audiences directly and reflected upon their own time and place. The failed promise of modernisation, as criticised by Leonard, has also been discussed by historian Mary E. Daly, who, like Hanna, argues that this failure resulted in a shift in public opinion regarding the possibility of the emergence of a modern city. The new infrastructure, public spaces for recreation, dynamic living spaces and modern amenities were not supported or enabled by progressive public and government planning at local and national level. Instead, as Hanna identifies, the development of a modern urban city became an unrealised future.73 Leonard reflected on this failure in spatial planning by dramatising it as an unrealised present. Hanna suggests that the attempt to preserve the city and urban heritage of Dublin was akin to confirming it as authentically Irish in the same mould and worthy of equal preservation and protection as Gaelic traditions which were often nostalgically linked to the west of Ireland. Protests  Leonard (2002, 4).  Leonard (2002, 3). 72  Leonard (2002, 73). 73  Erika Hanna, 2–3. 70 71



against increased suburbanisation and slum clearance of the city were undertaken taken up by journalists, writers and artists. The driving ethos was to maintain the placement of the customs of the city alongside the Gaelic traditions of the west of Ireland as another ‘authentic’ Irish culture that was disappearing and worthy of preservation.74 Leonard was adamant that the persistent greed of developers, fuelled by political corruption at local and national level which favoured sub-size housing construction to maximise monetary return per holding of land was symptomatic of the failure of Irish independence itself. It was a re-­ colonisation of the Irish country and its land and resources. I suggest that this play allowed for the growth of the perception of Leonard’s plays being ‘un-Irish’, or at least the perception of being plays written by an outsider and which were merely ‘passing through’ Dublin via the Festival, ahead of going to America or coming from America. Da had almost 700 performances on Broadway … and the play’s popularity suggests that US audiences shared a deeply ambivalent relationship with the past.75 With Da, Leonard creates an alternative Irish play by subverting its focus on the family memory. The contested ground of Charlie’s memory and the relationship with his father decide where and when these transient memories and mobile locations are set. Leonard’s opening stage directions are clear in idea and deliberately abstract in form: One of the two areas is the sea-front … it includes a park-bench. Behind the sea-front, on the rising platforms, is the hill-top. On the other side of the stage is a neutral area, defined by lighting … the kitchen however, is the womb of the play.76

A review of the later 1983 production of Da at the Abbey Theatre described how the set (designed by Wendy Shea) unsettled the temporal present by invoking the co-presence of the past. This served the play through presenting the “detail of the distant past locked in the present … outside the dingy kitchen, Dalkey Hill loomed in the back garden, a pine forest was in the neighbour’s garden. The majesty of nature was  Erika Hanna, 142.   Fintan O’Toole, ed., Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2016). 76  Leonard, 1992, 167 (italics added by author). 74 75



juxtaposed with the domesticity, memory against reality”.77 Oliver is an old friend of Charlie’s, with allusions to a past time of a Catholic, Fianna Fáil-­voting, Irish Press-reading traditional outlook; a throwback to the economic, political and social conservativism of de Valera’s Ireland of the 1930s and 1940s. The Dalkey of the play was, and to a large extent, still is a mixed community, with ‘the quality’—which historically meant the Protestants—are to be found on the heights with the contrasting community—working-­ class Catholics—located within the town itself. The house in which we see Charlie and the ghost of both his father and his own younger self, is a composite of the author’s own life experience. The stigma of his father’s working life in servitude to the aristocratic Jacob family, is shameful to the younger generation who see entrepreneurial and monetary opportunity within Ireland of this era for the first time, as Charlie shames his father at the pension he received from his employers of over fifty years.78 The clash of generations, of memory and of nation all happens within the world of Charlie and his father. As Drumm warns Da, “I’m advising you to live in your own world, not with one foot in his”.79 The essence of Da revealed an Ireland at odds with its own succession into modernity.

Conclusion Leonard counted inaction and apathy within Irish society among the chief problems of the modernising Republic and of Irish theatre itself. Driven by an increasing consumerist mentality that had created Irish cultural industries out of figures such as Yeats and Joyce, Irish identity had become unrecognisable behind the price-tag of what that ‘Irishness’ is now worth on the world market. Leonard would write in an essay, “The Unimportance of Being Irish”: We always knew what was wrong with Irish Theatre—and Irish fiction and Irish poetry—but we had forgotten, and now it comes back to us. What is wrong is that we attend seminars and talk about it, instead of staying home to do it.80  Da Review, Irish Press, 24 June 1983.  Leonard (1992, 219). 79  Leonard (2002, 32). 80   MS 41/960 (2), “The Unimportance of Being Irish”, Hugh Leonard Papers, NLI, Dublin. 77 78



Christopher Murray highlights the importance of a renewed appreciation and deeper understanding of the plays of Hugh Leonard. Murray cites Leonard as being an often-lone voice writing and dramatising the social malaise of Ireland in terms of material aspiration and political and social corruption: Leonard was among the first playwrights to expose the potential for corruption in the new access to affluence. While maintaining good humour, he showed that the new Ireland, energised by greed but inhabited by inexperience, was sexually, socially and politically in free-fall.81

Factors such as an annual billing in the Dublin Theatre Festival, sound financial backing through the increasingly well-paid (and reliable) work of writing for television, lucrative tax breaks as well as access to national print column in a widely circulating national broadsheet, Leonard spread his undoubted literary gifts thinly. Maxwell surmises: “[Leonard] has an informed fascination with farce … [but] He invites the suspicion that he constructs his plays—with great skill—around good lines. The good lines are memorably funny; their occasion and their deliverers are more likely to fade from recollection”.82 Like many of the characters in his plays or the self-projection of himself as Charlie in Da, Leonard was battling against an ingrained mentality of a prescriptive Abbey Board. Tom Murphy, contemporary of Leonard and Board member of the Abbey Theatre submitted a three-year artistic policy for the Abbey in 1978. One point Murphy raised concerned a lack of engagement by the Abbey with Ireland’s Nobel Prize-winning playwrights: W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett. Murphy mentions this as he fears ‘an element to pander’ is creeping in’, perhaps due to increasing awareness of box-office returns. Murphy questions the following: Is it felt that the lesser writers are the ones that get the audiences in? and to keep them coming in? Is it felt that laughter in the house is the highest proof of theatre’s existence? … If we are inclined in this direction then the attitude

 Murray (1997, 183).  Maxwell (1984, 175–176).

81 82



reflected in our programme is more reminiscent of—at best—a provincial repertory company than that of a national theatre.83

This point by Murphy can be considered as being a rather thinly veiled broadside against the style of work propagated by Leonard.84 With such barbed opposition to comedy and populism, to find a place at the table of the national theatre was always an uphill struggle. This is despite the fact that the Board of the Abbey at this time was also considering a new policy of soliciting new plays that were considered on a ‘theatrical basis rather than an academic or literary one’, in a signal of wanting to reach outwards and attract new audiences.85 In discussing Madigan’s Lock, many years after its premiere, Leonard stated that “what audiences found beguiling all those years ago was the possibility of Magic: the wild, one in a million hope, to be clutched at, as it were floating wreckage, as there exists a Golden Fleece, a Grail, a Shangri-la; anything to save us from drowning in the ordinary”.86 It is important to consider this point in a wider understanding of Leonard’s drama. As unashamedly populist as he was in his writing, Leonard always gravitated towards lifting audiences from drowning in the mire of ordinariness. His plays spoke directly to the Ireland that produced them and gave a vantage point into a changing Ireland and crucially also into the private lives of Irish citizens in a historically important period. Leonard produced an alternative dramatic view of Ireland. He utilised experimental and non-traditional devices to immerse audiences within dichotomous times and locations, both of the present and of the past. Leonard’s plays staged an unfamiliar present, one which foregrounded contemporary social issues, documented the middle classes of his locality and staged a dramatic dialogue with modern Ireland.

 P103/546, Three Year Artistic Policy submitted to Abbey Theatre, Thomas Kilroy papers, JHL, NUI Galway. 84  Leonard had three plays staged at the Abbey Theatre in the previous four years—Time Was (1976, 1977), Stephen D (1978) and A Life (1979). 85  P103/546, Minutes of Abbey Theatre Literary Department; 1978; Thomas Kilroy papers, James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway. 86  Leonard (1987, 6). 83


1970s Ireland: Performing the Immersive Political

As the 1950s began a period of great cultural change for Irish drama, so too did the 1970s. Brendan Smith, Director of the Dublin Theatre Festival, faced mounting pressure of financial losses from funding cuts and lower audiences. In 1972, festival attendance was down by half, by 55 per cent on the previous year. A major loss in funding was felt as Bórd Fáilte completely withdrew its funding. The Abbey Theatre had witnessed a succession of Artistic Directors throughout the 1970s—Alan Simpson, Hugh Hunt, Lelia Doolan, Tomás Mac Anna and Joe Dowling, all filled the role within the decade. At the Gate, Edwards and MacLiammóir were coming into their twilight years, with much change happening at the Gate Theatre in those years also. The 1970s would act as a bridge between the new generation of playwrights that emerged in the 1960s and the growth of new Irish theatre companies that would become established from the late part of the decade, and through the 1980s, including Druid Theatre Company, Charabanc Theatre Company and Rough Magic Theatre Company. At the Abbey, the onset of the 1970s also saw a large-scale change in managerial and artistic management, a pattern that would remain in coming years. This chapter will address the historiographic absences around theatrical development in Ireland during the 1970s, as well as how Ireland once more looked internationally in shaping new directions for Irish theatre. The period saw new forms of drama reflect the political and social developments of the decade. Immersive drama at the Abbey Theatre, for © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




example, saw audience members perform their spectatorship physically on the Abbey stage. Other venues like Project Arts Centre staged a season of new Irish works that sought to project an honest reflection of modern Ireland, including documentary drama, while dealing with risks of further clerical censorship. New plays reflected the expanding diplomatic presence of Ireland on the global political stage, and provoke protests in response to how Irish Catholic missionaries in Nigeria were depicted at the Gate Theatre. Early in the 1970s, Lelia Doolan was appointed Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre. She was unable to fulfil both her artistic programme and her vision owing to pressures and conflicts from within the theatre itself, most notably from the Board of the Abbey Theatre. Throughout this chapter, as Ireland sought to move beyond its colonial past, events in Irish theatre will show how Ireland was part of a cultural battleground, where it performed its political nous while striving to project its modernity internationally.

Lelia Doolan: ‘Bringing Theatre to the People’ In December 1971, Lelia Doolan took up her position as Artistic Director at the Abbey Theatre. She announced her artistic policy the following year, at a press conference in the Peacock Theatre on 30 August 1972. In an interview with RTÉ News following the press conference, Doolan outlined her plans for developing a “creative fusion of actor, audience and author”, consolidating the aims and the artistic vision of the Abbey with the resources it had at its disposal. A three-year plan was to open with a year of classics, foregrounding the heritage and tradition of Irish drama and acting. Years two and three were to “launch forth into new sinews of endeavour”. The Peacock Theatre was to be developed as a space to “afford actor, audience and author with an opportunity to consider other forms of work, experiment, look at poetic plays and Irish language plays”.1 In clarifying her intent to bring ‘theatre to the people’, Doolan outlined how, “in an age in which street theatre, television, and other forms of art are influencing and interesting people, we feel as a national company it is our duty to get out as much as we can”.2 Among Doolan’s immediate concerns was the provision of training and development within the Abbey  “First Female Artistic Director at Ireland’s National Theatre 1972”. RTÉ Archives, 30 August 1972.­at-the-abbey-theatre/, Accessed 24 October 2020. 2  Ibid. 1



company. Techniques in voice, movement and design were prioritised. In July 1972 Doolan travelled to London to meet with voice specialist Cecily Berry, where questions of new techniques in voice training for actors in Irish theatre were discussed.3 The appointment of Patrick Mason as Voice Coach at the Abbey by Doolan in the same year was testament to her vision for artistic development and theatrical modernisation: new roles filled by energetic and skilled individuals who would contribute widely to the creative process. Doolan’s vision and impact at the Abbey Theatre has largely been overlooked. Her appointment came at a pivotal time on many fronts. As Doolan outlined in her interview with RTÉ News in 1972, theatre audiences wanted new experiences and were attracted by new forms of increased leisure activities, as well as the growth of new of alternative theatre venues, such as the Focus Theatre and the Project Arts Centre. Doolan was committed to exploring new and experimental works, both from new Irish plays and through European classics. The Irish language was firmly represented in her artistic planning. Development of actors and young company members, outreach into education and training were all among the public-centred roles of the national theatre and as committed to by Doolan. In February 1972, Doolan visited Paris at the invitation of the French Embassy to undertake meetings with Jean Louis Barrault, Artistic Director of La Comédie Française, and with Madame Mnouchkine of Theatre du Soleil, where Irish designer Bronwen Casson was then working. These experiences allowed for the fermenting of future important relationships for Doolan and for the Abbey Theatre where Casson would become a central figure in design.4

3  Letter from Lelia Doolan to Patrick Mason, 4 July 1972. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, ADM 00000184, p. 2. Doolan confirmed Mason’s appointment at the Abbey Theatre in a letter dated 27 April 1972. ADM 00000184, p. 85. 4  The working relationships established at the Peacock (and Abbey) Theatre through director Patrick Mason, designer Bronwen Casson and playwright Tom MacIntyre throughout the later 1970s and 1980s resulted, as Casson has commented and as quoted by Siobhan O’Gorman, in ‘a co-operative’, a collaborative artistic team and model, which was instigated by Lelia Doolan in the early 1970s. For more on this see Siobhán O’Gorman, “Irish Theatre: A Designer’s Theatre”, The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Irish Theatre and Performance, eds. Eamonn Jordan and Eric Weitz (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). 345–346.



Doolan was born in Cork in 1934. Following the completion of her studies at University College Dublin, where she took French and German, Doolan undertook a scholarship to Berlin in 1955 for a year. There, she was able to attend the Berliner Ensemble and observe rehearsals by the actors directed by Bertolt Brecht: “You could scoot across and get a ticket to attend rehearsals. It was frightening in a way—it was very militarized with Russian soldiers, their guns pointed everywhere”.5 The experience afforded an opportunity to be immersed in the expressionistic style of production, design and direction associated with Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble. Other contacts made at this time spent in Berlin would inform Doolan’s future outlook and plans when working as Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. As Brecht wrote, “the modern theatre mustn’t be judged by its successes in satisfying the audience’s habits but by its successes in transforming them”. Brecht’s concern was less invested in the hopes of a spectator buying a theatre ticket but rather in whether the performance enhances their knowledge in the world.6 As Doolan’s programming at the Abbey Theatre demonstrated, this vision was also central to her vision for the national theatre in Ireland. Peter Palitzsch was one of Europe’s most important directors of the twentieth century, having produced work by Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey and Harold Pinter, as well as supporting new writing from German and European playwrights and in working with the Berliner Ensemble alongside Bertolt Brecht. Palitzsch utilised expressionistic and epic forms of theatre to explore the presentation of contemporary political issues. In 1967, Palitszch produced Macbird, a political satire targeting the US President Lyndon Johnson, and drew pointed rebuke from German political classes such as the Christian Democrats. Palitzsch became director of the Frankfurt Theatre in 1972, a position he held until 1980. In 1972, he initiated a policy of inclusive participation (Mitbestimmung) that gave all the staff a voice in running the theatre. In November 1973, Doolan engaged Palitzsch in dialogue via telegram, “in remembrance of Berlin 1956 attending your rehearsals of Playboy of the Western World”.7 5   Interview with Lelia Doolan,­ palace/, Accessed 2 April 2021. 6  Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. John Willett (London: Methuen, 2001) 161. 7  In an interview, Doolan recounted her memories of seeing the rehearsals of this production of The Playboy of the Western World: “It was a Playboy without any poetry of any description. There were song performances between scenes, and characters commented on what was



Doolan invited Palitszch to direct Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan (first performed in 1943), at the Abbey Theatre in 1974, or another Brecht play of his choosing. Palitszch replied in expressing his delight at Doolan’s invitation to direct at the Abbey before adding his concerns that his English was not at the standard necessary to direct the play, suggesting two young Irish directors could perhaps assist him. For these reasons, which Palitszch assures Doolan they can discuss further, he doesn’t think Brecht’s play ‘Der gute Mensch von Sezuan’ would be a good choice.8 While the collaboration between Palitszch, Doolan and the Abbey Theatre didn’t materialise, the experience of travelling to Germany in the mid-1950s and encountering works and techniques in direction by Palitzsch was important for Doolan in building her own visions for a rejuvenated Irish theatre. This vision extended beyond continuing what was the Irish (Abbey) tradition and repertoire of plays, or a homogenous form of acting. Rather, Doolan proposed a raft of proposals deemed necessary to reinvigorate the craft of performance in Ireland. These proposals would also succeed in enriching Irish theatre through European forms of expressionism and in particular ‘Brechtian’ forms of performance and presentation. Doolan also directed some experimental new productions at the Peacock studio during her tenure as Artistic Director. She directed Eye-­ Winker Tom-Tinker, Tom MacIntyre’s first play, at the Peacock on 8 August 1972. The play, designed by Brian Collins, was set in the ill-defined present Dublin where a charismatic revolutionary figure, Shooks, returns to the basement office of The Movement, in Dublin City. Shooks is a Hamlet-like figure, played by Frank Grimes, who seeks to inspire a heroic masculinity but ultimately fails in his Shakespearean vision and identity of greatness, through his inability to act and inspire revolutionary leadership. Martí’s idealistic political writings of the mid-nineteenth-century Cuba as quoted in the programme, provide links to the international political influences as being considered in then contemporary Dublin and through Doolan’s programme on 1972–1973 season. Shooks embodied the going on. It was played in a neo-realist style—provoking people to question their reaction to this young man who had killed his father.”­ picture-­palace/, Accessed 2 April 2021. 8  Letter from Peter Palitszch to Lelia Doolan, 29 October 1973. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. My thanks to Dr. Deirdre Byrnes of NUI Galway for help with translating this letter.



rhetorical fortitude of Irish revolutionary leaders Robert Emmet or Theobald Wolfe Tone, but also the eventual failure of respective Irish revolutions. MacIntyre’s play explored the social conservativism and a perceived artistic malaise within Irish society. As MacIntyre outlined in an interview, Dublin theatre lacked “madness, energy and daring”.9 In directing the play Doolan utilised expressionistic techniques and Brechtian form to bring forth the political message of MacIntyre’s play. The use of the ensemble in performance and an episodic structure served to heightened the Brechtian influence which Doolan brought to her direction and programming at the Abbey Theatre during her tenure. In July 1973, John Slemon, Abbey Theatre General Manager, sent a memo to Doolan outlining the “implications of the present financial situations”.10 Slemon predicted that based on estimates of receipts and expenditure from 1972–1973 the Abbey was facing a potential accumulated deficit of £211,000 by end of March 1974. The Irish government had, in October 1972, warned that no further supplementary grants would be given to aid the Abbey’s ailing finances. While the Abbey had facility for overdraft of up to £55,000, Slemon warned an overdraft of £150,000 could be required if also not wanted, owing to the pressures that would bring to the accumulated debt of the theatre. Slemon put forward a number of recommendations, including that casual players, designers, wardrobe and so on would be cut back, overtime would be limited, use of existing Abbey players only allowed, and the Peacock deficit would be reduced by £5000 through cost-saving measures, such as by limiting guest players, thereby minimising what Slemon considered the “excessive” debts of the Peacock.11 The plan for a Junior Theatre Workshop, proposed by Doolan to the Abbey Board June 1973, was also rejected outright by Slemon, who described it as “folly under present circumstances”, as it was projected to cost £20,000 annually. Doolan’s proposal was designed to rejuvenate the Abbey as a theatre educator, and for the theatre to be an active teacher for young actors. A confidential letter was sent from the Board of Directors of the Abbey Theatre to the Secretary of the Department of the Taoiseach on 9  “Tom MacIntyre Whose first play “Eye-Winker, Tom-Tinker” opens at the Peacock tonight”, Irish Times, 8 August 1972. 10. 10  Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 5 July 1973. 11  Memo from John Slemon to Lelia Doolan, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, 5 July 1973.



