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Abstract

Directors have been ill served by histories of Irish theatre. The dominant narrative of Contemporary Irish theatre is one that charts the development of playwrights and their contribution to a playwriting tradition in Ireland. The work of the director is at best name-checked in most theatre histories and at worst ignored entirely. In this chapter I attempt to re-inscribe the important work of the director into the narrative of contemporary Irish theatre. To survey all the many directors who have worked in Ireland, and their achievements, would require a book-length study and so this chapter does not aim to offer a comprehensive survey. Instead I re-examine some productions that have been considered as landmark achievements in contemporary Irish theatre, highlighting the contributions made by directors to their achievements. I begin by placing the director at the accepted inaugurating moments of contemporary Irish theatre, which I identify as: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot produced by the Pike Theatre in 1955 directed by Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift and Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come! (1964) produced by the Gate Theatre directed by Hilton Edwards. I then explore the work of Joe Dowling in the Abbey’s premiere of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer (1980) and Garry Hynes’ direction of Tom Murphy’s Bailegangaire (1985), arguing that their shared commitment to a theatrical experience that is not mimetic but immersive and ritualistic has helped define the characteristics of contemporary Irish theatre. Finally, I contend that the visually immediate and arresting directorial interventions of Patrick Mason in Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) and Selina Cartmell in Woman and Scarecrow (2006) have had a lasting impact on the reception of, and continued interest in, these plays.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Anthony Roche, Brian Friel: Theatre and Politics (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2012), 33.

  2. 2.

    Ibid.

  3. 3.

    For sample survey piece on Irish Directors see Walsh, Ian R. (2016), “Directors and Designers since 1960” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 443–458.

  4. 4.

    Anthony Roche, Contemporary Irish Drama (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009), 4.

  5. 5.

    Siobhán O’Gorman has cogently argued that Carolyn Swift contributed to the direction of the Pike shows along with her husband Alan Simpson, but her contribution has gone largely unacknowledged. See O’Gorman, Siobhan, “Hers and his: Carolyn Swift, Alan Simpson, and collective creation at the Pike Theatre” in Women, Collective Creation and Devised Performance (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2016).

  6. 6.

    Christopher Morash, A History of Irish Theatre 1601–2001 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 207.

  7. 7.

    Alan Simpson, Beckett and Behan and a Theatre in Dublin (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), 124.

  8. 8.

    Morash , A History of Irish Theatre 1601–2001, 203.

  9. 9.

    Simpson, Beckett and Behan and a Theatre in Dublin, 98.

  10. 10.

    Ibid., 8.

  11. 11.

    Ibid., 101.

  12. 12.

    Ibid., 6.

  13. 13.

    Ibid., 7

  14. 14.

    Roche, Contemporary Irish Drama, 4.

  15. 15.

    Rebecca Schneider and Gabrielle H. Cody, Re: Direction: A Theoretical and Practical Guide (London: Routledge, 2002), 5.

  16. 16.

    Richard Pine, The Diviner: The Art of Brian Friel (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 1999), 190.

  17. 17.

    Quoted in Mike Wilcock, Hamlet: The Shakespearean Director (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2002), 140.

  18. 18.

    Samuel Leiter, From Belasco to Brook: Representative Directors of the English Speaking Stage (New York: Praeger, 1991), 77.

  19. 19.

    J.L. Styan, Modern Drama in Theory and Practice, 3 Vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 182.

  20. 20.

    Bulmer Hobson, The Gate Theatre (Dublin: Gate Theatre, 1934), 21.

  21. 21.

    Peter Luke, ed. Enter Certain Players: Edwards, Mac Liammóir and the Gate, 1928–1978 (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1978), 15.

  22. 22.

    Roche, Brian Friel: Theatre and Politics, 46.

  23. 23.

    Ibid., 47.

  24. 24.

    Quoted in Roche, Brian Friel: Theatre and Politics, 48.

  25. 25.

    Hobson, The Gate Theatre, 45.

  26. 26.

    Christopher Murray, The Theatre of Brian Friel: Tradition and Modernity (London: Methuen, 2014), 90.

  27. 27.

    Thomas, Kilroy (1992) “A Generation of Playwrights” Irish University Review 22: 1, 135–141.

  28. 28.

    Christopher Fitz-Simon, ed. Players and Painted Stage: Aspects of the Twentieth Century Theatre in Ireland (Dublin: New Island, 2004), 100.

  29. 29.

    Dowling has had a lifelong commitment to theatre education. He went on to set up the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin and to found a theatre education programme in the Guthrie Theatre.

  30. 30.

    See Nicholas Grene “Defining Performers and Performances” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 459–477.

  31. 31.

    Abbey Digital Archive.

  32. 32.

    Abbey Digital Archive.

  33. 33.

    Alan J. Peacock, ed. The Achievement of Brian Friel (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1992), 188.

  34. 34.

    Dowling also directed the premiere of The Communication Chord (1983) for Field Day Theatre Company and Fathers and Sons (Friel’s adaptation of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country) for the Gate in 1992.

  35. 35.

    Peacock, ed. The Achievement of Brian Friel, 180.

  36. 36.

    Ibid.

  37. 37.

    Lilian Chambers et al., eds., Theatre Talk: Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2002), 135.

  38. 38.

    Abbey Digital archive.

  39. 39.

    Murray, The Theatre of Brian Friel: Tradition and Modernity, 92.

  40. 40.

    Garry Hynes, “Galway to Broadway and Back Again”, American Journal of Irish Studies 9 (2012): 81.

  41. 41.

    Chambers et al., eds., Theatre Talk: Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners, 200.

  42. 42.

    Druid Archive.

  43. 43.

    T2/1102A, VHS recording, Bailegangaire, 1986, Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway.

  44. 44.

    McKenna was dying of cancer at the time and her creation of the role of Mommo in Bailegangaire has been celebrated as the final swansong of a remarkable Irish actress. See Nicholas Grene “Defining Performers and Performances’ in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

  45. 45.

    Patrick Lonergan, ed. The Methuen Anthology of Irish Plays. (London: Methuen, 2008), 111.

  46. 46.

    Ibid., 139.

  47. 47.

    T2/1102A, VHS recording, Bailegangaire, 1986, Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway.

  48. 48.

    Peter Brook, The Empty Space, (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1968), 136.

  49. 49.

    Mason is closely associated with the work of Frank McGuinness and directed the premieres of The Factory Girls (1982 Abbey), Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (1985 Abbey), Dolly West’s Kitchen (1999 Abbey/Old Vic, London), Gates of Gold (2002 Gate Theatre, Dublin), and The Hanging Gardens (2013 Abbey).

  50. 50.

    Chambers et al., eds., Theatre Talk: Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners, 320.

  51. 51.

    Frank McGuinness, “Mothers and Fathers”, Theatre Ireland 4 (1983): 16.

  52. 52.

    Pine, The Diviner: The Art of Brian Friel, 35.

  53. 53.

    Murray, The Theatre of Brian Friel: Tradition and Modernity, 137.

  54. 54.

    Richard Dyer, Only Entertainment, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2002), 20.

  55. 55.

    Ibid.

  56. 56.

    Ibid.

  57. 57.

    Cartmell took a First in Drama and History of Art from Trinity College, Dublin and Glasgow University and graduated with an MA from Central School of Speech and Drama in Advanced Theatre Directing.

  58. 58.

    “Director with real bite and a bracing approach to the classics”, The Irish Times March 4, 2013.

  59. 59.

    Rhona Trench Staging Thought: Essays on Irish Theatre and Practice (Bern: Peter Lang, 2012), 238.

  60. 60.

    Marina Carr, Woman and Scarecrow (Loughcrew: The Gallery Press, 2006), 68.

  61. 61.

    Trench, Staging Thought: Essays on Irish Theatre and Practice, 244.

  62. 62.

    The Irish Times March 4, 2013.

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Walsh, I.R. (2018). Irish Theatre: A Director’s Theatre. In: Jordan, E., Weitz, E. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Irish Theatre and Performance. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-58588-2_28

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