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Drawing extensively on archival material, this chapter analyses Seamus Heaney’s involvement with the Field Day Theatre Company through the lens of his long friendships with two of the company’s other directors, Brian Friel (who co-founded Field Day in 1980 with actor Stephen Rea) and Seamus Deane. In addition to serving on Field Day’s board of directors, Heaney wrote two works specifically for the company: the verse pamphlet An Open Letter (1983), which protested the use of the adjective 'British' as applied to himself, and The Cure at Troy (1990), a Hiberno-English version of a late play by Sophocles. Heaney’s membership in the Field Day collective gave him a sense of camaraderie, the opportunity to address himself to his country’s urgent needs at a critical point in its history, and the challenge to do things he would not have done otherwise.
Seamus Heaney used his Dublin attic for most of his mature writing years as both a writing space and a warehouse. The poet’s correspondence was acquired in 2003 by the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library at Emory University. His journals and drafts of published works were donated to the National Library of Ireland in 2011. The Heaney archives are a treasure trove of historical and literary documents that have the power to re-energize, refocus and resituate Heaney studies around the world. The theoretical implications and critical potential of the archival materials become clear when one traces the paper-trail of the archives from the pre-natal attic to the postmortem reading room and into the afterlife of textual studies.
This chapter considers theatre productions in Ireland between the 1950s and 1970s, asserting the continued relevance and sharpness of Irish theatre in relation to social and political transition. Emerging mid-century playwrights such as Tom Kilroy and Brian Friel found themselves at a challenging and uncertain moment in Irish theatre, coming in the wake of the Abbey’s revivalist triumph but exposed too to the experimental movements of European theatre practice. Determined to write against inherited theatrical conventions and the increasing national dependence on a stagnant domestic realism, they looked to forge a new dramatic language adequate to a society in a state of acute and disorienting transition. The Pike Theatre was one of an array of independent theatres that succeeded in staging major avant-garde productions, such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in 1955. Playwrights working more explicitly within inherited naturalistic modes, such as M. J. Molloy, meanwhile, found more subtle means of subverting the spatial conventions of Irish theatre in a way that drew attention to imperative social issues such as mass emigration.
With reference to current developments in memory studies, this chapter examines the role and status of Irish theatre in relation to debates about history, memory, and protest in the 1960s and 1970s. Reading the plays of Brian Friel, Hugh Leonard, Thomas Kilroy, Tom Murphy, Richard Johnson and Máiréad ní Ghráda, the chapter argues that memory performed a crucial function in response to the particular social and cultural transitions in these decades. In the light of the culture of commemoration that emerged in and around 1966, writers confronted the difficulties of responding artistically to the violent history of the island of Ireland. Although different methods are adopted in these plays – Friel’s realism, Kilroy’s experimentalism, Leonard’s satire – they are unified by a common concern with memory, and the ways in which the past becomes material for present-day agendas. Beyond this probing of the historical record, there is an exposure of contemporary Ireland, with dramas staging a scathing view of the current moment. Murphy and Friel’s plays express the dissatisfactions of the young male generation with the possibilities for freedom in the Irish Republic, whereas ní Ghráda and Johnson critique the impact of Ireland’s oppressive social rules on women and children.
Considering novels, poetry, drama, and non-fictional prose, this chapter examines how writers represented the Troubles and the gradual gains of the peace process between 1980 and 1998. It considers the historical displacements of Brian Friel’s Translations and Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark (1996), the realism of Ciaran Carson’s The Irish For No (1987) and Belfast Confetti (1989), the staging of women’s lives during the Troubles in Anne Devlin’s Ourselves Alone (1985), the phantasmagorias of Paul Muldoon’s poetry and the metaphorisations of war and violence in Medbh McGuckian’s verse, and the Belfast panoramas of Glenn Patterson’s Fat Lad (1992) and Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street (1996). Contemporary Northern writers contextualise the conflict by illuminating the country’s colonial past; they narrate structures of trauma by examining how history invades the present; they present palliative correctives to the vicious linearity of the conflict; and they project possible resolutions to the exhausted (il)logic of sectarian strife.
This essay considers the function that media and media devices play in contemporary Irish drama and performance since 1980. In recent realist or naturalist plays, by authors such as Brian Friel, Stacey Gregg, Conor McPherson, and Enda Walsh, media might appear in the text as symbols or plot devices, or in the dramaturgy as props or as design elements. A substantial amount of recent Irish theatre, such as that produced by ANU Productions, Pan Pan Theatre, or Dead Centre, has moved away from the traditional proscenium stage and toward site-specific and immersive theatre that deftly employs multimedia technologies to convey meaning. Amid all of the innovative multimodal varieties of performance and stage craft now on view, there remains in contemporary Irish theatre a powerful commitment to the value of the word and the live body in performance.
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.
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