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Studies on the contemporary Irish theatre

Jacqueline Genet
Elizabeth Hellegouarc’h

Some themes in recent Irish drama

Christopher Murray

Texte intégral

1This paper is something of a shot in the dark. Already you will have had papers on the most successful and significant Irish drama of contemporary times by Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, Tom Kilroy, Stewart Parker and others including the neophyte Seamus Heaney. What is left for me to consider begins to look like crumbs from the academic feast. What I want to do, in fact, rather than painstakingly gather those crumbs and hope for a miracle, is to leave the trodden paths and explore the lesser-known margins, lesser-known precisely because they are new and therefore untried by time. So, by recent Irish drama I mean here new drama by authors other than the big names so far addressed. They are mostly, but not all, young. Whether these new writers will become the major writers of tomorrow is another matter. My brief is to look at themes rather than to evaluate authors. I intend to be selective rather than comprehensive, and accordingly I’ll be focussing on a relatively small number of texts chosen to suggest certain patterns of change or development, whether for good or ill I’m not prepared to say. Straws in the critical wind, perhaps.

2My partial approach is also revealed by the phrase some themes in my title. I don’t attempt a full exploration of the themes of recent Irish drama, taking recent Irish drama to cover, roughly, the years 1980-1990, a decade being a reasonable slice of time to which to ascribe meaning. I’ll deal with some themes, then, but not all. The omissions may and perhaps should cause comment. As to themes, by that I mean significant emphases. Why and wherein a theme is or becomes significant may, once again, raise questions. I have to let those questions hang fire at this point and risking the charge of subjectivity press on. I’m dealing with selected themes because I believe we can thereby get a sense of what is happening now in the Irish theatre.

  • 1 W.B. Yeats, “Advice to Playwrights Who are Sending Plays to the Abbey, Dublin”, quoted by Lady Gre (...)
  • 2 Daniel Cokery, Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature, Cork, Mercier Press, 1966, p. 19: “The three grea (...)

3Irish drama has always answered well to the thematic approach, in contrast to American or British drama where the range of material is too large for such analyses to be meaningful. From the first, that is from 1899, the Irish dramatic movement has focussed on a fairly narrow band of preoccupations. Obviously, these were related to the whole self-defining purpose which lay behind the so-called Irish renaissance. If Joyce could provide Stephen Dedalus as would-be artist with the aim of forging in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race Yeats, Synge and Lady Gregory were quite capable of drafting a similar agenda for Irish dramatists. Nationalism, by whatever definition, was clearly one initial emphasis, whether in inspirational or critical terms. But as the Abbey Theatre became established the notion of drama as mirror of society became established, for good or ill. This mimetic, representational emphasis, while distrusted by Yeats, was generally accepted so long as it implied an Arnoldian criticism of life. Thus Yeats prescribed instructions for intendant playwrights: “A play to be suitable for performance at the Abbey should contain some criticism of life, founded on the experience or personal observation of the writer, or some vision of life, of Irish life by preference important from its beauty or from some excellence of style1.” The critical mirror held up to Irish society disclosed the Irish passion for land, the Irish interest in if not fixation upon the supernatural, and the Irish passion, so troublesome to Yeats, for politics in all its diverse forms, cultural and social. These are the well-known themes of Irish drama up to and including O’Casey’s best work. We are familiar with such themes and probably have no quarrel with Corkery’s insistence that land, religious consciousness and political consciousness were the distinguishing preoccupations of Irish drama2. Where we would quarrel, probably, is over any application of these themes formulaically. For Irish drama has always been first and foremost lively, colourful and romantic. Somehow it has managed, with varying degrees of energy and at differing centres (such as the Abbey, the Gate, the Pike, and so on), not only to reflect Irish life critically but also to celebrate it recklessly, to suggest a transcendent reality even while mirroring the deficiencies of socio-economic reality.

