Living Room: an exploration into the meaning of the room in Enda Walsh’s plays.
A theatre is a dark room in which an audience sits, often looking into another room inhabited by characters. Neither of these rooms is a home. But inside the world of Walsh’s plays a room is home, albeit a strange, often surreal, one. This thesis will examine the ways in which Walsh uses the room, not only literally as a designed stage-set but also in terms of its relationship with its inhabitant/s.
In a sense a room also can be the space inside the skull in which a character’s, or indeed, a playwright’s, brain creates an entire world. Using theories of absurd and postdramatic theatre as well land/scape* in theatre, the plays and their rooms will also be interrogated in terms of their socio/political/historical context.
I will be reading all Walsh’s plays but excluding musicals and films. I will also be seeing two of his plays, one, The Same, (2017 Cork Gaol) and the other, Ballyturk (2017 Abbey) in Dublin. I have already seen some of his plays in London including Ballyturk, (2014, National Theatre), Misterman, (2012, National Theatre), Penelope (2011 Hampstead Theatre) Disco Pigs (2011, Young Vic) as well as The Walworth Farce (2007, Traverse) in Edinburgh and in London (2008, National Theatre). In 2016 I saw Gentrification at the Cork Savings Bank. Taking a somewhat cross-disciplinary approach I shall be referring to productions as well as text and using, when I can, images to illustrate my points.
I will be referring to audio and filmed interviews with Enda Walsh: examples include Thomas Conway (4 Nov 2010, Druid website) and Joe Dowling and Fintan O’Toole (25 May 2010, Walker Art Centre). I will also reference a talk Walsh gave to London teachers, which I attended, prior to the première of Penelope. I will look at newspaper interviews, an example being, ‘Everything I’ve written has been about some sort of love and need for calm and peace’ in the Irish Independent (2 Oct 2015). A further interview, with Pat Keirnan, from Corcadorca, which was published in the Irish Examiner (12th Nov 2015), will shed light on Gentrification.
From searching databases I have discovered that there is not much published scholarly work on Enda Walsh but I will use The Theatre of Enda Walsh (2015, Eds. Mary P. Caulfield and Ian R. Walsh) and, in particular, five chapters: Jesse Weaver’s ‘Enda Walsh and Space: The Evolution of a Playwright’, Siobhan O’Gorman’s ‘Sculpting the Spaces of Enda Walsh’s Theatre: Sabine Dargent in Conversation’, Audrey McNamara’s ‘Dead Men Talking: Stagnation and Entrapment in Enda Walsh’s Penelope’, Mikel Murfi’s ‘On Directing and Performing in the Theatre of Enda Walsh’ and Michelle C. Paul’s ‘Ballyturk: Theatre and Event’.
There are articles in drama/theatre and Irish studies journals such as Ondrëy Pilnÿ’s ‘The Grotesque in the plays of Enda Walsh’ (2013) and David Benedict’s ‘High-Octane Ballyturk Bends it Like Beckham’ (2014) although some of these are proving to be rather superficial. I will also be using theatre reviews taken mainly from ‘broadsheet’ papers such as the Irish Examiner, The Irish Times and the Guardian. One such would be Lyn Gardner’s Guardian review of The Walworth Farce (6 Aug 2007) whilst another would be Colette Sheridan’s review of Gentrification (18 Nov 2015) in the Irish Examiner.
There are two theses on Enda Walsh in the UCC library: one is by Jesse Weaver, whose chapter is mentioned above. Weaver’s 2011 thesis ‘Shifting Points: an interrogation of the playwright’s changing roles in Irish Theatre Production’ may not be relevant but the writer is clearly something of an authority on Walsh, and Susan Doyle’s ‘”Blood and the Bandage!”: Influence and Identity in the Theatre of Enda Walsh’ looks intriguing, even if not essential to my work.
In terms of site-specific or site-responsive theatre, which some of Walsh’s plays are, particularly those produced by Corcadorca, I have found Anne Étienne’s ‘Challenging the Auditorium: Spectatorship(s) in “Off-site” Performances’ (2016) and Cathy Turner’s ‘Palimpsest or Potential Space? Finding a Vocabulary for Site-Specific Performance’ (2004).
