Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950

Patrick Lonergan
Methuen Drama

Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950

Rather than a chronological history, Irish academic Patrick Lonergan has written a very readable book for Methuen Drama that comprises what could be regarded as a series of essays based around chosen themes. Together, these build to a quite detailed, if sometimes impressionistic, overview of the Irish theatre in the last 70 years.

Typically, he starts with an idea and then applies it to a number of playwrights and/or directors, spinning it out to consider each individual’s career and specific plays.

The primary themes, sandwiched between chapters looking at the period prior to 1950 and the last couple of decades, are the interaction of religion and secularisation, the impact that international work has had on Irish theatre, the way in which themes can be repeated but changed along the way and the struggle to introduce diversity into a society that is resistant.

The book is particularly perceptive about the way in which theatre has developed in both Northern Ireland and Eire and also the way in which a repressive society strongly ruled over by representatives of the priesthood has made life difficult for female theatre makers and those from minorities.

Almost all of the great and the good get a few moments in the limelight from Beckett and Behan through Brian Friel, Tom Murphy and Stewart Parker to Enda Walsh, Marina Carr, Martin McDonagh and Marie Jones amongst the writers, while Tomás Mac Anna and Garry Hynes take leading roles as directors.

The book is completed by three essays, using considerably less penetrable academic language and conceptualisation. The pick of these is Finian O’Gorman’s thoughtful consideration of the fluid interaction between amateur and professional theatre, centring on John B Keane’s classic “melodrama” Sive.

As always with this author, despite a target market that is almost certainly intended to be amongst his peers, Patrick Lonergan writes in clear, intelligible language and make strong cases for the theses that he presents.

Anyone with an interest in the theatre and more particularly the work that has gone on and either side of the Irish border will find this book informative and pleasingly comprehensive, given that the author has very deliberately avoided writing or marketing it as a fully-fledged history of the subject.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

Are you sure?