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This Element argues that the climate emergency requires a new approach to the study of theatre history – a suggestion that is developed through an analysis of the practice of theatrical revival during the Anthropocene era. Staging old plays in new ways can make visible ecological or environmental features that might have previously gone unnoticed: features which, in some cases, might not have been consciously included by the original authors or makers of a work, but which will be detectable to audiences nevertheless. These links are explored through case studies from the contemporary Irish theatre – including revivals of plays by Shakespeare, Lady Gregory, and Samuel Beckett, as performed by such major Irish companies as Rough Magic, Druid Theatre, and Company SJ. The Element ultimately shows how theatre can contribute to debates about the Anthropocene, and offers new pathways for theatre practice and criticism.
This coda places Brian Friel and Tom Murphy in dialogue in order to identify important distinctions and resemblances between two of Ireland’s most important playwrights. Friel is frequently considered more accessible but also more conservative; Murphy is generally described as being more bleak and also more innovative. The article acknowledges and explains the partial validity of those evaluations but also demonstrates their limitations, pointing to examples of Friel’s engagement in experimental practice as well as Murphy’s occasional fidelity to conservative forms (such as tragedy) and tropes (such as the Irish country kitchen). It also points to important overlaps in their interaction with key companies such as Field Day and Druid Theatre. It concludes that Murphy and Friel have more in common than is realised, and that those resemblances can be seen as evidence of a dialogic relationship, whereby the innovations of one opened up new pathways for the other.
At the end of the second book of The Aran Islands, John Millington Synge goes on a train journey from Galway to Dublin. His departure occurs on the eve of a celebration in Dublin of the life of Charles Stewart Parnell, the fallen Irish political leader. Synge's train is full of excursionists to Dublin, and many of them are in a festive mood. ‘A wild crowd was on the platform, surging round the train in every stage of intoxication’, writes Synge, who describes the scene as evidence of the ‘half-savage temperament of Connaught’. Synge is not altogether disapproving of the crowd's high spirits, stating that ‘the tension of human excitement seemed greater in this insignificant crowd than anything I have felt among enormous mobs in Rome or Paris’ (122).
As the train pulls away, Synge takes his seat in the third-class carriage amongst people he has come to know from the Aran Islands, and finds himself sitting beside a shy young girl. The journey proves raucous:
When the train started there were wild cheers and cries on the platform, and in the train itself the noise was intense, men and women shrieking and singing and beating their sticks on the partitions. At several stations there was a rush to the bar, so the excitement progressed as we proceeded. (122)
That excitement culminates in a brawl at Ballinasloe station (the easternmost station in County Galway), when a sailor on the train has a fight with a soldier who is trying to board. ‘Peace was made’, writes Synge, but as the soldiers leave the train:
a pack of their women followers thrust their bare heads and arms into the doorway, cursing and blaspheming with extraordinary rage […] I looked out and caught a glimpse of the wildest heads and figures I have ever seen, shrieking and screaming and waving their naked arms in the lights of the lanterns. (124)
As the journey progresses through the night, the mood calms – but Synge is unable to sleep, kept awake by the jokes of the sailor, and by the conversation in Irish of two old men sitting nearby.
The Green family are of white British origin. Ms Green, aged 33, is a lone parent with six children ranging in age from one to 12 years. They live in a three-bedroom ground-floor council flat in a tower block. At the beginning of this piece of work I had been working with this family for nearly three years. The focus had been the second eldest child Martin, aged 10 years, who had a poor relationship with his mother, which manifested itself in Martin presenting challenging behaviour.
An in-principle decision had been made by the joint education/ social services panel that a long-term placement should be sought for Martin at a ‘therapeutic boarding school’, with a view to rehabilitation after two years. As it was envisaged that this would be a lengthy process, it was agreed that Martin would be accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act (1989) if Ms Green requested it. As his behaviour was putting the whole family at risk and had been for some months, a placement was found for him in a children's home in another borough.
While the focus of my work had been with Martin and his mother, I was aware that there were various issues in relation to all the children, but I felt I had not tackled them in a coherent and constructive manner. At the beginning of the year, I was feeling overwhelmed with the complexities of this case and I asked for a joint worker. Nobody suitable was available.
Doing the Goldsmiths course, however, and having the space – particularly in the three-week block at the beginning of it – gave me the impetus and confidence to tackle the case in a different way. For a genogram see Figure 1.
The resolve to take a fresh approach came when Ms Green told me her concerns about Kim, aged three, who, she told me, was not sleeping well, not eating, demanding a baby's bottle and generally regressing to ‘babyish’ behaviour. She wanted help with Kim's behaviour.
Assessment of the situation
In my time working with Ms Green I found that during the periods that Martin was ‘accommodated’, by and large she was able to manage the other five children, even though they presented different types of difficulties.
James is a 17-year-old young man of white British/Sicilian origin, currently in a long-term foster placement in North London with a single white female carer, Mrs Appleby, who is in her mid-fifties and of white British origin. James is subject to a Section 31 care order under the Children Act (1989). He has been with his current carer for four years. It is expected that James will leave his current placement in six to 12 months and move on to semi or independent living. In my borough there is an independent living team (ILP) who undertake this work, so the case was due to be transferred.
I have been James’ social worker for nearly eight years, so in transferring the case I wanted to do a piece of work lasting approximately three months around ‘endings’. I discussed the work with James and we agreed that we would spend the sessions looking at his files, as I thought it was important for James to be able to make sense of early life events in relation to his current perception of himself and others.
In doing this it was envisaged that there would be some overlap with the formal transfer of the case which was due to take place shortly. James had already met his new social worker from the ILP and he had also had some contact with another member of the team, who helps young people with careers and employment, so we had already started preparing in a task centred way for the transfer (see Figure 1).
I was aware from discussion with James that in commencing this work, he was ambivalent about having a new social worker, because in his understanding he was still subject to a care order for another 12 months. In my authority, in common with most local authorities, there is an expectation that young people being ‘looked after’ have to move on to semi or independent living between the ages of 16 and 18 years. Given that I had been his social worker for such a long period, I also knew that I would be sorry and sad to transfer the case.
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