Additionally I shall try to place the plays into their temporal context as even though they are not explicitly political plays, the playwright is responding to social mores such as racism and immigration (The Walworth Farce 2006) or economic events such as the 1980s recession and the Celtic Tiger boom (Bedbound 2000).
Underpinning all the above might be theory. I may be examining the form of the plays in terms of Theatre of the Absurd referring to Michael Esslin’s classic text of that name (3rd edition, 2001). Opposing this could be the concept of Postdramatic Theatre, for which I would primarily use Hans-Thies Lehmann’s text (2002) but also Cormac O’Brien’s paper (2016) given at IASIL conference at UCC, which was titled ‘Toward an Irish Postdramatic’. Coming at form from a different direction I might refer to Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri’s (Eds.) Land/Scape/Theater (2002) a text which brings a ‘spatialized aesthetic’ and cross-disciplinary approach to the study of theatre.
Since I have been working my presentation on Enda Walsh I have received some additional suggestions from lecturers in the English Department of UCC. Suggestions include reading Lazarus, even though it is a musical, and various academic texts. One, which sounds interesting, is Northern Irish Poetry and Domestic Space by Adam Hanna. I will be looking at how he handles and organises his ideas. Anne Etienne has suggested some reading, such as Home on the Stage: Domestic Spaces in Modern Drama by Nicholas Grene and even given me an essay of her own. Other interesting texts that I have found through searching the library catalogue include Experimental Irish Theatre by Ian R Walsh, mentioned above re: the volume of essays on Enda Walsh. It, published in 2010 is a little out-of-date but there are others such as Mapping Irish Theatre: Theories of Space and Place by Chris Morash and Shaun Richards which are more current.
In addition to the above mentioned elements of IT I am hoping to have time to blog my thesis as it develops.
* This rendition of landscape as land/scape refers to the title and concept of Fuchs and Chaudhuri’s book.
I wanted to call this final blog ‘the blog of blogs’ but I think someone else has done that already.
And, as I was reading Seamus Heaney’s bog poems in North for an upcoming seminar with Dr Adam Hanna, I thought I would open my final blog with a class that hasn’t yet happened. This illustrates, once again, my rebellious and unnecessarily maverick approach. So my blog journey, instead of going forward from the first blog, goes backwards from 20th March 2017 to 8th October 2016.
There are quite a lot of blogs but it’s cheating really as 50% of them (those in orange) are book reviews that I wrote for the Irish Examiner. I included them because Donna encouraged me to display my published work. There are another five review blogs in my drafts box, waiting for publication dates in the paper, and another three actual books, to be reviewed, on my kitchen table. So that’s at least another eight blogs to go, after this one.
Today! March 20th: Glob-bog-blog
March 18th: Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep
March 13th: Horrorshow
March 13th: To seem a white king’s gem
March 12th: Breakdown: the crisis of shell shock
March 17th: #textualities17
March 6th : Paddling with Pecha Kucha
February 11th: The novel of the century
February 10th: Jonathan Swift: the reluctant rebel
February 8th: Walsh and Wiki
January 26th: My Literature Review
December 19th 2016: Goldfinch in the Snow
November 26th 2016: Not Waiting for Godot
November 20th 2016: Not normally angry in Ireland
November 10th 2016: It’s the Economy Stupid!
November 4th 2016: A Shared History: Dadland
November 3rd 2016: Darkness Visible
October 30th 2016: They Dreamed and are Dead
October 29th 2016: Perils of Popery
October 8th 2016: Not all Plans are Idiot Proof
The book reviews are rarely viewed which is a shame as I think they’re quite interesting. I never know what the book editor will send me and I sometimes wonder if he is a bit of a sadist. Why would anyone send an ‘oh so English’ woman Blanketmen? It’s ‘an untold story’ written by one of the hunger strikers. I chose every word that I wrote very carefully. Proofreading had to reach the highest level possible.
When I look at my categories and tags I know that it’s the book reviews ‘what done it’. Catholicism and Protestantism rule the tag cloud although I see that Enda Walsh has now overtaken them.