19 December 1973. The letter outlined the concerns of the Board regarding a proposal made by the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch T.D. on the debate on the second reading of the Arts Bill 1973. Lynch proposed placing the administration of the grant-in-aid paid to the Abbey annually under the auspices of a reconstituted Comhairle Ealaíon (Arts Council), thus creating a layer of remove between the Abbey and the government, which issued the annual grant to the Abbey. This move was considered “undesirable” and could potentially lessen the annual grant to the Abbey through less direct dialogue between both parties.12 In August 1973, Doolan submitted a letter to the Abbey Board outlining her present situation in which she stated that “the conditions of [her] work and of [her] contract are in contradiction”.13 This contradiction related primarily to Doolan’s position of Artistic Director which in reality was greatly constricted by the power of the Abbey Board, the influence of the Board upon members of the Players Council of the Abbey, as well as by administrative clashes regarding financing of new artistic programming and training for actors. There was also reticence evident within the available archival files of the Abbey at the time to embrace change and with it, the vision Doolan had presented in order to ‘bring theatre to the people’. As Doolan states: “I have tried to be an artistic director in a company that has pre-conceived views on how it should be directed and a Board that ignores and resists the truth”.14 Doolan outlined a number of problems that reflected why her work and contract were in contradiction: (1) as with previous Abbey Directors, such as Ria Mooney, Frank Dermody, Walter Macken, Alan Simpson and Hugh Hunt, Doolan lacked the clear support for the role of Artistic Director or the resources needed to ensure her planning succeeded. (2) The system of play-reading and decisions at Board meetings was slow, cumbersome and antagonising to authors. It also made adequate planning and programming of new work much more difficult. Authors, Doolan claimed, were clearly aware of the control the Abbey Board held over artistic programming decisions. Doolan further stipulated that this point was “the single most inhibiting factor to renewal that the theatre now faces”. (3) No 12  Letter from Board of Directors of Abbey Theatre to Secretary, Department of the Taoiseach, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, 19 December 1973. 13  Letter by Lelia Doolan to the Board of the Abbey Theatre, 28 August 1973. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 119–120. 14  Lelia Doolan, Letter to the Board of the Abbey Theatre, 28 August 1973, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 119–120.



adequate panel of producers was available nor was there a budget available to train them. (4) The close contact “as required” with the General Manager. The Manager of the Abbey was responsible to the Board for all financial and administrative planning and ultimately held great influence over Doolan’s ability to discharge her duties as Artistic Director. As Abbey Manager, John Slemon advised Doolan through numerous memos and reports in 1972 and 1973 how finances ensured the reduction (or in some cases the complete removal) of many of her plans such as to increase technical training for actors and designers or the establishment of a junior theatre workshop. (5) The “powerful presence” on the Board of director [Tomás Mac Anna], together with the Players Council representative tended to add to the already difficult situation. Doolan described these factors as having left her in “a sense of helplessness”. These points combined serve to reveal a tenuous relationship between management, the Board and Artistic Director. It is evident from the administrative records that Doolan lacked support and had her authority undermined on matters relating to her direction and programming. The resulting outcome, as Doolan outlined, was that her contract was “in principle and in fact invalidated”.15 The archival records which document Doolan’s tenure at the Abbey offer new insights into the lasting impacts of her work in Irish drama. Ambitious programming of Irish and international plays, a focus on bringing theatre to new Irish audiences as well as a commitment to continuous development of actor training and craft are but some examples of the legacies of Doolan’s time as Artistic Director. The collaborative and ensemble work where the Abbey, and in particular the Peacock stage, became a forum for discussion and shared contributions to the artistic process was also given greater prominence in these years. Doolan championed the skilled technical aspects of performance, production and design from voice to movement, to expressionistic direction and staging. From new revivals such as Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie in September 1972, to the firstever Abbey production of Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan in November 1972, Doolan’s ambitious programme included works that had otherwise been neglected from the Abbey repertoire. These examples are also Irish plays that signify international receptions of Irishness abroad through respective major productions from London to New  York. Doolan’s stated goal of  Ibid.




‘bringing theatre to the people’ reflects what a national theatre should have as its core. While the vision did not receive the resources needed in order to fully materialise, across Dublin city another new venue, the Project Arts Centre, was also working to engage new audiences in an artistic clash of modern Ireland with the conservative society of a state in transition. The Abbey Theatre at this time was also undergoing internal restructuring of its administrative and managerial staff. It announced a new management team in March 1976. The Board of the Abbey appointed David Liddy as the new Manager of the theatre.16 Pat Laffan was appointed as Director of the Peacock Theatre, succeeding Joe Dowling, who was taking up the Artistic Director role of the Irish Theatre Company. Martin Fahy was appointed secretary of the National Theatre Society Ltd. Tomás Mac Anna remained as Artistic Director of the Abbey (until 1978). At the Gate Theatre, this decade would also see the winding down of the remarkable energies of The Boys. Edwards and MacLiammóir were in their twilight years. MacLiammóir passed away in March 1976, with Edwards following in November 1982. Venues like the Focus Theatre and The Project Arts Centre solidified their presence in the primary landscape of Irish theatre, committed to radicalising Irish theatre-making.

Project Arts Centre: A New Artists Co-operative The Project Centre Archive at the National Library of Ireland contains a detailed record of the collective artistic and administrative policy at the Project. While also incorporating a live music venue and a gallery space, Project was a space of collision of radical and new contemporary arts thinking and practice. Project was a new departure for Irish theatre and for Irish creative art in general. In 1970, Project found itself housed in a disused factory on South King Street, before moving permanently in 1974 to the former Dollard Printing works at East Essex Street, Dublin 2. Charles Merril, an American businessman, was at this time setting up a magazine, The Arts in Ireland, and suggested to Project that they share 16  David Liddy, then aged 29, a graduate of University College Dublin, was education at St. Mary’s College, Rathmines. Born in Dublin, Liddy was associated with Howard and Wyndham Theatre Producers Ltd. In the United Kingdom since 1970, House Manager of Manchester Opera House in 1972, General Manager at Royal Court Liverpool in 1973. As an actor in Dublin, Liddy acted with the Amalgamated Artists, Des Keogh Productions and with RTÉ.



a premises on South King Street. Artistic development at Project during this time was primarily organised by Martin Reynolds and Charles Harper, while Chris O’Neill, Tom Hickey and Tom Jordan were in charge of drama. Theatrical works scouted by Colm O’Briain, resulted in the beginning of a long relationship between the Project and the Sheridan Brothers, Jim and Peter. Their amateur drama group the SLOT (the St. Laurence O’Toole Players), which also included Neil Jordan, held a summer of productions at the Project in 1970. Alan Stanford was subsequently invited to be on the theatre committee along with Ann O’Driscoll and Sean O’Briain. The following period proved to be one of turbulence regarding staff and artistic disputes. Stanford managed drama production and instigated a policy that saw the theatre active and engaged throughout the day, from breakfast plays, lunchtime plays, evening and late night plays. The pursuit of a permanent home was a constant issue for the continuity of the Project and its directors. Project remained at South King Street for two years but the impending end of the lease was on the horizon. A large warehouse located at the rear of the Olympia Theatre on East Essex Street in Temple Bar was a possible new home for Project. Michael Bulfin was elected chairman of Project in 1973 after Colm O’Briain resigned from the position. O’Briain spent five years developing Project into an established and successful alternative arts venue for Dublin. Bulfin was a sculptor by trade and was responsible for visual arts while Lee Gallagher was in charge of drama. Bulfin, Stanford and Gallagher managed the move of the Project to Temple Bar in 1974. Bulfin was outraged by the lack of input and cooperation in relation to assistance in the move and renovation from listed Project members. He sought to reassess the membership protocol and rights of members. Though this case was fought bitterly in the end between Bulfin and the aggrieved members, Bulfin’s resignation came in 1976. Project’s arrival in Temple Bar would coincide with its development as an established artists’ co-operative. It had a film committee, a poets’ committee, and a theatre and artists’ committee. The 1974 Arts Act saw the Project’s funding and income rise from £3000 to £34,000 per year by 1976. The extra funding and capital allowed for the development of an in-house theatre company, under Stanford’s direction, and saw theatre at Project flourish, with a significant European influence. In the 1975 season alone, The Caretaker by Harold Pinter was produced by 4-in-1 Players (February 1975), followed by Dead End Kids by Horizon Theatre Company, Lunch



With Brecht by Pan Productions, Onkel Onkel by Günter Grass (produced by ABC productions, May 1975) and Lulu by Frank Wedekind, translated by Charlotte Beck and staged by Pandora Productions (October 1975). The Sheridan Brothers joined the Project in late 1975. Dismayed by the perceived low standard of theatre in Ireland at the time, the Sheridans initiated a policy of producing socially and politically engaging work, many of which they wrote, directed or co-wrote, including No Entry (1976), Mobile Homes (1976) and The Liberty Suit (1977—written by Peter Sheridan in collaboration with Gerard Mannix Flynn). From its inception in the mid-1960s, Project Arts Centre was a vital new component of contemporary Irish drama and in initiating new forms of theatre-making. As it continued, it attracted the response from those often in positions of authority and influence within conservative Irish society.

New Irish Plays at Project: Plays Very Unpleasant A Season of New Irish Plays at the Project Arts Centre in March 1976 was devised by Jim Sheridan to be a statement on how new forms of Irish drama could better reflect the changing contemporary social and political mood of the country. Inspired by what George Devine had achieved at the Royal Court since the 1950s, Sheridan aimed to have Project equally recognised as a venue that was staging innovative, urgent and important new work, regardless of the form or the writer. The season of plays included a number of new works. Des Hogan’s new play, The Squat, addressed London housing conditions. Women at Work, a TEAM workshop production with a scenario devised by Mary Maher in collaboration with Jim and Peter Sheridan, commented on the campaign for equality of employment and conditions for Irish women and was staged in two scenarios, an office and also a factory setting. Outlook Unsettled by Mary Manning depicted a series of scenes which included of a group of Protestant spinsters in the 1920s, a drama class at the old Abbey Theatre led by Sara Allgood, and a group of young actresses on tour with Anew McMaster. No Entry by Jim Sheridan was a commentary on the housing shortage faced by young people in Ireland. Christy Hudson’s We’re Guilty ‘Cause We’re Filthy told of a figure wandering Ireland terrorising those he encountered by publicly masturbating. The Swine and the Potwolloper by Paschal Finnan completed the season. Finnan’s piece, in tandem with Mary Manning’s work, drew commentary regarding the state of contemporary Irish drama. Finnan’s work was designed by Rodney Place, a South African architect who positioned



the audience of Finnan’s play within the middle of the stage, sitting in a ‘family restaurant’, which is taken over by a Fascist dictator. As the world order collapses, the lighting over the audience seating/performance area is slowly enclosed by darkness, symbolic of the restrictive position contemporary new Irish drama was being placed, in terms of developing new writing and ideas.17 Sheridan’s vision for Project incorporated the workshop model, indicating that Project was “a community type theatre with actors doubling as directors, playwrights acting and everyone helping on sets”.18 Sheridan outlined that Irish theatre was desperately in need of a new direction, to develop themes off the street,19 and to build a contract with its audience. With Project now recognised as an established arts centre, nearly a decade in existence and in receipt of Dublin City Council annual grants, it was providing an alternative space for collaborative theatre production. The series of new Irish plays at Project asked questions of what Irish audiences were seeking from such contemporary works. These were not questions about consistency with the tradition of Irish drama, but rather about the direction new Irish drama, as well as the Irish State, would go in coming years. Questions included how would employment and gender equality develop? Would tensions between Church and State regarding contraception, sex, divorce and adoption lessen or intensify? Would class disparity continue to increased class divides? Would urban/rural planning take cognisance of geo-economic distribution of health, education and infrastructure? Project set about reflecting new theatre performance, in its production, dramaturgy and form, not to answer these questions directly, but rather to forge a new forum in Irish theatre that enabled theatre-­ makers and audiences to come together as a collective and reflect on contemporary Ireland and be part of a new performance dynamic. The Squat by Des Hogan was a new full-length play by the emerging writer. Still just twenty-five, Hogan’s work had drawn on the vulnerability and solitude of those on the periphery of modernising Ireland’s growing middle class. Hogan wrote from within his own experiences of witnessing rural life and the network of community being undone by class discrepancy, a social fabric being picked apart through economic and geo-spatial suburban planning which favoured an increasingly suburban and  ‘Project’s Season of New Irish Plays’, Irish Times, 9 March 1976. 8.  “Project’s Season of Irish Plays”, Irish Times, 8 March 1976. 8. 19  Ibid. 17 18



middle-class focus. Hogan drew on the isolation within his community and identified with the otherness experienced by the vulnerable and displaced in Irish society. His literary influences included Katherine Mansfield, on whose works Hogan completed an M.A. thesis at University College Dublin, and also on the works of Edna O’Brien. In discussing the theme and presence of violence in The Squat Hogan reiterated: “One can’t but be hit by the patterns of mental violence in Ireland at the moment, the hordes of neglected unemployed and the psychopathic levels of sectarian violence.”20 The Squat was set in contemporary London, where three characters come together in a chance meeting at Elgin Avenue squat in 1974, a known transient spot for drifters and those broken souls who are without either a home or direction. The area was also home, however, to large number of idealist counter-culture revolutionaries, bohemians, radicals and punks who, along with European counterparts in France, Germany, Netherlands and elsewhere, were reacting against the capitalist globalisation of markets, which saw major urban centres develop exponentially in terms of population and skilled tertiary sector jobs, fuelling a boom of middle classes. The London squats of the 1970s were also a social phenomenon. In prime real estate areas of central London, vast tracts of city areas went undeveloped or crippled by lack of investment. John Marsfield notes that shortage of 300,000–400,000 houses existed in Britain in 1976. In 1981, this number reached 900,000.21 Squatting laws at the time meant that squatting was legal as long as entry to a property was not forced. The basic right to a home was, since the post-war years of the late 1940s onwards, an increasingly pressing issue in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and indeed in the Republic of Ireland. Marsfield outlines how such vast numbers of squats in the area of Elgin Avenue, where Hogan set his play, and in the greater London area (and beyond) were driven by licenced permitted squats: Contrary to most of the squatters’ literature, it was the councils and housing departments that were most active in setting up licenses and short-life houses that many squatters and potential squatters desired for both practical (housing the homeless) and ideological (leaving good houses empty is unjust) reasons.22  Interview with Des Hogan, Irish Times, 2 March 1976.  John Marsland, “Squatting: The Fight for Decent Shelter, 1970s–1980s”, Britain and the World, Volume 11 Issue 1. 30. 22  Marsland, 30. 20 21



Hogan’s play, produced by Vincent McCabe, consisted of a series of fragmented scenes within the vast network of London squats. The sequencing of scenes, separated by lapses of time, highlighted the despair of what can be classed as self-created slums. The alienation effects created by the episodic structure and fragmentation of linear time, combined with the atmosphere created to position the audience member within the social thinking and condition of the squatters alludes to Hogan’s Brechtian influence. Despite the play being set in London, the play was directly contemporary in reflecting the Irish experience of squatters. The Island Commune was a hippy squat house on Dublin’s Merrion Road, established in 1970. One of its founders, Bill ‘Ubi’ Dwyer, described the division of labour within the Island Commune of squatters, stating that: “We are determined that it should be a working community. We think that the alternative to a working community would be doss house”.23 The Dublin Housing Action Committee (DHAC) also utilised campaigns of squatting in Dublin City throughout the 1960s as a protest against the condition and lack of available affordable housing in the city. The DHAC organised a large protest march and sit-in in Dublin city in 1969 in response to the arrest of DHAC secretary Denis Dennihy, for refusing to leave the premises in which he was squatting located at Mountjoy Square. The demonstrators, numbering in thousands, many of them students, marched from St. Stephen’s Green to the General Post Office (GPO), before staging a peaceful sit-down protest on O’Connell Bridge. Gardaí tried to clear the protesters from obstructing the thoroughfare and skirmishes broke out.24 Land and housing action in the mid-twentieth century reflected the Irish nationalism of the nineteenth century and organisations such as the Land League and its leaders including Michael Davitt. A separate DHAC protest in Dublin at Easter 1968 was a performative response to the Easter Rising of 1916. Political protest was infused with political and social performance, an embedded archival memory of the actions of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and others of half a century earlier at Easter 1916. The five men and one women, flew the Starry Plough, the flag of the Irish Citizen Army over the squat on the 23  “Anarchist Squatters Split 1970”, “Newsbeat”, RTÉ Television, 5 May 1970, RTÉ Archives., Accessed 14 August 2020. 24  “Scuffles at Housing Protest”, RTÉ Archives, 18 January 1969. archives/2019/0104/1020280-dublin-housing-protest/, Accessed 12 November 2020.



eighteenth-century house on Dublin’s Mount Street. As architectural historian Erika Hanna observes, “the symbols of Irish history were frequently enlisted to reinforce this elision of Republicanism and anti-capitalism … creating a successful link between the nineteenth century land wars and twentieth century anti-capitalism”.25

We’re Guilty ‘Cause We’re Filthy: Project Arts Centre and Censorship The Irish Times reported on its front page that We’re Guilty ‘Cause We’re Filthy would “challenge the wrath of The League of Decency,” of which J.B. Murray was a founder and former president. The League of Decency, a conservative Catholic lay group lobbied for greater control and censure within public life of many progressive political and social issues and brought charges of indecency or blasphemy against many theatre and cultural events in Ireland from the 1950s through the 1970s. Murray observed that one of the scenes of Hudson’s play consisted of a male and female lying on the floor, behaving in an apparently immodest, disgusting manner. Another scene included four males in succession acting out the ‘art’ of urinating behind a tiny screen accompanied by most suggestive gestures and Niagara Falls-like sound effects. Another was of a Burlesque of a priest (in rather unclerical garb) offering service to God by snide remarks from the wings about Cardinal Conway (Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1963 to 1977). Later, the same ‘priest’ (in full clerical garb) engaged in ‘humorous’ discussion with a young woman on the subject of masturbation. Lastly, a scene in which a young man makes a ‘deal’ with a prostitute was one of the last performed in the play.26 Between May and June 1976, J.B. Murray and the League of Decency as well as members of the cast, exchanged letters in the Irish Times regarding the charges of obscenity and blasphemy levelled against Hudson and Project over the play. Cast members Vincent McCabe and Eithne FitzGerald refuted any such accusations made by the League and stated that no such scene depicting nuns or confessionals were ever included in the play (as accused) and blamed a lack of response or clarification from Project management in encouraging the public belief that the charges, as 25  Erika Hanna, Modern Dublin: Urban Change and the Irish Past, 1957–1973 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 136. 26  “Grant Protesters Cite ‘Obscene’ Revue”, Irish Times, 11 June 1976, 1.



unchallenged, were therefore founded.27 Further public outcry against the play came from a group called Parent Concern. The group were formed in 1975 with the stated goal of “fight[ing] pornography, blue movies, and violent and obscene television shows”.28 Parent Concern sent a representative to Project Arts Centre after having read a review of the play, expressing in the media their objections to the portrayal of the modern family and the perceived sexual depravity portrayed in the play. Their concerns lay in the conservative and obsessive Catholic concern regarding sex within marriage, what they described as the portrayal of the “family act”. The play, however, divided opinion on Dublin City Council Cultural Committee (DCCCC), which funded Project Arts Centre’s theatre season through a recent grant of £4000. Murray’s League of Decency and Parent Concern along with Veritas Christi, another conservative Catholic lobby group, petitioned Dublin City Council to effect that all future plays at Project were vetted in advance by the DCCCC. Ben Briscoe, Chair of the DCCCC, indicated that any funding allocated to Project would be withdrawn if similar plays were programmed. This motion was objected to by Ruairi Quinn T.D., who outlined that the Chair’s comments amounted to official censorship.29 While Murray sent further letters of complaint to the City Manager, Matthew McClean, the funding for Project Arts Centre, on this occasion, remained unchanged. This was a victory for Project and would be one of future such challenges to their artistic autonomy that they would face over the coming decades. While the League of Decency would continue to object and lobby against perceived obscene works in Irish theatre and wider society, from television to literature, its founder J.B. Murray died in 1978, less than two years after Hudson’s play so scandalised at Project. In 1978, RTÉ broadcast a new 10-part series called The Spike. It was a raw and edgy series that depicted social inequality in Ireland as well as the social (and sexual) lives of young people in Dublin. It also featured the first ever female nude scene filmed by and shown on the national broadcasting service of RTÉ. Murray was so infuriated by the televised nudity that when complaining about the series to the national media he suffered a heart attack and died soon after.30 The 1970s were  Letters to the Editor, Irish Times, 22 June 1976. 9.  “Grant Protesters Cite ‘Obscene’ Revue”, Irish Times, 11 June 1976, 1. 29  “Councillors Differ over ‘Obscene Dublin Revue’”, Irish Times, 15 June 1976. 30  ‘Scannal’, RTÉ, 10 November 2008,­ new-­series-2/, Accessed 07 April 2021. 27 28



pivotal years for Project and for what they established within Irish theatre. As well as championing new Irish devised and workshop productions, experimental works and international plays, they also provided a platform for major social issues of the time to be discussed and debated. Project sought to engage audiences with the subject matter of the plays and in turn create a dialogue with contemporary Ireland. In 1976, controversy again arrived at Project regarding the programming of work by British company, Gay Sweatshop.31 Again, the League of Decency, Parent Concern, among other conservative groups, lobbied the DCCCC regarding public funds being used to support Project’s redevelopment in a less than oblique attack on Project’s hosting of work of a homosexual theme. Project continued to provide a radical space for new work and new theatrical modes of experimentation to engage with contemporary Ireland. The archive of Project and the records which trace the work of the venue and the people who worked there is a record of social change (and the efforts to stop such progression) throughout the 1970s. While Project was looking to urgent and contemporary theatre reflecting a new Dublin and Irish society, other events during the 1970s would again overlap its theatre community with national and international political questions. Protests at the Gate Theatre regarding the depiction of Irish Catholic missionaries in Nigeria would urge reflection on Ireland’s post-colonial status as well as its growing diplomatic presence on the international stage.

Ireland and the Post-colonial Present: Famine and the ‘Black Man’s Country’ From the late 1940s and in the post-‘Emergency’ context, Irish foreign and economic policy began to shift beyond the stance of economic isolation as espoused by Eamon De Valera’s government. It began to look further outwards internationally, towards the United States, Europe and Africa, for cultural as well as economic and political gain. Ireland had for many decades been an exporter of missionary aid and contributed to overseas development within a context of Ireland’s Christian duty as a nation which had itself suffered colonial hardship. Over the years and decades of this new internationalisation of Irish foreign policy, so do did Irish theatre engage with and respond to Ireland’s increasing profile within 31  Stephen Greer, Contemporary British Queer Performance (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) 52–53.



international relations. New drama performed on a multitude of stages looked at how Ireland was performing its present status as a globalising state, still within its first decade as a new republic which was ratified in 1949. Ireland joined the United Nations in 1955 and exerted great political and diplomatic efforts over the over the succeeding decades to have Ireland join the membership of the Economic Community (EC) in 1973. Its early success was apparent and Ireland took on the role of Presidency of the EC as early as 1975, a sign of its ambition to gain prominence (and influence) on the world stage. This positioning of Ireland within a sphere of influence in areas of governmental and non-governmental aid, as well as the politics of such positioning, facilitated a new engagement with Irish foreign policy by a number of playwrights. Ireland’s status as a former colony under the British Empire was still a presence in the psyche of many Irish people. (The destruction of Nelson’s Pillar in March 1966, for example, was another physical vestige of British colonial rule in Ireland removed from Dublin’s main thoroughfare.) The journeying towards a post-colonial mind-set/status for Ireland was being frustrated by increasing elements of sectarian divisions and civil rights infringements in the North of Ireland, which would emerge into a lingering and protracted conflict, ‘The Troubles’. The ensuing years of conflict and sectarian unrest that would unfold under the watching eyes of the world’s media, grew from the late 1960s through to the years of the Peace Process of the early 1990s and the eventual Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and which resulted in over 3000 deaths in that time. The 1960s in particular saw Irish theatre reflect to a greater extent questions regarding its own post-colonialist present. Much of Ireland political and economic focus in foreign policy was looking towards Africa, and in particular, on Nigeria. The first Irish embassy to open on the continent was in Lagos in 1960. Guinness opened its first brewery outside of Ireland also in Lagos in 1961. The Holy Ghost Fathers, a Catholic order, were active in Nigeria since the late nineteenth century and had a strong Irish presence from soon afterwards. Humanitarian aid and the provision of relief signified a new political vision for Ireland as a progressive nation, as well as a key part of Ireland’s foreign policy and foreign role in Africa. The shared Irish and Nigerian interests and culture was reflected in performative means within Irish public consciousness, to such extent that by 1974 A Nigerian float featured in the Dublin city St. Patrick’s Day parade.



The float featured banners and signs with Irish sayings, excerpts of Nigerian poetry and members of the Nigerian community.32 Parallels can be identified between the experience of Nigeria in the 1960s and 1970s and Ireland’s own governmental history, experiences of conflict and the question of self-determination and with Ireland. As noted by Kevin O’Sullivan, both Liam Cosgrave, the Minister for External Affairs in the coalition government between 1954 and 1957, and Frank Aiken, who succeeded Cosgrave in the role, linked Ireland’s internationalism and growing role within humanitarian and peacekeeping roles to its history as a colonised country and owing to its revolutionary and Christian history.33 The Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century was often invoked as the singular event in Irish history that shaped Ireland’s response to conflict and famine in Biafra. Before Ireland considered its place internationally it also looked introspectively at its own experience of famine and the means through which its memory was presented on Ireland’s stages.

Famine and Ireland: An Embodied Repository of Memory Writing in his programme note for Famine, first produced at the Peacock Theatre on 1 March 1968, playwright Tom Murphy noted how in his writing of the play, he was not seeking to create a dramatic documentary, but rather to interrogate his own internal psychological reckoning with the demographic and linguistic impacts of Ireland’s Great Famine of the nineteenth century. Murphy outlined how he was aware of the then ongoing famine in Bihar, India, and how he felt a psychological weight bearing on him, “a hangover that had lasted over one hundred years”.34 The prompt script from the 1968 production of Famine at the Abbey Theatre enables us to experience the liveness of the otherwise unrecorded production. A note at the close of scene at end of Act I signifies a ‘Famine 32  For more about Nigerian and Ireland cultural and political connections at this time, and for an image of the 1974 Nigerian parade float, see John Gibney, Michael Kennedy, Kate O’Malley, eds., Ireland: A Voice Among the Nations (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2019), 233. 33  O’Sullivan, 16. In November 1961, Prionsias Mac Aonghusa suggested at a speech at that Frank Aiken should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962 and such a nomination would be met with delight from Asia to Africa. “Proposal for Nomination for Aiken for Nobel Peace Prize”. Irish Times, 11 November 1961. 11. 34  Tom Murphy, Famine programme note, 21 March 1968, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway.



Sound’. While offering no further information on what this ‘Famine’ sound could be, it presents the likelihood of the sound of keening, the aurality of performed grief, embodied and recorded within the prompt script and within the original live performance. In 1977, the actor and founding member of Druid Theatre Company, Mick Lally, translated Tom Murphy’s Famine into Irish for a production at Galway’s Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, Ireland’s national Irish language theatre. Entitled Gorta, Lally’s translation presented a resituating the lingering hurt of the Irish famine onto a linguistic plain, where ‘Famine’ was translated as ‘Gorta’, also literally meaning ‘hurt’. This embodiment of linguistic loss on the Irish people and as expressed by Lally, reiterated Tom Murphy’s own reticence to frame the Irish famine as a historic past event. Its own archival memory was very much alive and active and spoken on a daily basis. The spoken legacy was in English, not in the absented Irish language. In the Gaeltacht heartland of the West of Ireland, and at Ireland’s national Irish language theatre, Gorta allowed for Murphy’s play to respond to geo-linguistic absences. Gorta also took on further resonances, being the name of one of Ireland’s largest NGOs operating in Africa, and which was founded in 1965 as ‘Gorta: The Freedom from Hunger Council’. Druid Theatre Company also produced Murphy’s Famine in 1984, at the Seapoint Ballroom in Salthill, Galway, directed by Garry Hynes. The play toured exclusively within the greater western seaboard area. As a tour map makes clear, published within the play programme, the tour did not cross eastwards across the natural barrier of the Shannon river, signifying a further mapping of colonial settlement in Ireland, a Cromwellian border signifying the call ‘To Hell or to Connaught’. Famine in Ireland, as much as in Africa, was a colonial repercussion. The then Bishop of Galway, Eamon Casey, in his capacity as President of the Irish charity Trócaire, wrote the programme note for Druid’s production of Famine in 1984. As a figurehead not just of the Irish charity which operated in areas of Africa which were greatly affected by war and famine, Casey, unintentionally perhaps, reinforced the post-colonial mind-set of the Irish people. In the article, Casey writes how “the [Irish] famine left its mark on our songs, as well as on our landscape. It is a black memory to us.” The landscape becomes a repository of memory, an archive of contemporary conflict, starvation and civil war. It marks a scarred landscape and a scarred residual memory. It does however, also present the post-colonial view, through Casey, that Ireland was racialising the contemporary experience of famine



as being ‘black’, and implying its ‘blackness’ and racial projections of the African ‘third world’.

‘Black Man’s Country’: Irish Missions and Diplomacy In March 1972, one of the highlights of the Dublin Theatre Festival was widely reported to be a new play written by a priest, Fr. Desmond Forristal. The True Story of the Horrid Popish Plot was a surprising hit at Dublin’s Gate Theatre. Directed by Hilton Edwards the play centred on the case of Titus Oates, an affair that dominated British and Irish politics in the late seventeenth century. The ‘horrid Popish plot’ was an apparent plan by Catholics in both countries to kill King Charles II and take over the two kingdoms with the help of a French army. Oates served as a witness in the many trials in which innocent people were sentenced to death, one of which was Oliver Plunkett, the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh.35 Forristal was born in 1930 at educated at O’Connell’s School and Belvedere College in Dublin. He completed a B.A. degree at University College Dublin in 1951 and was ordained in 1955. The positive critical reception received by his first play at the Gate Theatre showed Forristal’s ability as a playwright and one attuned to the merits of the new media such as television. By 1974, the forty-three year old was a priest in the Dublin Archdiocese and on the staff of the Dublin Communications Institute. Forristal served in many Dublin parishes before travelling to New York in 1959 to study at the Academy of Broadcasting Arts. When he returned to Ireland, Forristal became a founding member of the Radharc film unit, and served as a script-writer and director. Radharc was a landmark television and media production in Ireland. Radharc—which means vision, view or panorama in Irish—ran from 1962 to 1996 and had a film unit staffed entirely by Catholic priests. It produced over 400 programmes, filming in more than seventy-five countries.36 Forristal visited Nigeria in 1968 with Radharc, filming and reporting over a visit of a number of weeks and this first-hand account provided the basis for his writing Black Man’s Country. 35  Programme Note, The True Story of the Horrid Popish Plot, 1 March 1972, The Gate Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 36  John Carter Wood (2020) Introduction: Christian modernities in Britain and Ireland in the twentieth century, Contemporary British History, 34:4. 505. 0/13619462.2020.1789458.



Black Man’s Country had its world premiere at the Gate Theatre, Dublin on 30 April 1974, directed by Hilton Edwards.37 The play was revived during the Dublin Theatre Festival in October of that year, owing, as Hilton Edwards recounted, to the city bus strike in Dublin in the April and May period, which greatly affected the ability of people to travel in and out of the city. The play was described in the Evening Herald as “a lucid and memorable account of a now-almost-forgotten conflict—the Biafran struggle for independence from Nigeria”.38 The play explored the thinking and experiences of Irish nuns and priests in Nigeria’s missions as well as their control and influence on the minds, land, education and future of Nigeria and Nigerians. At the heart of the play are also questions around white colonial influence, such as what is ‘the white man’s burden’ through missionary and non-governmental intervention in colonial and post-colonial settings? In answering such questions, Forristal provoked a strong reaction from his fellow priests but also those missionaries based in Nigeria, as well as a high political and diplomatic level, between Nigeria and Ireland. Forristal’s play is set in the years of aftermath following the Nigerian-­ Biafran conflict. The story is developed through the characters of an aging and alcoholic Irish priest, who has been part of the Nigerian missions for decades, a young idealistic missionary priest, a young Irish nun as well as a local Nigerian priest. The character of the aging priest exemplifies Vatican opinion in the region, where frontline missionaries were often considered as foot soldiers, collateral in the greater campaign for growing Catholic dominance in the region. Fr. Mitchell, the perhaps rather stock whiskey-sodden old priest character is politically savvy, dulled by decades of grievances in the region. He is aware that as civil conflict threatens in the eastern region, warfare could mean the destruction of Nigerian unity and of Irish Catholic mission influence in the country (as well as political interest from Ireland). By 1974, less than a decade since the outbreak of the Biafran conflict, the play was already seen to revive lost Irish memory (and interest) in one of Ireland’s most prominent political, economic and humanitarian interests 37  Desmond Forristal was well regarded by Hilton Edwards on a personal level as well as a pastoral level. Forristal was requested to administer the Last Rites for Micheal MacLiammóir as he lay in hospital. Forristal was also the lead celebrant at the funeral of Micheal MacLiammóir on 8 March 1978. Edwards thanked Forristal in a personal letter for his role at the funeral and for conveying “a truer beauty than is possible in the world of make-believe in which Micheal and I lived”. 15 March 1973, Forristal Archive, NUI Maynooth. 38  Evening Herald, 9 October 1974.



in Africa. The onset of the Troubles of course dominated political and public attention in Ireland during the 1970s rather than elsewhere. Irish consciousness had already been actively forgetting the Biafran conflict in place of its on ongoing conflict on the island of Ireland. Forristal’s play came at a crucial juncture in response to that fading memory of Irish humanitarian and missionary action in Biafra. Black Man’s Country (and Forristal’s stance on its themes) provoked a strong and immediate reaction from high-ranking clerical, political and diplomatic circles. Writing in his preface to the play, Forristal stated how the Mission of Uzala in Eastern Nigeria was entirely fictitious, but clarified that the political backdrop of the play was the recent massacre of thousands of Ibo people in Nigeria from late 1966. Forristal clarified that the resulting declaration of Eastern Nigeria as a new independent state, the Republic of Biafra in May 1967, until the conflict ended in January 1970, was the backdrop to his consideration for the play. Much of the work of administering relief within Biafra was carried out by Irish missionary priests and nuns, often at great risk to themselves. Their work helped to save millions of lives but it is argued that such actions may have also prolonged Biafra’s will and ability to fight. That was the view taken by the federal government, which after the war arrested and deported the missionaries still remaining in the former Biafra: “The missionaries are in some ways the saddest victims of the war. Because they had the misfortune of to be on the losing side of the front line, they are shut out forever from the land to which they had given their hearts and lives.39 Forristal’s claim (and play) was strongly criticised by Irish members of the Irish missions in Nigeria. The play’s topic was especially controversial in the aftermath of the response by the Nigerian federal government to those who helped distribute aid through various Catholic missions, ejecting some who were deemed to have prolonged or enabled the conflict through the movement and supply of aid: “In Biafra, official emergency relief was used as an instrument of war, its distribution dictated by military strategy and diplomatic protocol … also inspiring new forms of international relations that by passed traditional channels of diplomacy.40 Forristal’s defended his descriptions of the actions of the Irish missionaries who were accused of prolonging the Biafran “will to fight” as an  Desmond Forristal, Black Man’s Country (Delaware: Proscenium Press, 1975) 4.  Kevin O’Sullivan, Ireland, Africa and the End of Empire: Small State Identity in the Cold War, 1955–75 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012). 107. 39 40