4If we can accept then that there is a live tradition behind and energizing Irish drama, we can move on past O’Casey and thirties’ playwrights like Paul Vincent Carroll to consider other themes. Clearly, as society changes so must its mimetic representation. Ireland after de Valera’s Constitution, Ireland in the emergency, Ireland in the isolation and poverty of the 1940s, was not the same Ireland that Yeats knew. Drama shrank into hidebound conformism, accordingly; the theme of emigration became significant. In the 1960s Ireland underwent social and technological revolution. Taboo subjects began to be explored. The theme of sexual relations entered drama in a new, frank emphasis. In the 1970s, with the economy under pressure and inflation creating new pressures, unemployment and disillusion began to be reflected in the drama, while, of course, the political situation in Northern Ireland re-introduced a theme left aside since Behan and O’Casey. It can be said, although there isn’t space here to attempt a justification, that the plays of the 1980s kept alive these various themes so far mentioned. At one end of the decade the theme of land and the passion for land is seen in J.B. Keane’s The Chastitute (1980) and at the other end in Ken Bourke’s Wild Harvest (1989); the difference with earlier work, such as Colum’s The Land (1905) lies in the complexity with which writers of the 1980s involve land with questions of identity and above all sexual freedom. Likewise the decade that begins with Friel’s Translations (1980), and its theme of political oppression, ends with Frank McGuinness’s Carthaginians (1988). Desmond Forristal’s religious play Kolbe (1983) can be contrasted with Sebastian Barry’s play on a religious theme Prayers of Sherkin (1990). And so on. In a way, plus ça change plus c’est la mime chose. It would be crass, however, to single out plays today as illustrating themes; the point lies more in the tone, the edge, and the style in which and through which attitudes are articulated. There is a formal question to be noted also. The well-made play is dead and gone; the play with a narrative line is also as good as dead. Instead, the impact of a modern Irish play comes more by way of a shared experience involving an audience required to appreciate a newer technical expertise, a language and grammar of visualization and disclosure of meaning. In short, modern Irish plays are not interested in saying something, in making big statements of any kind; they are interested in dramatizing experience, in giving voice to a young population, the majority of which is under twenty-five years of age.

  • 3 Strictly speaking, there is a texte of The Great Hunger: Poem into Play, Mullingar, Lilliput Press (...)

5An extreme example is to be found in the work of Tom Mac-Intyre. There is no text; there is no author. Instead there is performance, image, collaboration3. It would be possible to find in The Great Hunger (1983), MacIntyre’s play based on Kavanagh’s poem, coherent themes: loneliness, sexual repression, religious domination and so forth. But the power of that piece lay in the manner, the style of its presentation. Through mime, ritual, symbolic properties, and ensemble playing as disciplined as dance, MacIntyre, director Patrick Mason and leading actor Tom Hickey created between them a set of images that existed in their own right on stage. Undoubtedly, this form of theatre is difficult, avant-garde. It is also unpredictable, as in Rise Up Lovely Sweeney (1985), based on the legendary character of Mad Sweeney, but straining to express the nightmare of republicanism today. Yet it is not the theme as such, bound up on stage with mental breakdown, pain, and total loss of direction, which is significant. It is once again the diversity and surrealism of images, the use of mime, of dance, of video, of a poetic but fractured language. MacIntyre has won a cult audience in Dublin for his postmodernist theatre, although his latest work Kitty O’Shea (1990) makes far more concessions to audiences than did his plays of the 1980s. It looks as if MacIntyre has decided he has gone as far as he can go experimentally, and is now inclined to make language, primarily monologue, do the work done earlier by mime and directorial ingenuity.

  • 4 Michael Harding, “Misogynist”, The Crack in the Emerald, London, Nick Hern Books, 1990, p. 185.