The Jonathan Swift review , in particular, would be interesting to the student of Irish Literature. It’s a brilliant literary biography and if anyone wants the book just ask and I will give it to you. Or if you fancy any of the other texts let me know and I will bring them in. Not the Meryl Streep book though. Donna’s got that. And Blanketmen has gone to the head of maths at the Camden school in which I taught from September 2002 to July 2015.
Donna’s list for the Glob-Bog-Blog:
I think Donna means that we should have everything well organised or in good order rather than ordered numerically. And she hasn’t mentioned citing. I checked on Ellan’s and Emilio’s blogs-of-blogs from last year. It looks as if you just cite your own blogs. Other works mentioned, perhaps, are merely found within the blog. Here is Emilio’s:
Bonome Ares, Emilio José. ‘About‘. Irishness and Beyond: An Irish Writing and Film Student’s Blog. WordPress. 16 Sept. 2015.Web. 24 Mar.2016.
Horrorshow! was posted on March 13th and gives my reflections on the mini-conference. It picks up on #textualitiesandPaddling with Pecha Kuchawhich charter my journey towards Textualities 2017. Extracts from Horrowshow! suggest that by 13th March I am not feeling too bad. Extracts from my previous blogs are given in pink.
When the day came I was no longer nervous. Either I was numb as my nerves could support no more effort or I was as well prepared as I could be and I could do no more. And I knew that my mate Emilio would be coming to support me.
Donna was in the room and when she is there I always feel calm.
Annie and Rebecca had my back on technicalities. They were both so kind and so competent. It would all be cool.
Then it was me doing my talk on Enda Walsh’s use of ‘living room’ in his plays. I like the images as they are all simple – just photographs of stage sets. But they looked good I think.
Annie was there to press the buttons so that everything worked. I launched into my carefully timed narrative. Questions, when they came, from Graham Allen, Adam Hannah, Anne Etienne and others were supportive and not hostile as I had feared. I am looking forward to engagement with all three named faculty before I get much deeper into my research.
#textualities is the live blog that I did on March 10th. It was the final panel of the day and I was quite tired by this time. I would probably give that blog a fairly low grade (like 3/10), although Siobhán, whose presentation I blogged, was very generous. She sent me a comment:
Wow! You really kept on top of that, Josephine. Much impressed by your powers of endurance and attention. Well done!
It was really hard to listen and type – as I had no idea what they would say or in what order. I did not know what the key points might be. But I tightened my narrative up a bit during Q&As and was able to publish immediately. I felt that it was important to have it published and entered as a link on Twitter before we broke up for the day. So this shows you how far I have gone in technical terms. This is mainly down to Donna, of course, and Emilio, who was on the MA in Irish Writing and Film last year with me. He gave me one-to-one tutorials.
I have just had to leave this blog for a few minutes to Tweet about my best ever acting student, Daniel Kaluuya, who opens in Cork tomorrow (it is not tomorrow now but was St Patrick’s Day) in the comedy horror Get Out. There are serious issues for him (and for me, although that does not matter so much) in terms of the way people regard him racially. You can see my blog from last year about this and I will write another soon once I have seen the film.
So now we journey back to March 6th. It’s Paddling with Pecha. I sort of like this title as it links in with a bookreview I was writing at the same time but which is not yet published.
I headlined the review Queueing with Elephants. The book is about finding a place, in the world , a sacred combe. in which you can commune with your soul.
But, for me, Pecha Kucha was not really a place that I could use for communicating with my soul. But I did paddle in it and I felt that I understood and liked and respected it in the end. Nevertheless I think that I would prefer a spot in West Cork or on the Hook Peninsula for my combe. Although I am quite fond of certain parts of London, especially bridges.
My Pecha Kucha is complete. The slides are chosen and ordered. The narrative is written. I forgot to do the storyboard thing but never mind.
Others are beavering away at the online presence and organisational matters. Thanks to all of them. Soon the day will come and we will strut our stuff. Then it will be over. Bring it on.
Donna’s list, above, tells me that I must mention my two research seminar blogs. To Seem a White King’s Gemwas posted on March 13th.