“accurate assessment”. Gus Smith, however, writing in the Sunday Independent, cited that the playwright would not be called to Rome to answer charges of “heretical outpourings and outrageous blasphemies”.41 Nevertheless, the heads of seven Catholic missionary orders based in Nigeria published a statement to the Irish media responding to Forristal’s assertion that the missionaries were ‘victims’.42 The letter stated that over 700 missionaries remained in Nigeria and had full approval of the federal government. Secondly, the play did not in any way represent the views of the Catholic Church in Ireland or Nigeria. Finally, the ongoing reconciliation work between the federal government and local communities post the conflict could well serve as an example to Ireland “in its present troubled situation”,43 referring to the worsening Troubles and conflict in Northern Ireland. Reaction from diplomatic channels also challenged the play. An ‘Aide Memoir’ document sent from the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin to Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. Forristal was in turn challenged to withdraw the play from the Gate Theatre. The Embassy’s position stated, “Everything possible should be done even at this eleventh hour to arrest this rather unpleasant situation”.44 While Forristal had intended in good faith to honour those missionaries who undertook courageous work, he fell victim to racialising the effect of the bloody Biafran war by stating that the white missionaries were ‘the saddest victims’. No missionaries were killed in the Biafran conflict. Few were injured and there was little evidence of reports or recordings of any deportations by the federal government.45 As part of the sound design for the play, Hilton Edwards utilised audio recordings taken in Nigeria by Forristal’s Radharc broadcasting team. By authenticating the aural experience of the play, Edwards was also linking in the reanimated aural archived record of Nigeria’s people, language and  “Dramatist Will Not Be Called to Rome!”, Sunday Independent, 5 May 1974, p. 6.  The signatories to the joint statement were: Rev. Laurence Carr, S.M.A.; Rev. Martin Nolan, O.S.A.; Rev. James Cahalan C.M.; Rev. John Jones, W.F.; Rev. Peter O’Reilly, S.P.S.; Rev. William Jenkinson C.S.S.; Rev. Sister M.  Stanislaus Gallagher H.R.S.; Rev. Sister O’Clombiere O’Driscoll O.L.A.; Rev. Sister Colmcille Stephens S.S.L., Rev. Sister M. Killian Rogers I.S.C., Rev. Sister Michael Lowson S.H.C.J. 43  “Heads of Missionary Orders on New Play”, Irish Times, 2 May 1974, 13. 44  Letter from Forristal to Archbishop McQuaid, 27 April 1974, PP/1/56 (32), Forristal Archive, NUI Maynooth. 45  “Dramatist Play is Censored”, Irish Independent, 3 May 1974. 41 42



culture. The noise of Nigerian life echoed through Dublin’s Gate Theatre. Edwards used “an almost continuous sound-track of background sounds and music edited from tapes brought back by the recording team. Edwards, however, gave credence to the charges of ‘othering’ the Nigerian situation and people in a racial slur by stating, in relation to his use of archived sound recordings from Nigeria that “the jungle is never quiet”.46 The question of casting also proved problematic. Writing to Forristal in 1973, Edwards recounted how “[o]ne thing is for certain: I have no black people on my lists of casts. We would have to import from England where I understand the population is now predominantly black … most of them tend to have a talent but we naturally want everyone good”.47 This generalisation by Edwards regarding the racial demographic of British populations also reveals the lack of opportunities for Black actors in Ireland at the time in the 1970s. A complete lack of roles for black actors in Ireland’s major theatres had resulted in an absence of black actors in association with or in any major Irish theatre company.48 The case of Black Man’s Country highlights how as Ireland was internationalising its influence and role politically in the mid-1970s, it still was struggling to reconcile its own questions of identity and postcolonial status.

‘Ethiopian with a Touch of Yeats’: Oda Oak Oracle and African-Irish Verse Drama While roles for black actors were lacking in Ireland, as outlined above by Hilton Edwards, cultural exchange partnerships did help foster some Afro-Irish relations in this decade. Oda Oak Oracle was a Nigerian verse play written by Tsegaye Medhin and performed at the Peacock Theatre on Sunday, 23 March 1975. The verse play tells of a legend of God of Hope and Love and of fears and sacrifices. Within the play, Ukutee, betrothed to Shanka, the strong son of the tribe, is under a curse interpreted by the  “Jungle is Never Quiet”, Evening Herald, 27 April 1974, 9.  Letter from Hilton Edwards to Desmond Forristal, 22 May 1973, PP/1/56, Forristal Archive, NUI Maynooth. 48  In a return letter to Edwards, Forristal suggested using black students from Dublin University in smaller roles which would require less professional training. Forristal suggested a black actor Louis Mahony who was currently in Dublin and starring in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Gaiety Theatre and who has recently played the role of Patrice Lumumba in Murderous Angels by Conor Cruise O’Brien. Letter from Forristal to Edwards, 23 May 1973, PP/1/56 (20), Forristal Archive, NUI Maynooth. 46 47



oracle of the sacred Oda Oak, to mean that her first born son should be sacrificed to the ancestral spirits. Shanka has not dared to consummate the marriage and is hereby guilty of defiance. His friend, Goaa has come into contact with what is perceived more enlightened thinking promises to approach the oracle again in an effort to rescind the judgement and to prove the strength of his new wisdom. In fear, however, he deliberated and takes Ukutee for himself, becoming the father of her child. The production was a rehearsed reading but was close to ‘full production’ with a detailed set, audio tracks and some costuming.49 There was a full setting designed by Brian Collins of an Ethiopian forest scene, with “splendid Equatorial sound effects and fine lighting by Tony Wakefield”. Bob Carlisle, who played Shanka and did not use a book to read lines and produced a performance “near word-perfect portrayal of great intensity”.50 Abata Makurian, Artistic Director and Manager of the National Theatre of Ethiopia at Addis Ababa, was on a three-month UNESCO study fellowship at the Abbey Theatre and had been working with the Abbey actors who were part of the reading and performance. Oda Oak was Medhin’s first published English play and had been already produced in Ethiopia and the United States prior to the Abbey production. The play centres on the conflict of reason and superstition and concerns the efforts of the strong and youthful Shanka to release himself and his chosen one, Ukutee, from the Oracle which decrees that their first born is sacrificed. The headline of the Evening Herald described the play as ‘Ethiopian with a touch of Yeats’.51 (Medhin had previously translated Shakespeare in Amharic, no doubt he read Yeats.) The digitised archive of the Abbey Theatre holds the audio tracks used in the performance, digitised from their analogue reels. The reel contains a number of audio tracks of African drumming beats and rhythms and singing used within the live production in 1975. One song can be identified as ‘Kelele’. Translated from Swahili, Kelele means ‘loud noise’ or ‘shout’. Osibisa, whose track ‘Kelele’ was used at the Abbey Theatre, were an Afrobeat band formed in 1969 in London who fused jazz, funk, rock, African, Caribbean, Latin, R & B and ‘highlife’ forms of music. Osibisa were a hugely successful Afro-British band that largely popularised the 49  The Abbey readers in the cast included Pitt Wilkinson, Fidelma Cullen, Derek Chapman, Gerard Walsh, Robert Carlisle, John Olohan and John Kavanagh. 50  ‘Oda Oak Oracle’, Irish Times, Review 24 March 1975. 51  ‘Ethiopian Verse Play at Abbey’, Evening Herald, 24 March 1975.



‘world-music’ genre in the 1970s. Their members comprised a mix of Ghanaians, Grenadian, Trinidadians, Antiguans and Nigerians.52 The event was positively received at Peacock and deemed to be a blending of Irish and African verse traditions and lyrical performance, with one critic noting how Oda Oak bore a striking resemblance in form and lyrical imagery to the poetic dramas of Yeats.53 As Kevin O’Sullivan has observed, “Ireland’s missionary heritage was to foster a sense of collective obligation towards the developing world and popular belief in the legitimacy of the role that Ireland sought to play on the international stage”.54 This international stage was more literal that figurative during the period of the 1950s through to the 1970s. Ireland consciously performed its post-colonialism. Ireland set forward a vision of a modern and prosperous country when in reality it was still comparatively behind many of its European counterparts in terms of GDP per capita. By 1980 Ireland was still two-thirds behind the GDP per capita rate of the United Kingdom.55 Nigeria had only recently emerged from a long colonial battle. The country was divided upon regional areas, each distinct by language, culture, religion and customs. It was also largely being governed by a conflicted leadership that was primarily Protestant, which in eastern Nigeria at least, was witnessing increasingly hostile relationships between the Protestant educated higher classes and the growing but poorer and less educated Catholic population, which was increasing in numbers through successful missions, many of whom were run by Irish priests and nuns. Nigeria (and to a wider extent, Africa) became a prism through which to explore Irish post-colonialism, as well as to interrogate the reach and impact of Irish foreign policy. Famine, conflict and the intervention through humanitarian means become a touchstone for how Irish theatre, culture, society and politics was still processing the aftereffects, a century later, of the crippling effects of the Irish famine on the minds of Irish society and on the stages of its 52  The track featured on the band’s fifth studio album, ‘OsibiRock’ released by Warner Brothers in 1974. 53  ‘Ethiopian Verse Play at Abbey’, Evening Herald, 24 March 1975. 54  O’Sullivan, 30. 55  Kennedy, Kieran A. “Irish Economy Transformed”. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 87, no. 345 (1998): 33–42. 344. Accessed 8 December 2020. stable/30091860.



theatres. Further new forms of theatre would emerge in the 1970s and also afford new modes of staging protest and questioning national identity as well as contemporary international political issues. Immersive drama, where the audience participate and perform a role that extends passive spectatorship was presented at the Abbey Theatre for the first time, and documentary drama, where primary sources, from witness testimony to photographs, allied with greater use of new media created works that performed an immersive political experience.

Documentary Theatre and the Immersive Political: Joint Stock and Speaker’s Corner The Speakers was adapted by William Gaskill and Max Stafford-Clarke from the book of the same title by Heathecote Williams, an English poet, dramatist and activist (1941–2017). The original work, The Speakers, was the first work published by Williams in 1964. Harold Pinter, commenting on the book in The Observer in 1964, called it “a brilliant piece of reportage about a quartet of Hyde Park orators. It seems to me a remarkable achievement”.56 The play adaptation was first produced in Ireland as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, within a ‘late night’ series at the Abbey Theatre. Billed as direct from the ‘Bite F’ Festival in Belgrade, the production by Joint Stock Theatre Group, in association with the British Council, fused documentary and immersive formats that reflected contemporary political introspection as well as introducing a form of immersive drama to the Abbey Theatre for the first time. The Speakers was presented on the Abbey main stage for four nights, 6th to 9th October 1976, at 11.15 pm, offering Dublin audiences a varying and late-night experience of theatregoing. Directed by Max Stafford-­Clarke and William Gaskill and designed by Miki van Zwanenberg, the play starred Simon Callow in the main role as ‘Socialist Speaker’. Ciara L.  Murphy has outlined the frameworks of audience, audience participation and immersive performance in contemporary Irish theatre. Drawing on various critical theories on what constitutes audience and spectator/ship, Murphy outlines how immersive theatre has its own distinctive characteristic features and argues how Irish audiences have “sought out a means of experiencing performances that removes the valorisation of  “Books of the Year”, The Observer, 20 December 1964.




the well-established text-author-theatre relationship” while recognising that an “audience member in immersive theatre is also performing”.57 Joint Stock were founded in 1973 by Max Stafford Clark, David Hare and David Aukin. Colin Chambers describes Joint Stock as bridging two extremes of heightened naturalism and a violent anti-antinaturalism, influenced by experiences in the British Fringe touring circuit of the 1960s.58 By 1976 the group were described as “the most important development in British Theatre in the last ten years”.59 Their productions by this time included Speakers, Fanshen, Yesterday’s News and Currency, which were all produced at the Royal Court Upstairs. Yesterday’s News concerned the lives of six people involved in the execution of the fourteen British mercenaries in Angola and the company spent time interviewing and talking with ex-SAS and ex-paratrooper mercenaries. Fanshen was based on William Horton’s documentary book on the effects of the Chinese revolution on a small village. All these productions evolved in workshop and rehearsal by a lengthy process of collaboration between writers, actors and directors. While collaborative and political in form and theme, Joint Stock’s style was not strictly documentary, though it did often begin in early forms from factual research, refined and developed in rehearsal by the ensemble and in workshop. The Speakers was also the first collaboration between Max Stafford-­ Clarke and William Gaskill. The rise of collective theatre-making in the United States in the 1960s influenced British alternative theatre-making through events in London in such as visits of Café La Mama to the Mercury Theatre and the visit by The Open Theatre to the Royal Court in 1968. These exchanges also brought a new impact and influence in Irish theatre-making at this time. The visit to the Abbey by Joint Stock in 1976 and the further directing of new plays there by Stafford-Clarke added to ongoing collaborative productions and immersive type performances seen at the Project Arts Centre. Collective and workshop ensemble methods had already and 57  Ciara L. Murphy, “Audiences: Immersive and participatory” in The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Irish Theatre and Performance, eds. Eamonn Jordan and Eric Weitz (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 727–733. 58   Colin Chambers, “Product into Process: Actor-Based Workshops”, Dreams and Deconstructions: Alternative Theatre in Britain, Sandy Craig ed. (Derbyshire: Amber Lane Press, 1980). 59  Plays and Players, 1976; see notebook for details, sourced from Abbey programme/ publicity.



earlier been introduced by Lelia Doolan in her tenure as Artistic Director of the Abbey in the early 1970s. Stafford-Clarke was a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. While in Dublin to direct The Speakers, he also simultaneously directed the premiere of Thomas Kilroy’s new play, Tea, and Sex, and Shakespeare, which was being produced on the Abbey mainstage and which also opened on 6 October 1976 as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.60 This double offering by the Abbey saw the fruitful partnerships of a burgeoning new style and charged form of Irish drama. The comedic farce of Kilroy’s experimental mediation on a playwright struggling with the fantastical characters of a Shakespeare play materialising within his reality reinforced the establishment of Thomas Kilroy as a leading new voice in Irish drama. The Speakers constituted an immersive drama experience that foregrounded political questioning around freedom of speech, political misinformation and discussions on class and social inequality. Dramaturgically and theatrically, such works moved the fulcrum of power away from the director-playwright dynamic and recentred the primary creative energies around the ensemble, director, designers and writer. This democratisation of production was also reflective of changing labour practices. Actors within a fixed company may have had a set wage but in such workshop enterprises, shares were a normal mode of payment. Wages typically may have been lower but morale, energy and creative input as well as theatrical innovation was increased as a result of collaborative contribution. This production of The Speakers came to the Abbey from a successful tour of the Théâtre des Nations in Belgrade, where it represented Britain. The production recreates Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London, in 1964. A first for the Abbey, the production had no seats. The audience filled the roles of the public and were free to move around the auditorium and choose which speaker/character they wished to interact with, listen to and later follow them into their private lives. Chambers describes that “the action took place among the audience and often simultaneously”.61 The setting of Speakers Corner in Hyde Park characterises the location as a place where “eccentrics parade and pose for tourists to gawp”.62 One 60  This collaboration between Kilroy and Stafford-Clarke pre-empted their later collaboration, where Stafford-Clarke wrote to Kilroy on 28 March 1980 and invited him to adapt Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull to an Irish setting. The letter is located in the Thomas Kilroy Archive, Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, pp. 103/115. 61  Chambers, 113. 62  “Entirely New Look Theatre at the Abbey”, Evening Press, 7 October 1976.



reporter noted that “the Abbey came alive” for its late-night Festival presentation at the Abbey.63 The audience were described as wandering onto the stage when invited to buy tea and sandwiches from a vender operating from under a tangle of scaffolding. The speakers then slowly slip in, mingling with the spectators before embarking on their ‘formal’ contributions. Many of them are ‘freaks’. Men with tattooed heads, circus clowns, drug addicts. All except Axel, who discourses on group prejudice and what he considers to be the problems of the day. The audience moves around from speaker to speaker and intermittently heard interruptions from Lomas who, in something approaching Larry Slade in The Iceman Cometh, comments on the pathetic conditions and contributions of the other speakers. Through Lomas, the play laments the passing of the days when the park provided a real political context—before it turned into a place where “eccentrics parade and pose for the tourists to gawp at.64

Critical response to the production was aimed at grappling with the technical and theatrical concepts it presented, as well as digesting its political messages and commentary on social activism and public collective discourse, “pushing outwards to occupy new territories still devoid of surveyor’s benchmarks”.65 Kane Archer, critic at the Irish Times noted how assembled behind the Abbey Theatre’s “iron” there was a self-conscious awareness among the attendees, a mix of critics and the public resembling the gathered self-awareness of those at the Speakers Corner, the regular visitors, listeners and speakers at Hyde Park. What happens in terms of performance works in several directions and several conventions. “Though we remain on the Abbey stage we choose or refuse that we are part of the crowd moving around Speaker’s Corner, and we are involved, whether we like it or not, in an experience that is in part specific and in greater part a state of cumulative insight to which it is perhaps impossible to give a name”.66 Since it would seem that Joint Stock here attempts to reject any part of what is familiar in the theatre, the present venue worked against it. The audience would still know all too well where they were in reality during  “Audience on Stage for The Speakers”, Irish Press, 7 October 1976.  “Audience on Stage for The Speakers”, Irish Press, 7 October 1976. 65  “The Speakers at Abbey Theatre”, Irish Times, 8 October 1976. 66  Ibid. 63 64



the performance as they physically walked around the Abbey stage area. Yet the group surmounts the reality. The Speakers, with its immersive documentary form, represented a political forum, a space within the theatre realised through the possibility of communal dialogue between performance and audience. “It communicates what I take to be its object, an awareness of the dire fragility of the boundaries that lie between the common run of the so-called normal lives and the state of precarious and often agonizingly maintained equilibrium that these speakers are driven to attempt”.67 The performance of political labour and action by the actors formalised a physical and emotional reaction within the audience members. It was noted that some audience members flinched with contact from actors, others fell into the passive roles in which they found themselves and others argued back to what they were being ‘told’ by the actors: [T]he speakers do not tell us all the truth, they perform. Tell us part of their world and hide another part of it because their audience is necessary to their particular compromises with life and must not be lost to them. A fascinating experience and one that succeeds brilliantly and collectively in my senses.…The audience is supposed to be the Hyde Park crowd and is invited to argue with the characters.68

A scaffolding tower with lights and spot tools was used to designate playing areas for the immersive performance. The play explored the public and private lives of eccentric characters, from ragged religious clown, carrying his ‘pater-noster’ of sausages and wildflowers on an improvised cross, to an ex-con with his shaven and tattooed head, the speakers were an impressive lot. The hero, McGuinness, an Irish drug-addicted gypsy in and out of institutions, praying off the society that is tries to ignore him, described as “swaggering, honest at first, then ‘converted’ by a spell in Brixton to real thievery, McGuinness is a poem gone wrong, set wrong, by the society to which those who come to hear him belong. The actors, all exceptional, none could be named owing to the programmes not having arrived”.69 The experimental production at the Abbey had, however, to be abandoned owing to the unexpected behaviour of some members of the participating audience. Gardaí were called to intervene in a protest involving four members of the audience, but their attempts to evict the group from  Ibid.  “Abbey, The Speakers”, Evening Herald, 8 October 1976. 69  “Unusual Festival Work at the Abbey”, Cork Examiner, 8 October 1976. 67 68



the theatre had to be abandoned owing to counter-protests by other members of the audience. A short-lived attempt to restart the play had to be abandoned after further interruptions. The President of Ireland, Cearbhail Ó Dáilaigh, was present at the play’s start at 11.15 pm but was said to have left the theatre before the incident began some short time later. Two Gardaí and members of the Abbey staff tried to remove the individuals but were stopped by audience members who argued against their ejection from the theatre on the logic that the Abbey and the production invited participation and could not evict people when they provided it. The main heckler accused the Gardaí of being the killers of Tommy Smith, a member of the provisional IRA and who had been shot dead during an attempted break out from Portlaoise Prison in the previous year, 1975. Tomas Mac Anna, Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre also intervened and appealed for the show to be allowed restart. The speaker continued to heckle the speakers from a ladder that was used to actor-speakers within the production, commenting on the role of Frank Stagg and the killing of Smith. Other members of the audience argues with him with one member shouting to the Abbey staff, “You should go back to proscenium theatre”. Simon Callow, chosen to speak on behalf of the cast members, stated that the hecklers wanted to destroy the production. Callow was told in response that this is how he would have acted at the real Hyde Park speaker corner and that he recognised the character of McGuinness as a pal of his and disagreed at his portrayal. The hecklers, along with over half the audience members left the theatre, with Mac Anna offering the remaining members to stay and discuss the matters with the cast. The play was abandoned.70 The trouble started after a well-known Irish orator portrayed in the play was arrested by a London policeman. Two members of the audience rushed the policeman and a melee ensued.71 David Liddy, Manager of the Abbey Theatre, stated that this the Abbey’s first show of this nature and probably the last. One heckler went so far as to urinate on the stage. In the discussion that followed, one audience member claimed the hecklers had “minds like a sewer. A sewer would be cleaner.”72 70  “Impromptu Scenes at the Abbey”, Irish Times, 9 October 1976. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 71  “President Quits Abbey After Scuffles”, Irish Independent, 9 October 1976. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 72  “Abbey Play Abandoned in Uproar”, Irish Press, 9 October 1976. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive.



The use of documentary and archival source material, such as utilised by Joint Stock, also became increasingly deployed by Irish theatre makers in this period, most notably within new independent venues such as Project Arts Centre, but also at the Peacock Theatre, the experimental studio of the Abbey. New and emerging theatre makers dabbled in the form of documentary techniques to varying degrees of success but with new attention when faced with producing new theatre to reflect on national commemorations during the 1960s and 1970s.

Documentary and Commemoration: Staging the Politics of Memory Strike, a ‘Young Abbey’ co-operative production, was staged at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, on 17 May 1973 for three performances. Strike told the story in real time of the events of 30–31 August 1913, in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the Dublin Strike and Lock Out. The play depicted scenes such as the baton charge by Dublin police of the gathered crowds on O’Connell Bridge and the arrest of Trade Unionist Jim Larkin. The characters included a group of socialist workers, trade unionists and business owners, it also critiqued the position of the Catholic Church in Dublin during the Strike and Lock Out. The play incorporated songs with versus such as: Get their hands out of your pocket Their boots off your neck Kick if you can’t hit Bite if you can’t kick Rule your own lives So what’s the answer? Larkin has the answer.73

The play featured a courtroom scene where the actions of police who charged and beat protesters in Dublin in 1913 were debated. Embedded within the production were references to Bloody Sunday in Derry, where fourteen unarmed civil rights marchers and civilians were shot and killed by British security forces on 30 January 1972. Eye-witness and media 73  Prompt Script, Strike, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, Hardiman Library, NUI Galway. 17 May 1973. 18.



photographs from the killings in Derry were projected onto the back wall of the Peacock Theatre during the court-room scene where policing and civil rights within the state were being discussed. By referencing recent political issues such as Bloody Sunday in a temporal linkage to members of the police charging strikers in 1913, Strike showed the appetite of young theatre makers to embed the archival memory and political Irish memory within new experimental productions. Such works created a dual witnessing by audiences to both contemporary and historical issues regarding policing, security and civil rights within the state. Dev by Limerick-born playwright, G.P. Gallivan was first performed at the Project Arts Centre on 19 May 1977. Directed by Peter Sheridan the play starred Paul Bennett, Gabriel Byrne, Mannix Flynn, Olwen Fouré, Alan Stanford, among others, and spanned the career of Taoiseach and later President of Ireland, Eamon De Valera. The play breaks dramatic convention whereby at its opening the actors introduce their real names to the audience before taking on the roles of their character. The play discusses politics as theatre/politicians as actors and situates a character of an ‘Observer’ as a stand-in for an audience member—becoming an ‘actor-­ spectator’, observing Irish State memory unfolding through live documentary elements, such as projections of slide photographs onto the back wall and the playing of audio recordings of speeches by Winston Churchill within the performance.74 Live film clips and newsreel footage from the period of the Irish Civil War 1919–1921 and from later dates regarding De Valera’s political career up to 1931 were also projected during the performance. Some of those video materials included those sourced from the 1961 film Saoirse? originally produced by Gael Linn and directed by George Morrison. The use of contemporary and historical documentary sources implies a verity of source, a truth and impartial authenticity. Gallivan’s play, like others discussed within this chapter and wider study, embedded an archival memory into the live and present experience of the audience members. Within documentary theatre, the presentation of such documents encourages a consideration of the past in the present, often aided by the use of various media to project and broadcast such archival records, therefore becoming a performance of archival reanimation, positioning the present spectator within the ‘live’ retelling of the past. These forms of performance allude to the alienation effects of Brechtian political form, whereby  G.P. Gallivan, Dev (Dublin, Co-Op Books, 1978) 6.




reason, rather than emotion,75 is the means through which the performance is rationalised by a spectator. In that sense, the audience of such work, as by Joint Stock, G.P. Gallivan and similar experimental productions, and in which archival and documentary source material were utilised as both ‘text’ and dialogue within the play, perform a dual witnessing, performing their own spectatorship. Carole-Anne Upton also comments on the use of embedded archival memory in the form of documentary sources within documentary theatre work, and potential ethical risks that can arise, highlighting how “the unstable nature of truth and reality, and the capacity of the theatre to challenge and or endorse versions [of the past]”.76 As with the example of Strike above and the contemporary documentary allusions to the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, Brian Friel’s play The Freedom of the City, which premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1973, also addressed the present and embodied memory of the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry. Directed by Tomás Mac Anna and designed by Alan Barlow, The Freedom of the City was set in Derry on 10 February 1970. It depicts the events surrounding a small group of Civil Rights marchers who ‘occupy’ the parlour of the Mayor’s Guildhall in Derry, before being shot and killed by British soldiers as they leave the building, alluding to the recent killings of Bloody Sunday in Derry by British security forces. The play also dramatises a legal inquiry into the events leading up to and including the killing of the unarmed marchers in Derry in 1972. The inquiry scene in Friel’s play critiques the Widgery Report, the findings of a tribunal published on 18 April 1972 into the events of Bloody Sunday and chaired by the Rt. Hon. Lord Widgery.77 As Upton comments regarding the use of documentary drama in exploration of events like Bloody in Northern Ireland, both “truth and memory as agencies of historical reality continue to be fiercely contested in the present and official documentation is often

 Brecht, 23.  Carole-Anne Upton, “The Performance of Truth and Justice in Northern Ireland: The Case of Bloody Sunday”, in Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present, eds Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 179. 77  The Widgery Report became a flashpoint in legal and judicial responses to killings in Northern Ireland. Quickly dismissed at the time by civil rights groups, human rights experts and academics, the report was deemed a ‘whitewash’. The Widgery Report in published via the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN):, Accessed 12 November 2020. 75 76



regarded as ideologically suspect”.78 Friel describes the opening of the play in his directions: “Three bodies lie grotesquely across the front of the stage”.79 A press photographer enters to photograph the bloody scene, documenting evidence of the killings. A priest character crouches down as he enters, waving a white handkerchief over his head, a signal of surrender but also a plea for cessation of violence and for peace to resume. The opening scene is an obvious reminder of the infamous moment where on Bloody Sunday, Fr. (and later Bishop of Derry) Edward Daly, waved a similar handkerchief as behind him a group of people carried the bloody body of Jackie Duddy, one of those who died on Bloody Sunday.80 The figure of the judge in the play is positioned “high up in the battlements”81 overshadowing the stage, and serves to remind the audience of the power of authority in the formation of official narratives and legal judgements in cases of contested political events and as later those that become contested histories and archival memory. As Chris Morash has observed, The Freedom of the City “explodes its form in 1973 by collapsing the basic onstage/offstage opposition on which the play is based”.82 The mixed critical reaction the play received was at least in part in response to the play depicting a flawed investigative process as well as the staging reminders of such tragic killings within a Troubles play while the conflict was at a bloody peak. Morash argues that the audience already knew all too well the characters’ sad fate, their death at the hands (guns) of British soldiers and how official investigations and documentary evidence, such as that given to the Widgery Inquiry, became an official record without archival transparency. The public viewpoint was as frustrated as the audience who saw the play but who could not affect change by challenging upon official sources. This point if reflected in the play as the Judge states: “One of the most serious issues … is the conflict  Upton, 179.  Brian Friel, The Freedom of the City, Archive Script, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 20 February 1973. 20 February 1973. 4579_S_0001, p. 4. 80  The stole worn by Fr Edward Daly as he attempted to save Jackie Duddy’s life was donated to the Museum of Free Derry. It was stained with Jackie Duddy’s blood, and the oil Bishop Daly used to anoint him. Irish Times, 30 January 2019. https://www.irishtimes. com/news/politics/bishop-daly-s-stole-given-to-museum-on-47th-anniversary-of-bloodysunday-1.3774879, Accessed 12 March 2021. 81  Brian Friel, The Freedom of the City, Archive Script, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 20 February 1973. 20 February 1973. 4579_S_0001, p. 4. 82  Chris Morash, A History of Irish Theatre 1601–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 246. 78 79



between the testimony of the civilian witnesses and of the security forces on the vital question—who fired first?”83 Friel sets the play in Derry in 1970, rather than 1972, to avoid a direct replication of the events of Bloody Sunday. The dislocation of exact temporal placement, combined with the juxtaposition with action (sirens, shouting, gunfire) on the offstage and external world to the Guild Hall, which ‘holds’ the main action of the play, presents a confluence of locations and timelines. Further to this, the dual on-stage presence between the interior courtroom setting to where it simultaneously meets the exterior streetscape on which the bodies lie in their bloody state on the forestage, creates a distancing effect between the audience as witness (to a specific event reanimated in the recent past) and between audience as spectator (fixed within the present). As Anthony Roche explains, a central premise of the play is the fixed nature of the playing space within the Mayor’s parlour, but yet Friel’s play undermines this fixed presence of (political) space by the meeting of past and present, interior and external worlds. The fixity of time and place, as Roche states, is further fractured by the deployment of elaborate lighting, as the bodies at the opening lie illuminated at the stage apron under a ‘cold blue light’.84 The bodies are then illuminated to the audience but also revealed to the world by the flashbulb of the press photographer, whose image becomes a form of live-archiving and broadcasting to the world, preserving an archival memory of visual counter-narrative. As Friel’s play considered the politics of identity and accountability in Northern Ireland and the already forming residual memory of recent tragic events, The Abbey would also look at questions about how Protestant identity and working-class identity was being staged in the Republic by the end of the 1970s.

Healing and Violent Identifies: Graham Reid and Protestant Identity at the Abbey Theatre The Death of Humpty Dumpty by Graham Reid premiered on the Peacock Stage of the Abbey Theatre in September 1979. Sean McCarthy was newly appointed scripts editor of the Abbey at the time of Reid’s play being produced. McCarthy brought a radical vision to what an experimental stage  Brian Friel, The Freedom of the City (London: Faber and Faber, 1978), 60.  Anthony Roche, Brian Friel: Theatre and Politics (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 116–117. 83 84



and studio could do for a national theatre such as the Abbey. Strongly political in his views in support of the working classes and in particular of the working conditions of artists, McCarthy sought to create a new socially responsive body of work at the Abbey Theatre, in particular through the Peacock stage, in order to reflect a range of diverse artistic and political viewpoints. His politics led McCarthy to deplore the fact that theatre in Ireland (and in particular the major theatres such as the Abbey and the Gate) attracted a mainly middle-class audience in recent decades.85 Reid’s script had previously been accepted at the Abbey prior to McCarthy’s arrival but it was the first script that McCarthy worked on as script editor, a role which served as a form of literary manager at the theatre. McCarthy was thirty-four when he joined the Abbey Theatre. Born in Cork, he had previously joined the Abbey company as an actor in 1964, along with Donal McCann and Stephen Rea. With having made little impression on Ernest Blythe, McCarthy was let go from the Abbey. He soon found work acting with Gemini Theatre Company run by Phyllis Ryan and also at the Irish-language An Damer Theatre. McCarthy moved to the United Kingdom in 1968, and worked at various venues in London. Following a move to Scotland in 1970, McCarthy served as Literary Manager of the Royal Lyceum Theatre and as Artistic Director of the Young Lyceum. Working at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, McCarthy worked along John McGrath, founder of 7:84 Theatre Company and artists like Billy Connolly. One such project between McCarthy, Connolly and McGrath was The Great Northern Welly Boot Show, produced at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow in 1972 and which later transferred to the Young Vic in London. The play was a satire and musical comedy on the Upper Clyde shipbuilders work-in, a protest by the ship workers in the recently amalgamated Upper Clyde Shipbuilders company, which disastrously crashed in the previous year of 1971.86 McCarthy later collaborated again with John McGrath on the production of 7:84’s Trembling Giant in 1977, while also directing with the Joint Stock Theatre Company, founded by Max Stafford-Clarke (a group whose work at the Abbey is outlined earlier in this chapter). In taking up the newly formed role of script editor at the Abbey Theatre, McCarthy was helped by Thomas Kilroy and Hugh Leonard, both Literary  “Irish Dramatists? Write On!”, Hibernia, 6 September 1979.  “Scottish Artefacts in Digital Museum”, BBC News, 18 January 2010, Accessed 18 October 2020. 85 86



Managers at the Abbey in previous years (Kilroy succeeded Leonard in the role in 1979). Reflecting on how the Abbey should encourage new writing facing into the new decade of the 1980s, McCarthy believed that artistic urgency could not be separated from political and social urgency in a country that he perceived to be depressed by lack of radical political life. In reflecting on this social malaise, McCarthy suggested that “I find it disturbing: all the apathy and affluence and sprawl of awful housing estates and the obsession of keeping up with the Joneses. I believe fundamentally in the revolutionary leadership of the working class.”87 Crucially, McCarthy was committed to opening up the spaces of the Abbey, both its main stage and the Peacock studio, in order to present new and divergent voices and create a space for both artists and audiences of varying class backgrounds. To this end, McCarthy stated that he was “against Arts buildings that by their very forbidding nature … exclude the working class”. McCarthy named the Abbey as being a theatre that was guilty of just that offence, both in its physical structure and in its administrative and artistic ethos.88 Notwithstanding this, the Abbey had received some positive engagement and reception for recent plays that addressed working-class concerns but were also authentic in their authorship by being from playwrights who were of working-class backgrounds.89 Heno Magee was one such an important new dramatic voice at the Abbey during the 1970s, with works including Hatchett (May 1972) and Red Biddy (June 1973). His plays, alongside work by Graham Reid and as developed by Sean McCarthy, formed a new generation of writers from working-class backgrounds, from both Dublin and Northern Ireland, whose work found an outlet at the Abbey Theatre during the 1970s. Reid’s plays offered a Protestant Belfast working-class voice and perspective to the Abbey Theatre. Reid’s individual style may have at times been perceived as bleak and darkly violent in its brutal realism of urban  “Irish Dramatists? Write On! Hibernia, 6 September 1979.  “Irish Dramatists? Write On! Hibernia, 6 September 1979. 89  It is important to note that the most accessible theatre venues in terms of playwrights, actors and directors of working-class backgrounds were the new independent venues, such as Project Arts Centre. Another play Lee Dunne’s Goodbye to the Hill opened at the Eblana Theatre on 4 September 1976. Originally produced by Trio Productions, the play was subsequently restaged at the Regency Airport Hotel, Dublin in the 1980s when it ran for two years and ten months., Accessed 12 November 2020. 87 88



violence, sectarianism and class. Reid’s plays utilise a form of stark realism dark and at times, a raw humour, to extrapolate the human character from the devastating experience and lingering physical and psychological trauma that lingered for generations within communities and families of Belfast. Connal Parr outlines an insightful account of how Reid’s plays interrogate the formation and assumptions around Protestant and Loyalist identity, as well as the historiographic allusions as to how this identity has developed in Northern Ireland. Parr analyses how Reid’s self-declared British sense of identity contributed to his work finding its ‘home’ at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, as a cultural outsider.90 As Reid outlined: “theatre must be dangerous, it must confront and such confrontation becomes all the more important”.91 Most of all, Reid, in a similar vein to Thomas Kilroy, was a voice for playwrights at the theatre. Reid grew up on Donegall Road, Belfast, son of a shipyard labourer. He joined the army in his teens before completing a BA degree at Stranmills College, following which he taught at Gransha Boys High School in Bangor, Co. Down. Reid wrote the play from his direct experiences as working as a hospital porter in 1970s. Humpty Dumpty opened at the Peacock on 6 September 1979, directed by Patrick Mason. Mason was first engaged as a voice coach at the Abbey Theatre in 1972 by then artistic director, Lelia Doolan. One of Mason’s first engagements was as Musical Director on George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan at the Peacock Theatre, directed by Doolan in December 1972. Mason was instrumental in working on and developing numerus experimental works and new plays at the Peacock during the 1970s. As with plays outlined in this chapter, from Strike to Dev to The Freedom of the City, Reid’s play also engaged in the placement of testimony and documentary evidence within the play’s development. This was carried through to the play programme for Humpty Dumpty, included excerpts of testimony from survivors of serious injury and conflict in Northern Ireland during the recent years of the Troubles.92 These elements of embedded archival memory, sourced from oral accounts of contemporary experiences of those injured through conflict in Northern Ireland, present a living record and archive of the political and social 90  Connal Parr, Inventing the Myth: Political Passions and the Ulster Protestant Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 157. 91  “Irish Dramatists? Write On! Hibernia, 6 September 1979. 92  The excerpts were taken from the book Notes From Survivors edited by Alf McCreavy, published by Century Books, Donegal St. Belfast, 1976.



c­ ontext to the play. As noted in the testimony in the programme, between 1969 and 1975, 7395 civil disturbance victims were brought to the Royal Victoria Hospital. Around 362 were classed as ‘CID’—Carried in Dead. Reid’s play is not a reactionary comment on the political or sectarian causes of such violence, but rather an examination of the personal experience of grief and trauma in survivors, those seriously injured or maimed or those who were permanently emotionally and psychologically affected and traumatised in conflict, who, though as survivors, also presented a ‘living death’ in perpetual pain. Through his job as a hospital orderly at Musgrave Park Hospital where Reid worked in 1973, he witnessed first-hand the direct physical impacts and trauma that such injuries caused to many civilians in Northern Ireland. Reid wrote the play from the viewpoint of bearing witness to the patients he saw within the hospital and the after affects they lived with following medical treatment. Mason discussed his role in directing the play and to its development as a collaborative process between all cast, writer and director. He stated that “late in rehearsals [did] the true identity of the play reveal itself”.93 This marks a return to the workshop and collaborative creative process as espoused by Thomas Kilroy in his 1959 essay, A Groundwork for Irish Theatre, where multiple voices shape the work before reaching a unifying vision before its presentation to an audience. The play dismissed the application of labels, such as ‘cripple’, which served to dismiss the person al worth and physical space of those maimed by war within their family or community. Mason added how Humpty Dumpty was less about seeing life as experienced during the Troubles but rather about seeing life from a wheelchair.94 The character requirements also presented demanding physical challenges from the actors, as Clive Geraghty’s George Sampson was paralysed from the neck down and Liam Neeson’s Gerard Doyle was paralysed from the waist down. A full audio recording of the play from its production at the Peacock Theatre is digitised within the Abbey Theatre archive. (It was recorded on 28 September 1979.) This was a preview performance for the revival production which took place at the larger main Abbey Theatre auditorium. As noted elsewhere in this book, the impacts of new, experimental and socially responsive theatre was largely led by smaller pocket and studio theatres 93  Patrick Mason, “Director’s Note”, Programme, The Death of Humpty Dumpty, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive 1979. 94  Ibid.



active in Dublin during this time. The bearing witness to modernising Ireland through the theatre was felt greatest in the smaller theatres, allowing for a closer and more direct experience between the performance, actors and audience. As was noted in reviews of the revival of Reid’s Humpty Dumpty, the move to the bigger stage diluted the intensity of Reid’s script and original production at the Peacock. When questioned about the play being upsetting in tone, Reid did not deny the statement but clarified that he “set out to hurt people with it”.95 In seeking to emotionally and intellectually awaken audiences to the themes of the play, and give voice to the often silenced or peripheral injured of conflict, Reid’s play was an important contribution to the archival memory of the legacy of the Troubles, and in particular as told from a working-class and Protestant experience (Fig. 7.1). Reid succeeded in dramatising the universal experience of trauma in victims of conflict as well as the social conditions that underpinned the Protestant experience of sectarian conflict. As Lionel Pilkington has outlined: “Reid’s play reveals not so much the historical ‘facts’ of the crisis, but rather the psychological conditions governing much of the conflict: the feeling that violence is terrifying but also necessary for the maintenance and protection of a particular notion of identity based on authority”.96 Michael Sheridan reviewing the play for the Irish Press noted that within the play is the politics of Belfast, of Vietnam and of Cambodia.97 From the international and universal experience of physicality and masculinity, Reid’s personal story is also present within the play’s context. His father died when Reid was aged fifteen. A physical illness also led to Reid being told that demanding physical labour would be impossible and highlighted the fragility of Reid’s own body when considering work and labour options, limited within his home city of Belfast. The fragility of the human physical condition, as well as the fragility of the human physiological condition were central to Reid’s to many of Reid’s plays. So too were questions of memory, identity and contemporary experience within Northern Ireland’s Protestant community.

95  Interview with Graham Reid by Ronan Farron, Evening Herald, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, p. 5. 96  Lionel Pilkington, “Violence and Identity in Northern Ireland: Graham Reid’s ‘The Death of Humpty Dumpty’”, Modern Drama, Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring 1990. 26. 97  Irish Press, 4 December 1979, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway.



Fig. 7.1  The Death of Humpty Dumpty by Graham Reid, 1979, Abbey, Theatre, Dublin. Pictured include Colm Meaney, Clive Geraghty and Liam Neeson. (© Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway)

The spaces of conflict in plays examined in the Abbey Theatre during the 1970s, from domestic urban working-class homes, to spaces of power and authority, to public exterior spaces, all incorporated various forms of archival memory within the dramaturgical construction and deconstruction of the past within the present. Such forms of documentary evidence included residual memory as well as physical embodied scarring of bodies and memory. This extended beyond contemporary Northern Ireland and also considered the resonances and archival memory of death, trauma and national political narratives that stemmed from global warfare. Such works, as Reid’s play has shown, examined the experience of survivors’ physiological and physical trauma and of war’s lasting effects within both local and national perspectives of the past.



The Politics of Bodies: Staging Fragility in/ from Conflict In 1972, the Abbey Theatre produced Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie, programmed within the first season of the newly appointed Artistic Director, Lelia Doolan. The play was directed by Hugh Hunt and designed by Richard Barlow. The design used on the play programme cover included a number of British Tommies pictured in their army uniform, behind a number of prominent black lines of barbed wire (Fig. 7.2). The image not only reflected the experience of trench warfare and the British army during World War I but also drew parallels with the contemporary ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland. The Wolfetone’s song The Men Behind the Wire was released in December 1971 and reached number one in Ireland in January 1972. The song was composed and written by Paddy McGuigan in response to the British government policy of ‘Internment without trial’, otherwise known as ‘Operation Demetrius’ and which targeted those suspected of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and in particular, Catholics and Republicans. The programme was quite literally presenting ‘the men behind the wire’ as its main marketing image, but the image resonated further beyond the surface of its immediate appearance. The programme also included a photograph of the original production of The Silver Tassie, which was held at the Apollo Theatre, London, following the subsequent rejection of the play by W.B. Yeats and the Board of the Abbey Theatre in in 1928. The inclusion of this photograph is a further archival memory of the Abbey’s rejection of O’Casey’s play as well as his comments upon the brutal human toll of warfare, as echoed through Reid in 1979. The play was met with such rapturous public and critical acclaim in its 1972 production at the Abbey Theatre (the actors received ten curtain calls at the plays finish)98 that the Sunday Independent declared: “Come home Sean O’Casey, all is forgiven”.99 The European Tour of The Silver Tassie by the Abbey Theatre took in the Finnish National Theatre in Helsinki as well as the Théâtre Royal des Galeries in Brussels, Belgium.100 98  “Laffan’s Triumphant Return in Superb Abbey ‘Silver Tassie’, Evening Herald, 28 September 1972. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. 99  “The Silver Tassie Goes Abroad”, Tangents, 29 May 1973, RTÉ Archives. https://www., Accessed 12 November 2020. 100  The mechanics of setting up the stage and set for the second act of the play proved difficult and accounts stated that the conversations between the Abbey stage crew and the local



Fig. 7.2  Programme Cover, The Silver Tassie by Sean O’Casey, 1972. (Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway)

Tassie’s central character, Harry Heegan, a young football hero who returns from the war front is confined to a wheelchair following a catastrophic injury in the conflict and becomes a figure of pity and scorn to those around him. Heegan, played in the Abbey production by Pat Laffan, develops a sense of ‘Dublin naturalism’ as the play progresses according to stage crew was “a mixture of Flemish, French with an Irish accent and sign language”. “The Silver Tassie Goes Abroad”, Tangents, 29 May 1973, RTÉ Archives. archives/2018/0522/965240-abbey-theatre-in-belgium/, Accessed 12 November 2020.



Irish Times critic Seamus O’Kelly, following the expressionistic heights of the second act of the play, which is set in a twisted mass of barbed wire, gun metal, rotten corpses, a crucifix and field guns. The Abbey’s reengagement with the play in 1972, following only two previous productions in 1935 and 1951, was an acknowledgement of the play’s absence in the Abbey repertoire and its initial dismissal by the Abbey Theatre. A 1972 programme note by Gabriel Fallon also outlined the play’s turbulent relationship and history with the Abbey Theatre, offering contemporary audiences a context through which to position this current production.101 Tassie’s direction by Hugh Hunt and in Alan Barlow’s contemporary “chilling” design steered the play in dialogue with contemporary Ireland and indeed Northern Ireland, more so than with the battlefields of World War I. The production was an act of archival memory, in acknowledging the play’s premiere in London in the 1920s, its rejection by the Abbey, and its complex relationship the acceptance of war memory within national and community dialogues both within Ireland and in the United Kingdom. For those maimed by war or for many Irish people fought in the British Army during World War I, the lack of acknowledgement received coupled with the implication of being anti-Irish or anti-nationalist was an additional suffered trauma. As Alexandra Poulain observes, “war produces a discursive corpus which aims to conceal actual injured bodies and ultimately to deny their existence”.102 Barlow’s design for the Abbey production set out to counter this ‘present absence’ of the dead and the living who were carrying life-changing injuries, signifying the physical and mental trauma of war upon the body and mind. Poulain clarifies that the exposure of the maimed humanity made flesh performs as a communal Passion Play, a public reckoning with our humanity and fragility: [The Silver Tassie] appropriates the dramaturgy of the Passion play to expose injured bodies, restoring them to visibility against collective attempts at denial, and forcing us to acknowledge the reality of the injured soldiers’ suffering as they face a lifelong season in hell, as if they could never quite return from the trenches.103

 The Silver Tassie, Programme, 1972, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, 1972.  Alexandra Poulain, “The Passion of Harry Heegan: Sean O’Casey and the Silver Tassie”, Beyond Realism: Experimental and Unconventional Irish Drama since the Revival, eds. Joan FitzPatrick Dean and José Lanters (Netherlands: Brill, 2014). 64. 103  Poulain (2014, 75). 101 102



Hunt’s production was an atonement for the play’s initial dismissal at the Abbey but also a contemporary reflection on the embodied loss and grief suffered by those who return from war. Barlow’s designs reflected these themes in its barbed wire backcloths, rotting skeletons lying dehumanised under large field guns in No Man’s Land as part of the World War I European fronts. The position of the traumatised body and the politics of 1970s theatre and society created new resonances between the performance of embodied memory and that of the role of witness to conflict. New work by playwright Brian Clark offers a further contextualisation to this investigation and to the works by O’Casey and Reid respectively.104 Clark’s Whose Life is it Anyway?—a successful play that discussed the taboo topic of euthanasia—ran in London in 1978 at the Mermaid Theatre.105 Clark’s play was based on the central character, a sculptor, who was paralysed from the neck down following a car accident. He sought to be released from hospital so that he could choose to die on his own terms. The play deals with such ethical questions of responsibility, mortality, choice, life and death. Euthanasia was a prominent topic for debate in Ireland in the years prior to Clarke’s play. Opposition to new and more liberal legislation regarding permitting abortion or euthanasia in Ireland was primarily led by the Catholic Church who championed the cause against euthanasia on a platform regarding the sanctity of life, whatever the situation. In May 1975, a four-part pastoral was issued by Catholic Bishops in Ireland. Titled ‘Human Life is Sacred’, the pastoral included parts called ‘Yes to Life’ and ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. The pastoral letter outlined how euthanasia administered by medical facilities wold compromise the promise of trust and between doctors, patients and relatives: “From birth control to death control, from planned birth to planned death, there seems to be a logical progress but it is a logic of death, not

104  Brian Clark was born in 1932 in Bristol and began as an actor at the Old Vic in his native city. Clark was a teacher of Drama in University of Hull for many years before leaving to concentrate on writing in 1972. Whose Life is it Anyway? was first broadcast by Granada television on 12 March 1972. Clark also ran a publishing house, Amber Lane Press, which published many political and socially reflective plays. Some works published by Amber Lane Press include Once a Catholic by Mary O’Malley, Bent by Martin Sherman; Piaf by Pam Gem and Bodies by James Saunders. 105  The play opened at the Mermaid Theatre, London, in March 1978. It transferred to Broadway in 1979 and starred Jane Asher and Tony Conti, who won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role.



life”.106 The second section referred specifically to political violence on the island of Ireland. The Church described the Republican campaign and that of the provisional IRA as a systemic attack on the sacredness of human life and on the absoluteness of the moral law.107 In May 1976, soon after the publication of this Pastoral letter, a public discussion on the topics of abortion and euthanasia was held by the Royal College of Physicians, Ireland and was hosted by its president, Dr. Bryan Alton. The speakers included two Catholic priests and one lawyer on the topic of “Life and Death”. The talks addressed matters regarding legal and constitutional change that may be required in Ireland if ever abortion or euthanasia may be permitted.108 The audience was described as consisting of many nuns and priests rather than lay attendees. Legal experts outlined to those assembled how the right to life (for the foetus) and the right to death (for the terminally ill) were at that point in 1976, not to be found in the Irish constitution.109 This entailed that any challenge to the Irish constitution on euthanasia would be a lengthy and complex challenge, where many factors would need to be overcome, not least the considerable influence of the Catholic Church on these matters as espoused in their pastoral publication in 1975. Notwithstanding the public debate on this contentious issue, new theatrical works in this period would again bring an immersion into pressing contemporary political debates. Whose Life is it Anyway? was produced at the Lyric Theatre Belfast in May 1979, as part of a highly political Spring/ Summer season at the Belfast theatre. Clark was born in 1932 in Bristol (UK) and worked as a teacher before finding success on the West End and Broadway with his early plays. Clark left his teaching career in 1970 to take up writing full time. Whose Life opened in London’s West End in 1978 with Tony Conti in the lead role of the young sculpture who is paralysed from the neck down following a car crash but who demands his right to end his own life and have the machine keeping him alive switched off. Clark outlined his belief in the social morality of personal choice, where personal dignity begins with bodily autonomy and the right to control your wishes in order to live in society or conversely choose to die.110 106  “Human Life is Sacred: Pastoral Letter from the Archbishop and Bishops of Ireland to the Clergy, Religious and Faithful” (Dublin, 1975). 27–29. 107  Ibid., 37–39. 108  Irish Times, 14 May 1976, 14. 109  Ibid. 110  “It’s His Life Anyway”, Irish Times, 29 August 1979, 8.



Clark’s play was preceded at the Lyric by The Second Life of Tatenberg Camp by Armand Gatti produced by the Lyric at the Ridgeway Street venue, translated and directed by Joseph Long.111 Gatti was one of ­contemporary France’s leading playwrights.112 Known for his political and social theatre, Gatti took up the role of Writer-in-Residence at the Lyric Theatre in March 1980. He had been a member of the French Resistance during World War II but was captured and imprisoned in Hamburg, Germany. Gatti’s play was not a documentary piece but rather an imaginative attempt to gather through the strands of memory of survivors of the concentration camps and labour camps of the time.113 The play was focused on uncovering the reality within the unreality in shared memory. When Ilya Moisseivitch and Hilegard Frolick meet, their respective memories of the horrors of human brutality of World War II conflict with their personal experience. Reliving such memory has been framed by the archival space—the private and personal worlds where memory is retained and relived. Gatti, reflecting the intervention in archival order as espoused by Gaston Bachelard, presents his characters in a present that is altered by the reanimation of the archived past. “Characters which haunt the memory of Moisseivitch interrupt directly into his day-to-day life, whereas those which haunt the memory of Frau Frolick are reconstituted through the objects she handles every day: her puppets.114 Rather than attempting to retell a story of personal experience or memory, or to project political opinion, but instead serves to explores “history as it was lived”, the social record and archival memory. Gatti asks audiences, as co-witnesses in the present, to acknowledge and act in an ethical co-remembrance, in “a place

111  Joseph Long was a lecturer in Drama and French at University College Dublin and Director of the Drama Studies Centre. Long associated throughout his academic career as a translator of dramatic works between French and Irish drama, in particular in relation to the translation of works by Frank McGuinness into French. 112  Armand Gatti was born in Monaco, France, to Italian immigrant parents. From the 1950s onwards, his plays addressed many political issues attracted much international attention and acclaim in Europe. Le Crapaud-Buffle (1962) depicted the freedom struggle in Central America; V Comme Vietnam (1967) portrayed American politics and foreign policy in South East Asia, while La Passion du Général Franco was banned in performance, as it was judged to be politically provocative. Gatti was Writer-in-Association at the Lyric Theatre for the year 1980. 113  Memoranda: An Arts Notebook Curtain Calls, Irish Times, 7 October 1978, 14. 114  Joseph Long, Programme Note, The Second Life of Tatenberg Camp, Armand Gatti, T4/243, April 1979. Lyric Theatre Archive, NUI Galway.



in the corner of our memory for those whose lives have been swept into the wastepaper basket of official history”.115

Conclusion As has been outlined in this chapter, the 1970s was a decade in which a range of new dramatic works emerged on myriad stages and which sought to reflect on and engage audiences with the contemporary political landscape in Ireland, as well as with the broader interconnected international issues of the day. Diarmaid Ferriter has observed that through the 1970s Ireland underwent significant social and cultural change, from the emergence of a major new wave of Irish feminist activists, the increased presence in European (and global) political and economic affairs, increased scrutiny of inequality in society, and many other matters related to the social development of Irish society. Ferriter also notes how “culturally, artists broke new ground in giving poetic, theatrical and visual representation to Irelands old and new”.116 The works outlined in this chapter surveys a range of new politically reactive theatre in Ireland. Through utilising new experimental techniques, dramaturgical forms or through immersing audiences through new media within the theatre, theatre-going in this decade became an often political act. Artists who were often frustrated from lack of access to major theatres and stages in Ireland, from working-­ class playwrights to women writers and directors, were striking new ground in these years. Their histories, however, and the records which have documented them, have at times still remained peripheral to and within larger historiographies of modern Irish drama. The archival record of these plays, performances and the audiences who saw them (or protested against them) speaks of a time when Irish theatre was positioned at the barricades of social and political change and part of a national debate on the future direction of the country and its people.

 Long (1979. T4/243).  Diarmaid Ferriter, Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s (London: Profile Books, 2012), 4–5. 115 116


Conclusions: Memory and the Periphery in Irish Drama

From the beginning of the 1950s and in the succeeding two decades, a recognisable movement of new Irish playwrights and practitioners emerged. They formed a nucleus of artists concerned with the authenticity of expression and experience of contemporary Irish society. However, the historiography of Irish theatre has tended to focus primarily on trajectories supported by a ‘traditional’ canon that was aided and supported by those most within a position of privilege. Those others, outsiders of such considerations, and who were excluded from our performative national histories can claim new visibility and awareness through an archival memory. The precarious position of such artists ensured that most were largely working independently in the Irish theatre sector at the time and without certainty of security of being allied or contracted to a major venue or within a permanent company. As foregrounded through this book, I have traced a network of interconnected artists and themes that supports the argument that a critical body of work, now re-accounted for and recovered, was central to the development of a new understanding of contemporary Irish drama, one that was internationally influenced, stylistically important, dramaturgically radical and socially reflective. This book has examined a range of plays, playwrights, directors and theatre-makers, from national theatres to pocket and fringe theatre venues. It is no coincidence that events explored at the opening and closing of this book reflect on events at the Peacock stage of the Abbey Theatre. The experimental and studio space of any national theatre is a vital © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




component through which to continually revitalise and challenge the national drama, repertoire and form. As new theatres opened within the post-Emergency years in Ireland, such as the Pike Theatre, the Globe Theatre Company, the Eblana Theatre, the Project Arts Centre and the Focus Theatre, among many others, theatre-makers now had new outlets in which to explore and develop their craft on their terms and without the pressures of tradition, or an embodied archival repertoire. This expansion in theatre production also facilitated a new generation of artists to work in a range of spaces that they owned and in which they could develop their own style of theatre in new ways and through collaborative means. The events in the years and decades that led towards the end of the 1970s were critical in the development of not just a modern Irish drama, but also drama in a modernising Ireland. The ripple effects of years of change towards the end of the 1970s spilled over into the 1980s. By 1982, the Dublin Theatre Festival budget was reduced by £8000 to £30,000. The savings were to be achieved by cutting the Fringe components of the Festival, hiring less experienced staff, which resulted in depleting the overall competencies of the Festival and its staff.1 In 1983, the outgoing Festival programme director, Michael Colgan, stated that his hopes for future iterations of the Dublin Theatre Festival would build on previous work by the Festival and continue to establish new international theatrical links and develop international partnerships. Chair of the Festival, Dr. T.J. O’Driscoll, stated in response that the Festival should not lose sight of its stated policy, being to favour Irish plays and actors, but also not to lose sight of the fact it is also a major [international] festival.2 The minutes of meetings of the Board of the Dublin Theatre Festival reflected a festival at a crossroads—audience numbers were generally quite healthy but wide public awareness of the Festival and of Irish theatre generally among the public was lacking. It was essential that, while not wanting to develop as ‘another Edinburgh’, Dublin as a major European capital city (and Ireland more generally) needed to re-­ establish its theatrical identity. Ireland was about to pivot out of a centrally important period in the development of Irish culture and society and into a new time of economic recession that emerged through the 1980s. 1  Minutes of the Dublin Theatre Festival, 17 June 1982, PP/1/56 (156), Forristal Archive, NUI Maynooth. 2  Minutes of Dublin Theatre Festival, 14 December 1973, PP/1/56 (174), Forristal Archive, NUI Maynooth.



The preceding decades of Irish theatre, from the 1950s through to the end of the 1970s, energised by a generation of new practitioners and engaged audiences, contributed to the development of a progressive, experimental and socially responsive national drama. The archival memory of this drama, and the status of its preserved records today, provide new insights of not just a marginalised history, but enable us to chart how our contemporary drama has responded to the development of modern Ireland since 1950s. Declan Burke Kennedy, writing in Ireland Today on the topic of ‘Contemporary Irish Drama’, recounted how a second wave of new Irish dramatists, including Tom Murphy, Tom Kilroy, Desmond Forristal, J.P. Donleavy and Conor Cruise O’Brien, was evidence of how the native dramatic tradition had undergone a radical widening of horizons in its metamorphosis. “Here was a generation of playwrights not to be dictated to by the Church, State or ideological purists, yet strongly rooted in the native tradition and determined to shape it”.3 By the end of the 1970s a desired new standard of living and a modern and rejuvenated living environment in Ireland (and in particular, in Dublin), that would move beyond the conservative theocracy and political ruling class which had dominated the preceding decades since the establishment of the Republic in 1949, had failed to materialise. The post-Emergency modernisation of Irish society witnessed a corresponding theatrical modernisation. This took greatest effect upon the dynamics of dramatic form, social realism, thematic content, entrepreneurial energy and audience engagement and reception. By identifying these important developmental facets, the proponents and the key dramatic productions that account for such changes, this book offers a recalibration of Irish theatre production and historiography. It does so by letting the archives speak. In furthering this point, I have expanded the examination of the historiography of modern Irish theatre to include radical and innovative dramatic productions and practitioners supported with documentary sources and newly available archival evidence. As Christopher Collins and Mary P. Caulfield remind us: “If the past is a foreign country, then it has been

3  Declan Burke Kennedy, “Contemporary Irish Drama”, Ireland Today: The Bulletin of Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, 1 October 1976. Quoted in a lecture by Desmond Forristal, “Theatre in Ireland Today”, PP/1/56 (184) Forristal Archive, NUI Maynooth.



colonised”.4 Collins’ and Caulfield’s study lay in “lost histories and faded memories of Irish theatre and performance … [that] pluralize the historical narrative into a new broader, progressive and inclusive historical consciousness”.5 I have applied similar methodologies in examining the archival records of a hitherto less explored but important period for the development of modern Irish drama. This is necessary in order to take cognisance of an alternative modern Irish dramatic repertoire. The body of work I address presents myriad voices, classes, locations and personalities, diversely distributed within Irish society, those too often marginalised to the periphery of national memory. Addressed within the book are archival problems and challenges—none greater than the presence of absence. We need to address the centrality of canon on how theatre is programmed. If audiences are to be developed, renewed and expanded, so too must awareness of the heritage and tradition upon which theatre-going is built and upon which theatre-making is maintained. The ‘Gender Counts’ report, for example, produced and published by the ‘Waking the Feminists’ movement in 2017 is a record of archival data that provides evidence of the systemic marginalisation of women theatre-makers in Ireland in terms of inequality in employment, pay, working conditions and access to supports.6 Artistic practice, in the theatre and elsewhere, is an act of national archiving. It creates a record of dialogue and practice between the public and artist in how our society is functioning. How we remember as a nation cannot be dependent on what is collected within our national archive (and other archive repositories). If we can move towards a record of transparent national memory, which looks into the ‘darkest corners’7 of our State, the archive of our national drama is an indispensable source for seeking answers to questions at the heart of Irish identity.

4  Chris Collins and Mary P. Caulfield, eds., Ireland, Memory and Performing the Historical Imagination (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 1. 5  Ibid. 6   Gender Counts Report, Waking the Feminists, 2017, uploadedFiles/Main_Site/Content/About_Us/Gender_Counts_ WakingTheFeminists_2017.pdf, Accessed 10 January 2021. 7  In his statement in response to the publication of the report by the Commission to Investigate Child Abuse in Ireland in 2010, Taoiseach Brian Cowan commented that the report shone a light into the ‘darkest corner of Irish society’. “Shining a light into the State’s darkest corner”, Irish Independent, 12 June 2009.



Our national archives and our national memory must reflect the diverse and intercultural identities present within contemporary Ireland. If we depend on the ‘official’ record, or what is accepted or perceived to be official as our foundational primary source we risk the ongoing and continued marginalisation of memory of those peripheral to the positions of power in society. Writing in May 2019, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse in Ireland (‘The Ryan Report’) academic and writer Emilie Pine reminded us: “It is time to recognise that we [in Ireland] don’t have a culture of silence, we have a culture of not listening”.8 By facing the gaps in our histories, and intervening in the transparency of the archival record, we can acknowledge divergent experiences within difficult and often traumatic memories and records. By advocating for archival activism, it is possible to delegitimise the imposed custodial power of states and their agents who sought to impose an authority of complicit silence. These acts can serve to reverse, and change, the culture of ‘not listening’. While access to out-of-print play-texts and the role of publishing in providing (or controlling) access to works by lesser-represented theatre-­ makers, the archival barrier is also a factor. Archive repositories must audit their processes and reflect on how and what archives are collected. An archive of primary source material that does not challenge the reflected singularity and homogeneity of canonical form cannot enable future challenging bodies of scholarship or cultural/artistic (re)engagements. The preservation of an archive that is a mirror of the disproportionally male/ white/western record of theatre production acts as a complicit support to gendered and privileged inaction. The design of curricula in schools and universities can also challenge the form of future theatre-making. When pedagogical methods embrace a broader and active source base of plays, playwrights and neglected and marginalised theatrical records, a new repertoire, informed by an inclusive archival memory, can transform future works and future forms of theatre-making. Patrick Lonergan surmises that the narrow ideological and historiographic prism through which much of Irish national drama (and identity) is formulated and constructed has conditioned our understanding of Irish drama within multicultural and globalised constructs. “Globalisation has 8  Emile Pine, We Have a Culture of Not Listening to Abuse Survivors”, Irish Times, 14 May 2019.­ abuse-survivors-1.3891074, Accessed 12 January 2021.



brought multiculturalism to Ireland, but the globalisation of Irish theatre has, regrettably, meant that the most successful Irish plays are those that present Irishness in narrow and indeed restricted ways”.9 By drawing on hitherto unutilised documentary evidence from a cross-section of archival collections, it is possible to trace the networks, influences and formative events of a radical contemporary and socially reflective Irish drama. Much of these records reflect a history that has remained outside of the margins of the main Irish theatres: venues outside of long-standing state funding, regular established audiences or with traditions of particular production types or themes. These records, plays, and people reveal a dramatised narrative of daily lived experience by those largely and commonly excluded from national historical and theatrical discourse, namely, working-classes, women, children, im(em)igrants and those who were producers of the ‘little truths’ that are pivotal to the functioning of a social democracy. By the 1970s, Tony Judt confirmed the micro-analysis of experiences of the so-called little truths in place of the bigger national picture of big government and colonial and empirical concerns of nineteenth- and twentieth-­ century nations. By the end of the 1970s, the flowering of European intellectual liberal thought that extrapolated the micro from the macro debates of history, culture, identity and place, created a dialogue not just with the past but also with the present and between the stage and society in Ireland.10 In January 1968, future Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, Tomás Mac Anna addressed the Clonmel branch of the intellectual society, Tuairim, in Co. Tipperary. He delivered an address entitled “Drama in Ireland” and focused on the need to revive Ireland’s theatre through new and invigorative writing. New plays that Mac Anna spoke of were not lacking by their presence. He spoke of new playscripts arriving at the Abbey in every post-delivery. “Everyone in Ireland was writing plays”, he reported. The problem, in Mac Anna’s opinion, lay in what was being written: writers were being “imitative and not writing out of their own experiences about what was going on around them”.11 The economic development of Lemass’ Ireland was challenged by those sceptical of its potential for prosperity for society as a whole, or rather for those ‘captains of industry’ engaged in big business. As historian J.J. Lee has argued, the rejuvenation  Lonergan (2009, 196).  Judt (2012, 287). 11  “School for Playwrights at Abbey”, Irish Times, 30 January 1968. 9




of Ireland’s economic status was hollow and built on foundation-less and underdeveloped native structures.12 Irish culture, especially through its theatre, was imminently successful, popular, often controversial and a recognisable brand abroad. It represented quality and assurance of artistic measure that was yet enjoyable and accessible to international audiences. While Ireland’s modernisation was, as Lee argues, an often-hollow façade, the development of a modern drama inculcated a sense of excitement, possibility and experimentation. The records and archives of the plays and events brought together here, of writers, directors, producers and designers, of policy-makers and of the audiences who saw and responded to Ireland’s new theatre generation, are also a record of the Irish State in transition. The works and the archives from which we draw stand as a testament to a staging of a new Ireland, giving voice to a generation who witnessed and responded to Ireland’s transition from a tradition-dominant neutral island into an integrated and progressive ‘thinker’ in terms of culture and identity. Most of all, the plays and their records constitute an archive of modern Ireland itself, evidence of little truths, hidden histories and a social history of the modern Irish stage, its artists and its audience.

12  J.J.  Lee, Ireland, 1912–1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 163.


Archive and Primary Sources Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway (JHL). Dublin Diocesan Archive. Fr. Desmond Forristal Archive, NUI Maynooth. G.A. Hayes-McCoy papers, JHL. Gate Theatre Digital Archive, JHL. Joint Stock Archive, University of California, Davis. J.P. Donleavy Papers (Donleavy Estate/National Library of Ireland [NLI]). Thomas Kilroy Papers, JHL. Genevieve Lyons Archive, JHL. Lyric Theatre/O’Malley Archive, JHL. Brian Friel Papers, NLI. Ria Mooney Papers, NLI. Hugh Leonard Papers, NLI. D.E.S. Maxwell Papers, NLI. Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin. Sean O’Casey Papers, NLI. Arthur Shields Papers, JHL. Alan Simpson Papers, JHL. Carolyn Swift papers, JHL.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




Newspapers and Periodicals Cork Examiner. Evening Herald. Irish Independent. Magill Magazine. Irish Times. Irish Press. The Stage. Daily Mail.

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A Abbey Board, 23, 200 Abbey Experimental Theatre, 80 Abbey Theatre, 1, 4, 9, 20, 22, 23, 32–34, 53, 54, 58, 60, 64, 74, 76, 81, 92, 117, 130, 144, 169, 190, 192, 195, 196, 199, 205, 213, 220, 222, 226, 230, 234, 239, 247 Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, 71, 92 Abbey Theatre fire, 75 ABC productions, 205 Adoption Act, 49 Adoption of children, 31 Africa, 212, 214, 217 Aiken, Frank, 213 All the King’s Horses, 22 The American GI Bill, 127, 146 Apollo Theatre, London, 239 Archival activism, 251 Archival memory, 14, 30, 31, 69, 118, 122, 128, 247, 251 Archival repertoire, 248

Archive, 26 Arnold, Bruce, 137 Arthur, Othmar Remy, 106, 114, 115, 118 Arts Bill 1973, 201 Arts Council, 201 Audiences, 16, 36 Aukin, David, 223 Authentic, 19, 20 Avant-garde, 104, 122 Avant-garde theatre, 103 B Babb, Ena, 106, 119 Bailegangaire, 28, 74 Ballymun, 178 Barba, Eugenio, 7 Barrault, Jean Louis, 197 BBC, 116, 140 Beckett, Samuel, 7, 19, 37, 41, 131, 133, 139, 146, 153, 192, 198

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 B. Houlihan, Theatre and Archival Memory,




Behan, Brendan, 119, 128, 129, 131, 142 Behan, Dominic, 42 Bennett, Paul, 229 Bentley, Eric, 80 Berliner Ensemble, 80 Biafra, 213, 217 Biafran, 217 Biafran conflict, 218 Biddeau, Jeffrey, 106, 116 The Big Birthday, 169, 174 Bird’s Nest Orphanage, 44 The Bishop’s Bonfire, 40, 134, 161 Black Man’s Country, 211–213, 216 Blaney, Neil, 178 Blasphemy, 144 Bloody Sunday, 36 Bloody Sunday in Derry, 228, 230 Blythe, Ernest, 32, 43, 86, 87, 233 Boland, Geared, 45 Bond, Edward, 7 Bórd Fáilte, 195 Boucicault, Dion, 130 Bourgeoisie, 128 Bourke, Fergus, 60 Brecht, Bertolt, 80, 198 Brechtian, 26 Brendan Smith Academy, 79 Brennan, Dennis, 78 Brian Friel Archive, 95 British Council, 222 British Empire, 109, 212 British government policy of ‘Internment without trial,’ 239 British Pathé, 76 British Prime Minister, 110 British theatre, 19 Broadway, 81 Browne, Noel, 109 Bulfin, Michael, 204 Byrne, Gabriel, 229

C Cabaret, 81 Café La Mama, 223 Candle Press, 5 Canon, 247 Canonical form, 251 Canonicity, 17 The Caretaker, 204 Caribbean, 116, 117 Carr, Marina, 25 Casey, Eamon (Bishop of Galway), 214 Cassin, Barry, 22, 30n6, 104, 156 Casson, Bronwen, 197 Cathleen Ní Houlihan, 28 Catholic, 69, 117, 216 Catholic Church, 29, 40, 68, 123, 126, 131, 133, 136, 137, 160, 161, 218, 242 Censorship, 125–161, 209–211 Censorship of Publications Board, 126 Censorship Reform Committee, 137 The Chalk Garden, 72 Charabanc Theatre Company, 195 Childhood adoption, 49–53 Child mortality, 49 Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow, 109 City Theatre, 21, 22 Civil rights, 36 Clark, Brian, 242 The Clash, 186 Class, 8, 88, 127, 168, 235 Class inequality, 10 Cogley, Fergus, 138 Cogley, Madame, 23 Colgan, Michael, 248 Colin Smythe Press, 5 Collective theatre-making, 223 Colonial, 62 Colum, Padraic, 143 Comhairle Ealaíon, 201


Commemoration, 228–232 Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse in Ireland (‘The Ryan Report’), 251 Commonwealth, 117 Connemara, 87 Connolly, Billy, 233 Connolly, Sybil, 86 Connor, Edric, 116 Constitution of the Irish Republic, 93 Constitution of the Republic of Ireland, 151 Contraception, 10, 18 Co-Op Books, 5 Cosgrave, Liam, 213 Cosmopolitan, 120, 171 The Country Boy, 76, 83, 85, 87, 91, 93, 94, 178 The Country Girls, 54, 60 Courtrooms, 34, 36–38 Craig, May, 33 Crowe, Eileen, 33 Cumann na mBan, 208 Currency, 223 Cusack, Cyril, 9, 40, 44 D Da, 164, 166, 169, 180, 187, 188, 190, 192 Daffodils, 64 Dalkey, 173, 183 D’Alton, Louis, 174 An Damer Hall, 35, 119 An Damer Theatre, 30n6, 233 D’Arcy, Margaretta, 22, 23 The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche, 107n10, 154 Dead End Kids, 204 De Burca/P.J. Burke Books, 5 Deevy, Teresa, 25, 28, 30, 64


Demona Players, 1 Dench, Judy, 81 Dermody, Frank, 1, 201 Derry, 36 Dev, 229 De Valera, Eamon, 84, 94, 125, 229 Devine, George, 205 Devlin, Anne, 25 Digital preservation, 11 Dillon, James, 109 Diplomacy, 215–219 Documentary, 223, 228–232, 244, 249 Documentary drama, 196 Documentary theatre, 222–229 Dolmen Press, 5 Domestic, 27, 29, 30 Donleavy, J.P., 131, 137, 140, 142, 249 Doolan, Lelia, 9, 23, 25, 69, 97, 110, 195–197, 200–202, 224, 235, 239 Douglas, James, 182 Dowling, Joe, 195 The Dream of Gerontius, 125 Druid Theatre Company, 74, 195, 214 The Drums of Father Ned/The Rose Tattoo, 157, 161 Dublin City, 27, 178 Dublin City Council, 206, 210 Dublin City Council Cultural Committee (DCCC), 210 Dublin Diocesan Archives, 127, 155 Dublin Horse Show, 115 Dublin Horse Show Week, 80 Dublin Housing Action Committee (DHAC), 208 Dublin International Theatre Festival, 85, 134, 137 Dublin’s Gate Theatre, 219 Dublin Strike and Lock Out, 228