6Michael Harding has followed in MacIntyre’s footsteps. His theme is more sharply defined, however. He complains in traditionalist vein of Irish attitudes towards sex, of the repression, the church’s attitude, the whole Freudian picnic – historic legacy of guilt, fear of women and worship of mothers – that has been with us since Joyce’s Portrait. In all of this Harding is something of an anachronism. He appears to be washing clerical linen in public, and in so doing so he presents obsessions dismayingly familiar. Yet, as with MacIntyre, it is Harding’s interest in theatrical experimentation that makes him worth looking at. Strawboys (1987), Harding’s first play, used motifs from traditional folk drama and folk ritual to dramatize what might loosely be called problems in Irish marriage, especially from the woman’s point of view. MacIntyre wrote the programme note. The ritualistic form usefully captured the menace and off-stage presence of social totems, authoritative and violent. Una Pooka (1989), using dream images and dislocated narrative in combination with a self-conscious mystery form (à la Sleuth or Death Trap), attacked the power and interference of the church in Irish marriage; the priest figure is here literally ambiguous. But the main theme is the domination, even unto death, of women. In Misogynist (1990), however, Harding allowed theme to master form, emptying the Abbey Theatre and being quickly replaced on stage, ironically enough, by Eamonn Kelly’s one-man show, English, That’s For Me, conspicuously advertised as story theatre. Misogynist had no story-line whatever. The text has now been published, so its experimental as well as its thematic obsessiveness can be measured. It is, in brief, a play about a man’s inability to relate to woman sexually without feelings of invasion, threat, and the deepest insecurity of role. There is an abundance of narcissism and masochism on view, amid the most obvious Catholic iconography of cross, statuary and chalice. The main character (of two, plus a chorus of women dressed as monks) is simply called he, is obviously an expriest, and is so fraught with neuroses that he ends up splitting himself into a dialogue of him and her before changing costume into a Victorian evening gown: the stage direction announces, “He has given in completely to her now4.” Thus, Harding tries, unsuccessfully, to explore the field of male confusion in modern Ireland. Unfortunately he is not himself sufficiently liberated from the neuroses with which he deals and the result is a sense of déjà vu. What we get is a rather obvious depiction of immaturity. The fact that his representative character is angst-ridden is of no account; indeed, this only reinforces one’s sense that he is not, in fact, representative at all. He is fighting battles over space and authority long since outmoded by the advance of feminism.

  • 5 David Grant, introduction. The Crack in the Emerald, p. ix. Page references to Low in the Dark rel (...)
  • 6 The Crack in the Emerald, Nick Hern Books, London, 1990, p. 98.
  • 7 Ibid., p. 124.

7In contrast, Marina Carr is a genuine feminist. Her play, Low in the Dark (1989), is a witty, absurdist and intelligent examination of gender in Ireland today5. Carr, while having lessons for Harding, also side-steps MacIntyre’s concern with the non-verbal, which led him into a cul-de-sac with Snow White (1989). Carr avoids fetishizing objects on stage, but uses instead a rationalized absurdism to make an analysis of contemporary Irish attitudes to women and sex. Men become women and get pregnant; their discourse becomes the cliche-ridden language of pregnant women imposed by men. When here parodied, it reveals the artificality of the construct. The process is rather more complicated than this, however. There is a lot of narrative in the play as women seem to create their own history thus, but the narrative also has the power to create a new reality. Thus a wife will say, “I’d love to get a man pregnant!”; she imagines the dialogue that would ensue, “And who’s the mother, I’d say, kind of harsh... Need you ask, he’d say and the tears would start... ok! ok I’d say, I’ll stand by you for what its worth, but I am not promising anything, now dry your eyes6. Then later her lover is pregnant, they are both pregnant at the same time and exchange enquiries as he knits. Later still, in dread of childbirth, the man considers an abortion, saying “I have a right to choose”, only to be told by another man, “You have not! There is a life there inside you! A destiny, all it’s [sic ] own7.” Thus Carr incorporates into the play the issue that divided the country more even than the issue of divorce in the 1980s. In short, Low in the Dark, though indebted perhaps to Caryl Churchill, strikes a refreshingly new note in Irish drama.

  • 8 Within the text. The Burning Balaclava is purportedly by Fionnuala McGonigle, Dido's pseudonym. Se (...)

8Frank McGuinness does not write tendentious plays, with themes geared to change public consciousness. Yet he shares with the writers so far mentioned a sense of pressure on old categories and orthodoxies, together with an avoidance of conventional dramatic forms. Factory Girls (1982), is, in the context of McGuinness’s subsequent and more important work, uncharacteristic in its employment of straightforward naturalism to tell a story of labour conflict and the rights of women. With a little doctoring, that play might have come from Charabanc. But Observe the Sons of Ulster (1985) and Baglady (1985) are in different modes and break new ground. Thematically, I suppose, Observe the Sons of Ulster is a political play, dramatizing the unionist mind and the complex subjects of loyalty and patriotism. But the interest of the play, its power to absorb, has little to do with ideas. As with the best Irish plays the interest lies in the involvement of an audience in the shaping of new relationships, new forms, more in accord with a liberating, imagined vision of the possible than the hegemony of the actual allows. Thus Observe the Sons of Ulster develops through the forging of male bonding, on the way towards a realization of identity which relates firmly to place, to tradition, and to mythology. It is a play which shows the over-coming of fear, and the discovery of meaning. To modern audiences it declares the necessity to move from attitudes that are rigid, conformist and based on fear. Baglady, likewise, although only a monologue, is permeated with a compassion which looks beyond the habitude of labelling mind. The baglady is not a problem, not a symptom of social indifference or neglect; she is herself, traumatized by incest, her identity destroyed by her father. It is pointless to seek sociological references here, to relate the play to the much-discussed question of child-abuse in modern Ireland. Quite simply, the play works on our prior awareness of such matters in order to establish the presence of a confused but lovable woman. A similar point could be made about McGuinness’s play for television, The Hen House (1989). Although the landscape is the familiar one of Irish Catholic repressiveness, the climate Michael Harding finds so destructive, McGuiness’s emphasis lies on the woman whom social attitudes forced to keep her illegitimate child (Gothically) in a hen house. We are invited to understand, not to judge. Innocence, McGuinness’s portrait of the artist Caravaggio, calls in a more complex way for compassion. Here the artist is bisexual, the binding metaphor for the dualism of beauty and degradation in Caravaggio’s art and life. Confronting audiences with, but not arguing over, homosexuality, McGuinness asserts a humanity transcending Catholic morality; he writes not in defiance but in witness. Carthaginians (1988), originally written for Field Day but withdrawn, is in some respects a political play about Derry and the Northern violence but must also if not primarily be seen as breaking down one mythology, the nationalist, traditional one, and the creation of an alternative mythology, based on mutual support, hope and love. At the centre of the play is a parodic play-within-the-play, “The Burning Balaclava8.” It is not so much the O’Casey pastiche that is significant here, demystifying violence, as the gender swapping: every male is played by a female, and vice versa. Like Marina Carr, McGuinness explores stereotypical attitudes on sexual roles by playing about with role playing. Similarly, the main character, Dido, is not a woman but a man who happens to be homosexual. His caring, godlike role is related to his status as outcast. He calls in the end not for change, the change that would make the bigotry and violence redundant, but for a miracle, for the spiritual investment in belief that might transform the living and revive the dead. This outcast figure, who eventually is seen as Dionysian, appears again in McGuinness’s latest play, The Bread Man (1990). This time, however, the outcast is not homosexual but unhappily married and undermined with guilt over the death of his brother. He is nicknamed the Sinner. His situation is linked once again with Deny and the Northern situation; the play is set in 1970, on the border between the nations. McGuinness parallels the crises of private man and public event, and we see once again a dualism, a set of double standards at work as, for example, when a refugee couple from Deny find in Donegal that they were better off being victimized in Derry, to which they happily return. Thus all through McGuiness’s plays (and one could include Mary and Lizzie (1989) here also, though unperformed in Ireland) there is an imagination at work healing and transforming actuality. A significant theme in this process is sexual identity.

  • 9 “The Passion Machine: Some Facts and Figures”, programme note for Home, by Paul Mercier, Olympia T (...)

9To shift ground now to another theme, emigration or emigration-unemployment. Here, as might be expected, community-based theatre has contributed most. The Passion Machine, established in Dublin in 1984, is a company writing and playing mainly by and for young people. In a survey published in 1989, Passion Machine claimed that 80 % of their audience is aged under 40, approximately half being unemployed9. To date they have staged ten productions, all original. Their producer John Sutton defines their aims and achievement as follows:

  • 10 John Sutton, prefatory note to the Passion Machine Plays Series. Dublin, Passion Machine, 1988.

To present theatre that depicted contemporary life and to attract a large audience to this work. The plays have succeeded in giving us a sense of ourselves and they have also succeeded in celebrating aspects of Irish life that had not been treated before in Irish Theatre10.

  • 11 David Nowlan, “Prompts”, Irish Times. 19 July, 1984.
  • 12 Paul Mercier in interview with Francine Cunningham, “A Man's Passion for a People's Theatre”, Iris (...)
  • 13 Paul Mercier, Home, Dublin, Passion Machine, 1988, p. 80.

10Three of the plays have so far been published. Home (1988) is by the main force behind Passion Machine, Paul Mercier, author of their first and critically acclaimed play, Drowning (1984), described by David Nowlan as “a kind of raucous Our Town for a time and place as far removed from Grover’s Corner as anyone can get11.” This was followed by Wasters (1985), in which the ethos of Passion Machine was more clearly seen, young, urban, alienated and yet capable of solidarity. One of the gang in this play is a returned emigrant, and the question arises whether he has lost or gained by leaving the group. Mostly the play is idle talk and interaction, the playing of games to pass the time. Intellectually, the content is minimal; no themes are debated or explored. But there is a creation on stage of a social milieu, a distinct and assured world of codes, demotic speech and shared values, hostile though these may be to conventional notions of ambition or decency. It is a new articulation of a class ominously at odds with middle-class culture. Mercier went on to write and direct two more plays, Studs (1986) and Spacers (1986), which form a trilogy with Wasters. “They are just about ordinary lads, really,” Mercier said in an interview. “I am trying to create a theatre that reflects, celebrates and comments on everyday life as it is. It is indigenous in every respect, from ourselves, about ourselves, for ourselves12.” Home (1988) is set in a Dublin apartment building, a cut above what in O’Casey would be called tenements: this place has a telephone, for God’s sake. As microcosm, the house presents a variety of types, marriages, alliances, and power struggles. It is an extraordinarily energetic and competitive world. Apart from the stereotypical landlord, the tenants are all young. The central character, Michael, by his innocence shows up the hardbitten nature of the others. He regards this place as his refuge from a dominant mother, the place from which to launch his career as hotel manager. His gradual disillusion, as innocence meets experience, reveals the harsh nature of urban life, its loneliness as well as its hostility. Michael doggedly insists on regarding the place as home, and this is the major irony of the play. A Falstaffian fellow-tenant, Valentine, explains why he himself returned from London, “Cos I thought it was home. I wanted home. Ye won’t find it here13.” Valentine eventually leaves again for London; Michael stays on, his lonely future mapped out for him. Home drew large audiences, new audiences, and it is clear that the response was one of recognition. The Passion Machine was reflecting recognizable lives and feelings. The same point holds for another of the plays so far published, Breaking Up (1988), by actor Brendan Gleeson. This focusses on the emigrant theme in the new style, as it follows the fortunes of young people into Germany, after graduating from high school. What breaks up is not just the community a la Wasters but a whole way of life, a culture. The hero, at the ripe age of eighteen, becomes a drifter in Germany, his girlfriend having had an abortion, his mate having accepted life German style. Thus the new Ireland accommodates to the new Europe.

  • 14 An Duanaire: 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed, ed. Seán O Tuama with translations by Thomas Ki (...)
  • 15 Dermot Bolger, The Lament for Arthur Cleary in The Crack in the emerald, p. 46. Subsequent page re (...)
  • 16 The Crack in the Emerald, Nick Hern Books, London, 1990, p. 8.
  • 17 Ibid., p. 58.

11By its extraordinary success, Passion Machine has inspired other similar groups. Wet Paint is one of these, founded in 1985. Its greatest success has been The Lament for Arthur Cleary, by Dermot Bolger. This is a retelling for modern youth of the eighteenth-century poem by Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill, a lament for Arthur O’Leary, a young captain of the Hungarian Hussars, killed when he returned home from service on the continent. As the editors of An Duanaire say, this is “one of the great laments and one of the great love poems in the Irish language14.” Bolger changes the details completely and makes of the story the plight of a motor-cycling hero returned to Dublin after fifteen years in Denmark to find the whole place changed and hostile. He has come back because, he says, “Here, at least, I know who I am15 “As in Mercier’s Home there is an em-phasis on the new form of emigration. “Young people are to Ireland what champagne is to France16!”, i.e., mainly for export. The world to which Cleary returns is spiritless, acquisitive and violent, a Dublin Bolger has already frighteningly evoked in his prose fiction. The police treat Cleary with suspicion; a moneylender finds his opposition unacceptable and announces: “You’re a posthumous man Cleary. Do you hear me? I don’t strike the dead, it’s not worth the effort17.” It appears that Cleary is actually dead, and is revisiting his loved one and loved place like a neo-Yeatsian spirit. Only when he remembers all can he release and be released. By thus adapting a traditional Irish lament to the harsh realities of modern Dublin Bolger, aided by the resources of Wet Paint and director David Byrne, has turned a disturbing light on the conditions of working-class Dublin. His subsequent work for the stage, Blinded by the Light (1990) and the double bill Tramways (1990) reinforces the sense of a country adrift from old cultural fixities, encountering the new Ireland as fantasy, a fast-moving nightmare of collapsing values and violent, amoral appetites.

12In atttempting to sum up, I would say the most significant trend in Irish theatre over the past decade has been the impact made at all levels by young people. Other developments, such as the new flourishing of regional theatre in Galway, Sligo, Waterford and Cork, can be associated with this upsurge of interest by young people in the arts. Documentation may be found in the pages of Theatre Ireland, founded 1982, which provides an indispensable guide to recent Irish drama and theatre. The divide in Ireland now is not between town and country, as it has been since the founding of the state; the divide is between the young and the middle-aged. Of course, the generation gap is hardly something new; it represents at all times the knock on the door, so feared by Ibsen’s Master Builder, heralding the arrival of a new force. In post-war England Kenneth Tynan recognized in John Osborne the voice of a new generation:

  • 18 Kenneth Tynan, Tynan on Theatre, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1964, p. 42.

Look Back in Anger presents post-war youth as it really is, with special emphasis on the non-U intelligentsia who live in bed-sitters and divide the Sunday papers into two groups, posh and wet.... All the qualities are there.... the drift towards anarchy, the instinctive leftishness, the automatic rejection of official attitudes, the surrealist sense of humour.... the casual promiscuity, the sense of lacking a crusade worth fighting for, and, underlying all these, the determination that no one who dies shall go unmourned18.

  • 19 See in interview by Padraig Yeates with Niall O Baoill, Director of the Wet Paint company, “Bringi (...)

13Jimmy Porter anticipated the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in articulating the feelings of this new generation, between, as Larkin put it, the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP. Now it is Ireland’s turn. On the one hand we have U2 and Sinéad O’Connor, on the other Druid, Rough Magic, Passion Machine and Wet Paint.19 The surge of youth is comparatively greater, however, than it was in Jimmy Porter’s England, because, unlike other countries in Europe today Ireland has a rising population of young people, already approximating fifty per cent of the national total. All of the things Tynan noted are present now in recent Irish drama, the rebelliousness, the humour, the promiscuity, the disillusion and the sense of elegy, whether for Arthur Cleary or Mad Sweeney in all their ramifications. Such senior playwrights as have stayed the pace of the eighties have realized where the wind is blowing from. Tom Murphy’s Conversations on a Homecoming (1985) puts its money on the post-Kennedy generation, and the play ends with the daughter of J.J. representing a new light, a new ray of hope. The Gigli Concert (1983) may deal with middle-aged characters but its spirit is romantic, rebellious and youthful. Dolly articulates this same spirit in Bailegangaire (1985), Petra in Too Late for Logic (1990).