This was a seminar given by Benjamin Keatinge about the Anglo-Irish poet Richard Murphy. I was thrilled by the prospect as it particularly focused on Post-Colonialism and form.
Keatinge suggests that Murphy had a ‘quarrel with his own inheritance’. That he sees ‘himself as a victim as well as an inheritor of colonialism’. I find it poignant thinking of Murphy – sexually ambivalent, ancestrally misbegotten, and spatially unsettled – his life seems to have been exceedingly liminal. For further elucidation you might read Maurice Harmon’s 2007 ‘In Good Form’, an interesting account of Murphy’s life and work and/or his own piece ‘Notes for Sonnets’ published in The Poetry Ireland Review (2011).
What I find most interesting about Murphy is his use of the sonnet form. I have always regarded this structure as a sort of corset for composing poems. If you can get into it, it provides an elegant silhouette. But if you are flabby or loose you’d be better off leaving it alone.
In his journal ‘Notes for Sonnets’ Murphy writes to himself: ‘Have all possible cadences been tried and exhausted in the sonnet? … Ask this question in the Wellington sonnets … ? Are you square bashing in rhymed metrical verse … ? constrained by the left right left right of the metre and the rhyme, the platoons of polished boots on the parade?’
So I would say that this is the best blog I have written in terms of the MA. After I had written it I send it to Adam Hannah, who had been at the seminar. He sent me a really useful link to a film by Richard Murphy’s niece, about her parents and uncles and aunts and grandparents in their ‘quite’ big house, Milford. It is fascinating if you are interested in the last remnants of the Anglo-Irish. And shows me how useful research blogs can be if someone reads them and offers useful comments. Thank you Adam.
Back we go to February 8th and it’s the aftermath of the Wikipedia Editing session. I am writing about my efforts to edit the page on Enda Walsh. I was quite interested in the idea that the entries on Wikipedia had to be factual and objective, like an encyclopaedia. That was a discipline. There were more gushing compliments to Donna and Emilio, of course.
I put in another new heading which is ‘Themes’. There is an issue with this I think. Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and the idea of themes might be a little too interpretative. To get around this I used only Walsh’s own words. He is a great one for saying what his plays are about, unlike Beckett or Pinter, but he doesn’t always say the same thing. I love his sweeping statements which suggest that all his plays are about . . . whatever he says at that moment. So, even if someone eventually cleans this section off the page I have put in on as I think it is fascinating.
I found the technicalities of citations, links and screenshots very straightforward. I also managed to send some rather dull tweets although I am not sure whether I am following enough people or if enough people are following me. Thank you Annie, Roy and Donna for your ‘likes’. I am indebted to Donna Alexander and Emilio Bonome-Ares for teaching me how to edit Wikipedia. They were both very kind and supportive. Also calm in the face of my panic.
In terms of live Tweeting. I got a reply from an Irish friend who is a Chelsea supporter but not, in the slightest bit, interested in my studies. He said that I had to put an icon on my Twitter account. All Greek to me… Icon? But I dug out an old photograph.
Actually this had been scanned for me by the Irish Examiner for an illustration for my review of Dadland.It wasn’t used in the end but three other images of my family were used. The reason for this was that the writer, Keggie Carew, and I were born around the same time, as were our fathers. So my review looked at her father in terms of his success as a soldier and failure as a dad. My father was the opposite although he had been ‘steady under fire’ at DDay+1.
In England we call that the Second World War whereas in Ireland it was known as the Emergency. My father came from a family of Quakers and pacifists – both my grandfathers were conscientious objectors during the Great War – but he felt strongly that, weedy as he was, he would have to take up arms against the evil of Hitler and Nazism. Many Irish fought alongside my father. So died, some lived.
Back we go to January 26th and I am on my high horse about the literature review. Heather Laird had delivered an inspiring session and I had rushed home and drafted a literature review, a concept on which I blogged in my usual mean-spirited way. I have not even looked at the review since – but, oh gosh, we have now had strict instructions to submit our literature review under Turnitin. Maybe because I mentioned the availability of buying one we all have to use Turnitin. Whoops!
As I do not choose to avail myself of a bought product I will have to re-write the Literature and IT Review shortly, in the light of work that I, and no one else, have done since January 26th. The deadline looms. Hoping to meet it somehow.
Now it’s a long way back…
December 2015. I was writing about Modern Irish Gothic. This post springs from a reading of Irish work at the UCC Boole library. I was very taken by a story Eílísh Ní Dhuibhne called Goldfinch in the Snow. I wanted to write about it for the Gothic to Modernism unit. I was not allowed to as I have not been taught the work, the writer nor modern gothic. So I wrote a blog instead. I think it has particularly nice images and Heather liked my work on colour imagery.
Ní Dhuibhne uses colour in interesting, if rather heavy-handed, ways. Darina, the eponymous goldfinch, looks like one. She wears ‘high heels and … black lacy stockings’. On her feet are ‘shoes, black patent, strappy, more sandals than shoes?’ and ‘her long black hair [has] the tiny red cap on top … the scrap of yellow silk at her throat’ (54/55). Darina is representative of colour. We hear of the colour of her home town of ‘Golden Beach’ (presumably Golden Sands, near Varna, on the Black Sea) where the sea is blue, the boats and birds are white, and ‘the women in their bikinis’ are ‘like tropical birds’. We hear about the liminal colour of dawn, ‘a pale, milky colour … a pale bluey grey … maybe, pearl blue’ (53/58).
I am quite annoyed that only 4 people looked at this blog as I am proud of it. One was Heather Laird, of course. One was my partner. One was Margaret, my peer from Irish Writing and Film. And it is one of my key blogs as it counts as a Research Seminar blog.
But I know that some of my feminist peers would have been interested to read it, had they known. I read Louise O’Neill, in the Examiner, every week, and have read her novel, Asking for It, about rape. I have also reviewed, for the Irish Examiner, the book Animal by Sara Pascoe. My review cannot be blogged yet as it has not been published. Other reviews of it have already appeared. Pascoe, a woman from Essex, is an ardent feminist and comedienne. She is brave and funny. Pascoe cannot believe that it is illegal to have an abortion in Ireland.
She comments in her introduction to the reprint of her book that she feels confident that by the time the reprint is published the Eighth will have been repealed. Well, the reprint was published a while back. And, according to my sources, the Eighth is nowhere near being repealed. For me abortion is a basic human right. But I am too ignorant on the detail of the Irish debate to comment.
Before Goldfinch in the Snow we find a blogging fest in November 2016. Three reviews, including Dadland and one blog about Remembrance Day. The latter is another of my high horse issues. I am not a fan of the establishment. Not in England and not in Ireland. But I have a blog with images of Queen Elizabeth II of England and prime ministers and presidents.
What is going on?
I am offended as there is , in Ireland, to my knowledge, no official two minutes’ silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. We do have this in England at schools and workplaces.
I am a bit of an aficionado of literature of and about the First World War. I taught it for years for a synoptic paper at A level. I led trips to the battlefields and identified site-specific readings for my students to deliver. I took a particular interest in Irish literature as my partner was working here in Cork. In fact, I wrote about it in the Irish Examiner and my partner wrote about the historical context. He also spoke to my students, over the intercom in the coach, about the history of the war and the contribution of the Irish.
To return to the point, Armistice Day, is a commemoration of the ending of a violent event, rather than the violent event itself. Can that be argued for commemoration of the Easter Rising? If you commend Bruton’s remarks then you should not really celebrate an uprising which deflected resources from a world war which was fought to establish the self-determination of small nations; especially given the contribution to the hard-won victory by soldiers from the island of Ireland. I recommend Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way to anyone wanting to engage with the conflicting ideas of this period.
My interest in the First World War was deepened by reviewing a book about shell shock called Breakdown. Ignorance and fear led to traumatised young men being badly treated or even shot at dawn.
I also wrote, on 26th November about a book by the Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington. It was called The101 Greatest Plays. My blog, which focussed only on the Irish playwrights therein, was called Not Waiting for Godot.
Nine Irish playwrights and a total of ten plays make the cut. Farquhar, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Shaw (twice), Joyce, O’Casey, Beckett, Friel and McPherson. But where are Boucicault, Synge, Behan, Keane, Murphy, McGuinness, Carr, Barry, and Walsh? Another nine off the top of my head, and I haven’t even started on those born elsewhere such as McDonagh.
Instead Billington chose All That Fall, a radio play, because of its “vivid particularity” rather than “exemplary archetypes”. Helen accuses Michael of a “dated penchant for observant realism” but he insists that the play contains “all the great Beckett themes given flesh and colour”.
Interestingly, although the MA students studying English and American Literature and Film did study Waiting for Godot, we in Irish Writing and Film looked at Happy Days. I wrote an essay for Anne Etienne on Lust, Love and Loss in the play.
This is one of the few blogs that I have written which has received a comment – and one from a total stranger!
Well, that was an interesting juxtaposition of subjects! I thought more Bill and Ted than George and Lennie, but I enjoyed both the film and your review. Cheers. BTW interesting dilemma about the barnacle!
What a result! The above popped in five months’ later on March 16th 2017.
So my blogging journey has been long and varied. I would say that is nothing like scholarly enough – I tend to keep that for my essays. But I have really enjoyed writing it and I have enjoyed reading my peers’ blogs too. Have a look at my first post for a laugh.
Oh guess what? I do not think this blog-of-blogs will be shown as an example of excellence next year, do you? But here is what Maureen sent me before leaving for her sabbatical: A model blog! You have tags, a category ‘cloud’, links to other blogs, thoroughly engaging, provocative entries, made with regular frequency and which strike the perfect tone. Your multimedia elements are appropriate and Illuminating and your citations are pristine!
Barnes, S. The Sacred Combe. London. Bloomsbury. 2015. Print.
Fenton, Josephine.’#textualities17‘. Corkucopia: Irish Writing in English. 17 Mar. 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.
Textualities 2016 was literally on Friday 13th. I had been dreading it since September 2015 when I heard about it being part of the MA – alongside the Wikipedia editing. So even though it was awful to have to drop out of the MA to return to London for a month in January 2016, at least it was a relief not to have to face these technical challenges.
In 2017 the date was less threatening. Friday 10th. But when I heard the date it was seared into my brain as if by a hot iron. Everything in my life became divided into: before the mini-conference and after it. Because I did know that I would survive it. I booked tickets for Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk at the Abbey in Dublin for Saturday 11th. Here are Emilio and Maria (photo: Josephine Fenton) ready to see the play.
When the day came I was no longer nervous. Either I was numb as my nerves could support no more effort or I was as well prepared as I could be and I could do no more. And I knew that my mate Emilio would be coming to support me.
Also it was just so great seeing everyone ready to go. Daniel Lynch in a suit is a sight for sore eyes. And there were some amazingly elegant high heels on display. Donna was in the room and when she is there I always feel calm. Annie and Rebecca had my back on technicalities. They were both so kind and so competent. It would all be cool.
But the morning was all about other people and their work. For me the star of the day and of the week was Ellen Reid. Her activism in support of feminism, and, in particular, Repeal the Eighth is, as I said from my position of chair of her panel, GLORIOUS. She had told me the previous day that she kept bursting into tears. I thought of King Lear ‘And let not women’s weapons, water drops/ Stain my man’s cheeks’. I absolutely do not want Ellen crying, for feminist reasons. ‘You think I’ll weep? No I’ll not weep.’
And, of course, on the day there was no sign of tears. Rather we heard an excellent presentation on Irish women’s protest poetry which linked out to other aspects of marginalisation. I had been impressed by Ellen’s previous blogs and I was particularly struck by the post showcasing this film.
Among others I also loved Rebecca’s presentation on William Godwin and wanted to get into discussion with her about the play Mary Shelley by Helen Edmundson, a work which investigates Mary’s relationship with her father, Willian Godwin. The father does not come out of it very well. Edmundson has done loads of research mainly at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. But I also wanted Rebecca to know about the wide range of letters and papers from the family that are available at http://www.bodley.ox.ac/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/1500-1900/abinger/abinger.html
Actually the whole day was brilliant although perhaps the most exciting research is that which Lena is doing in terms of German business in Ireland. Now that is in the real world!