The Dublin Theatre Festival, 100, 187, 192, 195, 215, 216, 222, 248 Dún Laoghaire, 44 Dunne, Eithne, 80 Du Pont, Chloe, 106, 119 E Easter Rising of 1916, 208 The Eblana Theatre, 35, 130, 131, 160, 177, 248 Economic Community (EC), 212 Economic modernisation, 29 Eden, Sir Anthony, 110 Edwards, Hilton, 32, 95, 98, 195, 203, 215, 216, 219 Elliman, Louis, 42, 155–159 The Emergency, 125 Emigration, 18 Emmett, Robert, 65 Empire Theatre, 81 Employment, 20 En Attendant Godot, 19 The Enemy Within, 94 Ennis, Seamus, 116 Entertaining Mr. Sloane, 128, 129, 131 Ethiopian, 220 European Economic Community, 18, 122 Evidence, 37 Experimental, 89, 131, 224, 230 Experimental studio, 228 Export Trade, 118 Expressionism, 23, 199 Eye-Winker Tom-Tinker, 199 Eyre, Ronald, 57

F Fabbri, Diego, 121 Fahy, Martin, 203 Fáil, Fianna, 53 Fáilte, Bórd, 85, 112 Fairy Tale of New York, 127, 155 Faith Healer, 168–169 A Family, 27 Family, 29 Famine, 4, 181, 211–215, 221 Fanshen, 223 The Far Off Hills, 1 Feminist, 20–26, 30 Ferriter, Diarmaid, 245 Fianna Fáil, 178, 191 The Field, 21 Fin de Partie, 146 Finnan, Paschal, 205 Finnegan’s Wake, 42 Finucane, Marion, 182 FitzGerald, Barry, 32 FitzGerald, Eithne, 209 FitzGerald, Jim, 80, 137, 176 Flynn, Mannix, 229 The Focus Theatre, 203, 248 Follies, 4, 20, 108 Follies in the Sun, 77, 116, 119, 122 Footfalls, 37 Foreign policy, 118, 212 Forristal, Desmond, 217, 218, 249 Fortnight magazine, 57 Foucault, Michel, 19 Fouré, Olwen, 229 4-in-1 Players, 204 Foxrock, 173 Forristal, Fr. Desmond, 215 The Freedom of the City, 36, 230 Frankfurt Theatre, 198


French Embassy, 197 Friel, Brian, 2–4, 36, 54, 77, 88, 94, 97, 133, 168, 169, 174, 178, 185, 230 Fr. Nolan, Gerard S. J., 142, 156–158 G Gaiety School of Acting, 79 Gaiety Theatre, 40, 80, 95, 125, 128, 131, 155, 156, 158, 160 Gallivan, G.P., 229 Gardaí, 227 Gas Company Theatre, 79, 81 Gas Works, 75 Gas Works Theatre, 81, 175 Gaskill, William, 222 The Gate Theatre, 5, 32, 79, 108, 116, 117, 119, 137, 195, 203, 215, 218 The Gathering, 53, 60 Gatti, Armand, 244 Gemini/Orion Theatre, 108 Gemini Productions, 22, 98 Gemini Theatre Company, 233 Gender, 20–26, 32–35 Genet, Jean, 7 Geraghty, Clive, 236 An Giall, 119 The Ginger Man, 126, 131, 140–143, 145, 148, 151, 155, 156 Girodias, Maurice, 139 Globalising, 77 Globe Theatre, 71, 128 The Globe Theatre Company, 4, 71, 75, 100, 108, 128, 130, 158, 175, 248 Goodbye to Berlin, 81 Good Friday Agreement, 212 The Good Person of Szechwan, 199 Gorta, 214 Grass, Günter, 205


Great Britain, 116 The Great Famine, 87, 213 The Great Northern Welly Boot Show, 233 Gregory, Lady Augusta, 5, 25, 28, 172 Greyhound Industrial Bill, 109 A Groundwork for Irish Theatre, 236 Group Theatre, 85 Guinness, 212 H Haire, John Wilson, 57 Halliwell, Kenneth, 128 Hamlet, 72, 73 Happy Days, 37 Hare, David, 223 Harris, Julie, 81 Harris, Richard, 157 Hatchett, 234 Helen, 140 Herbert Lane, 52 Heritage, 18 Herlihy, Michael, 78 Hewes, Henry, 72 Hickey, Tom, 204 Higgins, Aidan, 177 Hill, Killiney, 170, 179, 183, 185 Historiographies, 20, 24, 25, 31, 35, 247, 249 Hobson, Harold, 103, 142 Hogan, Des, 205, 206 Holder, Boscoe, 116 Holy Communion, 64 Holy Ghost Fathers, 212 Homosexual, 18 Horizon Theatre Company, 204 The Hostage, 131, 132, 141–143 The House of Bernarda Alba, 80, 130 Housing, 18, 20 Hudson, Christy, 205 Hugh Lane Gallery, 27



Humanitarian, 213 Hume Street, 182 Hunt, Hugh, 81, 195, 201, 239, 241, 242 Hyde Park, 224, 225, 227 Hynes, Garry, 74, 214 I I Am a Camera, 4, 81 Immersive, 222–228 Immersive documentary, 226 India, 213 Intercultural, 20, 113 Interculturalism, 105 Internationalisation, 71, 110, 122 Internationalism, 213 International trade, 118 Ionesco, Eugène, 7, 121 Irish Censorship Board, 137 Irish Citizen Army, 208 Irish Coffee, 113–115, 119, 122 Irish embassy, 212 Irish Housewives’ Association (IHA), 46 Irish identity, 29 Irish law, 35 Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 94 Irish National Theatre Society, 10 Irishness, 29 Irish Ropes Ltd., 118 Irish tourism board, 112 Irish trade, 112–117 Irish Whiskey, 119 Irish women playwrights, 29 Isherwood, Christopher, 81 J James Duffy Press, 5 Jaquarello, Roland, 9, 75, 131, 136 Joan, Saint, 71

Johnston, Denis, 42, 170, 172 Joint Stock, 223, 225, 230 Joint Stock Theatre Group, 222 Jordan, Neil, 204 Jordan, Tom, 204 Joyce, James, 62, 131, 137 Juno and the Paycock, 21 K Katie Roche, 28 Kaufman, George S., 77 Keane, John B., 21, 143 Kelly, David, 109, 110 Kelly, George, 138 Kennedy, Declan Burke, 249 Kennedy, John F., 18 Kenny, Sean, 57, 58, 63, 66 Kill, 164, 169 Killiney, 173 Kilroy, Thomas, 2, 107n10, 133, 154, 166, 168, 172, 177, 182, 224, 233, 236, 249 King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 233 Kitchen cottage, 34 L La Comédie Française, 197 Laffan, Pat, 203 Lagos, 212 Lally, Mick, 180, 214 Larkin, Jim, 228 Laverty, Maura, 30, 32 The League of Decency, 209, 210 A Leap in the Dark, 43, 166, 185 Le Brocquy, Louis, 27–29 Leeney, Cathy, 26, 30, 69 Le Febvre, Henri, 35 Legal adoption, 10, 51 Legal Adoption Bill, 46 Lemass, Seán, 18, 120, 143, 144, 163, 252


Leonard, Hugh, 21, 34, 43, 54, 89, 137, 164, 182, 183, 233 Lever, Nora, 69, 104 Lewenstein, Oscar, 98, 100 The Liberty Suit (1977), 205 Liddy, David, 203, 227 A Life, 164, 166 Life magazine, 86 Liffey Lane, 32 Limerick, 20, 22, 23 Limerick Theatre Festival, 60 Linn, Gael, 119 London, 207, 224 London squats, 207 Long, Eileen, 110 Longford, Christine, 5, 69 Longford, Lord Edward, 5 Look Back in Anger, 19, 126, 135, 136, 140, 150, 176 Loot, 128, 129, 131, 136 Lorca, Gabriel Garcia, 80, 130 Lucille Lortel Theatre, 71 Lulu, 205 Lunch With Brecht, 204–205 Lynch, Jack T.D. (Taoiseach), 116, 201 Lynch, Noel, 106 Lyons, Genevieve, 4, 69, 78–81, 158 Lyric Theatre Belfast, 243 M Mac Anna, Tomás, 35, 36, 60, 97, 104, 195, 202, 203, 227, 230, 252 MacIntyre, Tom, 199, 200 Macken, Walter, 201 MacLiammóir, Micheal, 32, 99, 137, 195, 203 Madigan’s Lock, 173, 180, 193 Magdalene Laundries, 8, 38, 54, 64 Magee, Heno, 234


Maher, Mary, 205 Makurian, Abata (Artistic Director and Manager of the National Theatre of Ethiopia), 220 Manahan, Anna, 46, 106, 129 Manning, Mary, 11, 24, 25, 30, 42, 69, 205 Marriage, 31 Mason, Patrick, 30n7, 54, 56, 60, 197, 235 Maura Cassidy, 38 McArdle, Dorothy, 25 McCabe, Eugene, 4 McCabe, Vincent, 208, 209 McCann, Donal, 233 McCarthy, Sean, 232, 234 McDonnell, John, 22 McFeeley, Deirdre, 26 McGahern, John, 63, 137 McKenna, James, 4, 48, 57, 186 McKenna, Siobhán, 71, 73 McMaster, Anew, 79, 205 McQuaid, John Charles (Archbishop), 45, 131, 134, 142, 155, 218 McSharry, Deirdre, 110 Medhin, Tsegaye, 219 Memoir, 63 Memory, 14, 15, 26, 37, 177, 186–191, 213–215, 228–232, 247–253 Memory spaces, 26 The Men Behind the Wire, 239 Mercury Theatre, 223 Mermaid Theatre, 57, 242 Middleclasses, 29, 127, 172, 207 Miller, Arthur, 79 The Millstone, 25, 30n5, 46–53 Minister for Education, 116 The Minister for External Affairs, 213 Minister for Justice, 45 Missionary aid, 211 Miss Julie, 79



Mnouchkine, Ariane, 7 Mobile Homes (1976), 205 Montserrat, 117 Mooney, Ria, 23, 33, 79, 80, 201 The Moon in the Yellow River, 170 Morash, Chris, 34, 35, 37 The Morning after Optimis, 34 Morris, T.B., 137 Morrissey, Eamon, 160 Morton, Laurie, 106, 107 Mother and Baby Homes, 8, 38, 54 Mother and Baby Homes Commission, 59 Mountjoy Square, 208 The Mundy Scheme, 169, 185 Murphy, Fidelma, 33 Murphy, John, 77, 85, 178 Murphy, Tom, 4, 28, 34, 74, 133, 168, 174, 181, 192, 213, 249 N National Library of Ireland, 95, 203 National theatre, 20 Naturalism, 132 Neeson, Liam, 236 Nelson’s Pillar, 212 Newman, Cardinal John Henry, 125 New York, 72 Nigeria, 212, 216, 219 Nigerian Embassy, 218 Nigerian-Biafran conflict, 216 Ní Ghráda, Máiread, 22, 25, 30, 35–39, 51 Ní Gríofa, Doireann, 6 Ní Houlihan, Cathleen, 86 1952 Adoption Bill, 45 1974 Arts Act, 204 Nine Years War, 65 No Entry (1976), 205 Noel Browne’s ‘Mother and Child Scheme,’ 151

Northern Ireland, 18, 207 Norton, Jim, 129 Not I, 37 O O’Briain, Colm, 204 O’Brien, Conor Cruise, 249 O’Brien, Edna, 11, 24, 25, 30, 39, 53–60, 137 O’Casey, Sean, 8, 9, 21, 40, 44, 134, 141, 153, 160, 168, 198, 202, 239 O’Connor, Frank, 137 Ó Dáilaigh, Cearbhail (President of Ireland), 227 Oda Oak, 220 Oda Oak Oracle, 219–222 O’Dea, Jimmy, 80 O’Donovan, Fred, 32 Off-Broadway, 71 Office of the Lord Chamberlain, 126 O’Kelly, Colm, 46 Olney Theatre, Maryland (USA), 187 Ó Lochlann, Gearóid, 46 Olympia Press, 127, 139 Olympia Theatre, 129, 130, 142, 182, 187 Onkel Onkel, 205 On Trial, 30, 35, 38 Operation Demetrius, 239 Orion Productions, 22, 130, 175 Orton, Joe, 128, 132, 136 Osborne, John, 19, 126, 128, 131 O’Shea, Milo, 106, 108, 110 O’Toole, Fintan, 164, 166 Outlook Unsettled, 205 P The Padraig Pearse Motel, 173 A Pagan Place, 25, 30, 53–69


Pageant, 117 Palitzsch, Peter, 198 Pandora Productions, 205 Pan Productions, 205 Parent Concern, 210 Paris, 19, 197 The Patrick Pearse Motel, 34, 164, 187 Paul II, John, 18 Peacock Theatre, 1, 196, 203, 219, 228, 234, 236, 247 Phelan, Peggy, 26 Philadelphia, Here I Come!, 3, 25, 77, 89, 94, 96, 97, 133 The Pike aesthetic, 43–49 Pike Theatre, 4, 10, 19–21, 40–43, 71, 75, 77, 78, 80, 100, 106, 115, 121, 122, 128, 144, 248 Pike Theatre Club, 41, 52, 103 Pike Theatre Company, 52 Pilkington, Lionel, 40, 41 Pinter, Harold, 7, 131, 198, 204, 222 The Playboy of the Western World, 168 The Plough and the Stars, 109, 168 Plunkett, James, 137 The Poker Session, 21 Post-colonial, 113, 128, 212 Post-colonialism, 221 Post-colonialist, 212 Posterity be Damned, 42, 43 Post-war British theatre, 126 Pregnancy, 31 The Project Arts Centre, 10, 127, 197, 203, 205, 223, 229, 248 The Project Centre Archive, 203 Protestant, 234 Protestant identity, 232–238 Provisional IRA, 227 Q The Quare Fellow, 43 Queen’s Theatre, 75, 89, 119


Quigley, Godfrey, 129, 130, 158, 175 Quilligan, Veronica, 60 R Racism, 10 Radharc film unit, 215, 218 Radió Éireann, 44 Realism, 133, 234 Reamonn, Sean Mac, 116 Rea, Stephen, 233 Red Biddy, 234 Reflected Glory, 138 Reid, Graham, 232–238 Repertoire, 15 Reynolds, Paige, 69 Richards, Shaun, 34, 35, 37 Roberts, Charlie, 106 Robinson, Lennox, 1, 2, 174 Rodway, Norman, 175 Roman Catholic, 18 Ronconi, Luca, 7 The Rose Tattoo, 40, 139, 141, 144 Rough Magic Theatre Company, 195 Royal Court Theatre, London, 19, 30n7, 57, 58, 60, 66, 141, 205, 223 Royal Court Upstairs, 223 Royal Lyceum Theatre, 233 Ryan, John, 57, 160 Ryan, Phyllis, 20, 22, 25, 69, 98, 130, 175, 233 S Saint Joan, 72, 202, 235 The Sanctuary Lamp, 168, 183 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 121 Say It with Follies, 105–112 The Scatterin, 4, 48, 57, 176, 186 Scores, 11 Scott, Michael, 75



A Season of New Irish Plays, 205 The Second Life of Tatenberg Camp, 244 Sectarianism, 235 7:84’s Trembling Giant, 233 7:84 Theatre Company, 233 Sexism, 10 Sex Pistols, 186 Sexuality, 31, 55 Shakespeare, William, 71 The Shaughraun, 130 Shaw, George Bernard, 71, 72, 192, 202, 235 Shea, Wendy, 61, 190 Sheridan, Jim, 205 Sheridan, Peter, 205 Sheridan brothers, 205 Shields, Arthur, 32 Sihra, Melissa, 6, 25, 26, 69 The Silver Tassie, 202, 239 Simpson, Alan, 39, 40, 43, 44, 57, 78, 103, 107, 115, 127, 137, 160, 195, 201 Sive, 29, 143 Slemon, John, 200, 202 SLOT. (the St. Laurence O’Toole Players), 204 Smith, Brendan, 195 Smyly, Ellen, 44 Solga, Kim, 26 The Solid Gold Cadillac, 77 Sound files, 11 Spanish Flamenco, 111 The Speakers, 222–224, 226 The Squat, 205–207 S.S. Empire Windrush, 118 The Starry Plough, 208 St. Patrick’s Day parade, 212 Stafford-Clark, Max, 222, 223, 233 Stanford, Alan, 204, 229 Stanley, Martina, 61 Stephen D, 100, 172

Stephen’s Green, 182 Strike, 229, 230 Suez campaign, 110 Summer, 54, 170, 176–186, 188 Surrealism, 131 Surrealist, 129 Swift, Carolyn, 20, 24, 25, 30, 39–44, 50, 57, 69, 77, 78, 87, 103, 115, 116, 120, 121, 138 The Swine and the Potwolloper, 205 Synge, John Millington, 168 T Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, 180, 214 Talbot Press, 5 Talbot’s Box, 168 Taoiseach, 18 Tea, and Sex, and Shakespeare, 224 Teddy Boys, 176, 186 Teichmann, Howard, 77 Temple Bar, 204 That Time, 37 Théâtre de Babylone, 19 The Theatre de Lys, 71, 72 Théâtre de Poche, 41, 119 Theatre du Soleil, 197 Theatre historiography, 12, 13 Theatre Royal, Hawkins Street, 42 The 37 Club, 104 Time magazine, 18 Time Was, 166, 173, 176 Tolka Row, 32 An Tóstal, 85, 134 An Triail, 22, 35 An Trial, 30n6 The True Story of the Horrid Popish Plot, 215 Town Hall in Dún Laoghaire, 44, 49 Trauma, 15 Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, 233 Trócaire, 214


Trotter, Mary, 69 Troubles, 217, 218 T.R. Royal, 157 Tuam Mother and Baby Home, 59 Tudor conquest of Ireland, 65 U Ulysses, 62 UNESCO, 220 United Kingdom, 87 United Nations, 212 United States (US), 18 Unity Theatre, 40 Upper-class, 131 Urban, 34 V Van Drutun, John, 81 Veritas Christi, 210 Verse play, 219 View from the Bridge, 79 Vogue magazine, 87 The Voice of Shem, 42 W Waiting for Godot, 19, 41, 42 Waking the Feminists’ movement, 250 A Walk on the Water, 166, 175–177, 188, 189


Wedekind, Frank, 205 We Dig for the Stars, 137 We’re Guilty Cause We’re Filthy, 209–211 Wesker, Arnold, 7, 131 West Indian, 116, 117 West Indies, 119 Westwater, Rosalie, 154 Whitaker, T.K., 120 Whose Life is it Anyway?, 242, 243 Widgery Inquiry, 231 Widgery Report, 230 Wilson, Robert, 7 Windrush Generation, 117 Wiseman, Philip, 155 Witnesses, 36 Witness testimony, 36 The Wolfetone, 239 Women at Work, 205 Wordsworth, William, 64 Working-classes, 13, 172, 191, 233, 234, 245 World War I, 242 Y Yeats, Anne, 104 Yeats, W.B., 9, 28, 192, 221, 239 Yesterday’s News, 223 Young Abbey, 228 Youth, 95 Youth culture, 84 Youth movement, 83