14One of the problems with Field Day is that it fails to recognize this youthful spirit in Ireland, or its significance. Traces of it appear in Stewart Parker’s Song of Pentecost (1988) to be sure, and in Derek Mahon’s adaptation of Molière, High Time (1984). But in general the new plays presented by Field Day have missed the mood of the country. I would include Heaney’s The Cure at Troy (1990) in that criticism; its pieties are uniformly and solidly bourgeois. The interesting thing about Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), apart from the fact it is not a Field Day production, is that it articulates the vision of a young boy, filtered indeed through an older self but nevertheless focussing on the experience by the child of a golden, Edenic time. But it is Tom MacIntyre who, among older playwrights, has most successfully carried into the theatre that spirit of youth of which we have been talking. The spirit of the avant-garde is always the spirit of youth, but not necessarily vice versa. One sees this as far back as Chekhov’s Constantin in The Seagull, the quintessential adolescent calling for new forms and a new language. One could not call Passion Machine avant-garde; their use of form is quite conservative and naturalistic; their appeal is unashamedly populist. There-fore MacIntyre is a minority taste, Passion Machine a majority one. They are at opposite ends of a common theme. That theme is, in a word, youth.


1 W.B. Yeats, “Advice to Playwrights Who are Sending Plays to the Abbey, Dublin”, quoted by Lady Gregory, Our Irish Theatre: A Chapter of Autobiography, Gerrards Cross, Colin Smythe, 1972, p. 62.

2 Daniel Cokery, Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature, Cork, Mercier Press, 1966, p. 19: “The three great forces which, working for long in the Irish national being, have made it so different from the English national being, are: (1) The Religious Consciousness of the People; (2) Irish Nationalism; and (3) The Land. ”

3 Strictly speaking, there is a texte of The Great Hunger: Poem into Play, Mullingar, Lilliput Press, 1988, and it credits two authors, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom MacIntyre. This is not to deny the problematic status of MacIntyre's plays, however; rather, it confirms it. See also Kathryn Holmquist, “In the Beginning was... the Image”, Theatre Ireland, 6, 1984, p. 150-152.

4 Michael Harding, “Misogynist”, The Crack in the Emerald, London, Nick Hern Books, 1990, p. 185.

5 David Grant, introduction. The Crack in the Emerald, p. ix. Page references to Low in the Dark relate to this volume.

6 The Crack in the Emerald, Nick Hern Books, London, 1990, p. 98.

7 Ibid., p. 124.

8 Within the text. The Burning Balaclava is purportedly by Fionnuala McGonigle, Dido's pseudonym. See Frank McGuinness, Carthaginians and Baglady, London and Boston, 1988, p. 34 ff.

9 “The Passion Machine: Some Facts and Figures”, programme note for Home, by Paul Mercier, Olympia Theatre, January, 1989.

10 John Sutton, prefatory note to the Passion Machine Plays Series. Dublin, Passion Machine, 1988.

11 David Nowlan, “Prompts”, Irish Times. 19 July, 1984.

12 Paul Mercier in interview with Francine Cunningham, “A Man's Passion for a People's Theatre”, Irish Times. 25 April, 1990.

13 Paul Mercier, Home, Dublin, Passion Machine, 1988, p. 80.

14 An Duanaire: 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed, ed. Seán O Tuama with translations by Thomas Kinsella. Mountrath, Dolmen Press, in association with Bord na Gaeilge, 1981, p. 199.

15 Dermot Bolger, The Lament for Arthur Cleary in The Crack in the emerald, p. 46. Subsequent page references are to this edition.

16 The Crack in the Emerald, Nick Hern Books, London, 1990, p. 8.

17 Ibid., p. 58.

18 Kenneth Tynan, Tynan on Theatre, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1964, p. 42.

19 See in interview by Padraig Yeates with Niall O Baoill, Director of the Wet Paint company, “Bringing Art Where no Art Has Gone Before”, Irish Times, 17 December, 1990.

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 1991

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