Siobhán is working on famine roads and I think her thesis will be fascinating. I am looking forward to reading it. I saw an earlier iteration of her presentation last semester in Irish Studies – I was auditing a unit. She has done so much work and her delivery, like Annie Curran’s on John Huston, was authoritative.
So we got through with nothing worse than a bit of a headache. And now I will never be frightened of Friday 13th or Friday 10th or Pecha Kucha ever again.
All that is left to do is write the thesis. Easy Peasy! ???
Edmundson, H. Mary Shelley. London: Nick Hern Books. 2012. Print.
Walsh, E. Ballyturk. London: Nick Hern Books. 2014. Print.
Now it’s time for Panel Six chaired by Cian O’Connor. Speakers are Geoff Gould on the position of the ‘playwright’ in contemporary Irish theatre. Secondly Siobhán Fallon on Famine Roads: Breaking Stones and Hearts. Finally today we will hear James Roche speaking about The Connections of Modernism to Fascism in the 20th Century.
First up is Geoff with his first slide entitled The Precarious Position of the Playwright – he asked us to consider three questions: If we had seen a play recently,
was it a new play?
was it a play by a new playwright?
when did you ever see a new play by a new playwright?
The Irish nation has had some of the finest theatre writers of the world. Their plays have been performed a the Abbey theatre. Geoff was not knocking them. He gave as an example his own positive reaction to Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa.
Geoff feels that there is not enough support for the playwright in Ireland. Instead he feels that money is going to ‘theatre-makers’. Unlike temporary groups of theatre-makers a playwright needs to ‘hone’ a play into an exciting piece of work. But the playwright needs to be supported by theatres who will nurture them. Generations of playwrights popped up until in the late 90s they began to disappear. Where is the modern generation of playwrights? Unsupported by theatres as only 7 theatres still receive funding – so they have closed.
There are women playwrights out there but their plays have been ignored. Geoff’s own West Cork Theatre Festival has in its lifetime put on 25 out of 32 plays by women. Geoff says that this is a bitter and twisted argument.
Now it was time for the presentation on famine roads. Siobhán Fallon spoke about Antony Trollope’s novel Castle Richmond. Siobhán tells how a young upstart engineer from England arrives to employ starving workers but doesn’t know what to do with them. He makes a comedy out of the famine road projects. The American John Mitchel sees a similar situation as a tragedy. A malign situation.
Two stories from The Untilled Field by George Moore are the main source for Siobhán’s thesis. Siobhán asks how intelligent people could employ people to build roads that end in bogs. Or run parallel to roads that already exist.
It seemed like a good idea at first – to put hungry people to work. Feeding peasants without them working would be an unimaginable idea. So work must be found. And that will also stop them rioting. The slogan in famine years was ‘Irish property must support Irish poverty’. The people of West Cork asked to have a road and a pier built for Crookhaven Harbour. But this project was refused.
Why were there so many ridiculous schemes? Why were sensible ones rejected? Who made these decisions and why? This is the subject of the thesis.
James sees a sinister atmosphere in the way that modernism was used to support racist ideas. Nietzsche’s concept of the Superman in particular was used to support Arianism (Die Übermensch). The futurist movement in Italy went on to merge with Mussolini’s Fascist Party. Both Germany and Italy had governments which were anti parliamentary.
James mentioned the American poet Ezra Pound who came to believe that WWI was caused by usury, and he had anti-semitic ideas. Pound met Mussolini in 1933 but was not taken seriously. Pound became an appendage of Facism’s propaganda regime.
Heidegger was dogged by accusations of anti-semitism as was Le Mans, a Belgian.
Unable to be here, Phil Nannery left a video of his presentation. Unfortunately the sound reproduction was so poor that I cannot really report on Phil’s narrative but his visuals were interesting and varied. Sorry Phil – can you put your presentation on your blog?
And now the day is over and we are all feeling tired and emotional but quite pleased with ourselves.