Irish Plays in Other Places: Royal Court, RSC, Washington and Berlin
For Nicholas Greene in The Politics of Irish Drama, Irish theatre from the late nineteenth through the late twentieth century sets out to “reformulate the Irish Question”. He suggests that the mission of Irish drama from that period is to ask who the Irish are and what Ireland is, thus continuing the process of nation building, but also working out Ireland’s relationship with the world, and especially Britain. Irish drama’s relationship with Britain has become complex during the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Significant recent works like McPherson’s The Seafarer, McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Carr’s Woman and Scarecrow premiered in London. These carry on a tradition of National Irish drama begun with Sean O’Casey and Tom Murphy, where plays are so immersed in the postcolonial paradox of the British–Irish relationship that attending their premiere becomes an almost postcolonial experience for an audience. Critics such as Clare Wallace note that European productions of, for example, Marina Carr’s work have accentuated their depiction of Irishness in order to seek authenticity. All this raises the question: what is Irish national drama and what happens to it when in tours or is produced in a different context?
The chapter examines the notion of Irish national drama, asking how it is defined and contested, and how it has evolved since 1998. It will focus on plays that premiered abroad and the ways in which they contest accepted visions of Irish society, highlighting issues that may not be palatable to an Irish audience in plays like Enda Walsh’s Penelope and Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie. It also examines the (alleged) repetition and normalization of colonial stereotypes of Irishness in work such as McDonagh’s Aran Islands Trilogy.
This chapter also asks if these productions abroad challenge dominant theatrical forms in Ireland, or if these productions are (or have been) reliant on stereotypical signifiers of Irishness, and consider what impact that might have. Finally, the chapter investigates whether these plays reinforce old and perhaps clichéd answers or whether they imagine new questions and different answers.
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