The Theatre and Films of Conor McPherson
This volume, which has recently been published in paperback, forms part of Methuen Drama’s Critical Companions series and centres on a playwright and filmmaker who may still be in mid-career but has built a strong canon of work over the last quarter-century.
Indeed, a measure of Conor McPherson’s popular and critical acclaim is the fact that the author of this study, University College Dublin’s Associate Professor in Drama Studies, Eamonn Jordan, has been running a module on his work since 2017.
The book starts with a heavily technical introduction, introducing both the playwright and a list of theories. The plays and films are then divided, sometimes a little randomly, into a number of topic-based sections. Predictably, the first of these, dealing with much of the early stage work, explores the nature of monologues and their use by this Irish playwright at a specific point in time for his country.
The major film works are grouped together with a view of the way in which Dublin impacts on their ideas and characters. Another major theme that has run through McPherson’s work is the supernatural and the relevant ghostly chapter takes on not only selected plays but also the BBC TV series Paula.
An eclectic collection of plays and films, including the most recent stage hit and collaboration with Bob Dylan, Girl from the North Country, comes with the enticing, tongue-twisting title of "Apocalyptic Dispossessions". Christmas is a further subject that has frequently found its way into the plays so forms another section.
The final topic-based chapter entitled "Conspicuous Communities" gives a long, critical overview to the play that Eamonn Jordan regards as the most significant, The Weir. In this, he pays particular attention to the Donmar Warehouse revival in 2013, dissecting it in great detail.
The real strength of these sections lies in Jordan’s ability to both analyse and summarise the plays and films of his subject. Whether you have seen a particular work or not, he has a knack of bringing it to the page. It can be uneven, since some appear to have been considered purely based on the text, while others benefit from the author’s presence at specific productions, though not necessarily the first stagings. At times, the divisions into topics can appear arbitrary with some plays that could easily fit into any one of two or three different chapters.
The book concludes with a series of "Critical Perspectives". The first of these is an informative interview between the author and his subject, which sheds light on much that has gone before. Of the three critical pieces that follow, readers will find the first by Lisa Fitzpatrick looking at haunted women both entertaining and accessible, while New York Times’s critic Ben Brantley captures the spirit of the playwright / filmmaker using as his inspiration two inconsequential words: “you know?”
Occasionally, the theorising and use of impenetrable academic language can become a little too much, while an editor might wish to proof read the book for typos before the next edition.
However, there is a great deal to entertain and inform so that anyone with an interest in the work of Conor McPherson should find much of value in this volume.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher