Irish Theatre International 2:1, 2009

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Contributors:  Scott Boltwood, Nicholas Grene, Helen Lojek, Anna McMullan, Christopher Murray, Anthony Roche


Editorial: Paul Murphy 

In terms of Irish theatre, Brian Friel is perhaps the most internationally acclaimed playwright of his generation. It is appropriate then that in his 8oth year this issue of Irish Theatre International focuses specifically on Friel’s dramatic canon. The articles in this issue reflect the range and calibre of Friel’s work, covering his earliest plays from The Blind Mice (1963), through to his magnum opus Translations (1980) and up to his most recent work to date The Home Place (2005).

Scott Boltwood engages with Friel’s earlier work, charting his development as a playwright in terms of his radio plays and his first plays for the stage. Boltwood considers Friel’s earliest plays within the context of the Ulster theatre tradition and specifically argues for the importance of The Blind Mice for a new understanding of Friel’s early career. Christopher Murray suggests that in the congruence oflike minds Friel educated himself in the best modern theatrical production values by looking for models to Tyrone Guthrie and Thornton Wilder at the same time.   Murray defines a triangular relationship between the dramaturgy of Friel, Guthrie and Wilder within which Friel’s stagecraft might be looked at anew.

Anthony Roche contends that although the connection between Friel and that of Russian playwrights Chekhov and Turgenev has been well flagged, not least by the playwright himself, what has rarely been noted is his creative engagement with British theatre of the mid-twentieth century. Roche delineates a context in the wake of the Belfast agreement, in which critics are beginning to speak more openly of Friel’s dialogue with contemporaneous British playwrights. In terms of this critical context Roche offers an intertextual comparison of Friel’s Crystal and Fox (1968), and John Osborne’s The Entertainer (1957). Nicholas Grene suggests that in spite of Friel’s reverence for the superior expressiveness of music, and in spite of his awareness of the deficiencies of the word, Friel creates a theatre dependent on the persuasive powers of language. Grene argues that if they are to be held in Friel’s theatre an audience must, at key moments, trust in language and go with its flow. Grene contends that it is language at such points, not music, not dance, that is sovereign in Friel’s plays.

Helen Lojek notes that Friel’s most familiar plays are generally set in indoor space; often the indoor space is juxtaposed to contiguous exterior space or to fluid, shifting space, but Friel’s stages typically present us with enclosed space that suggests norms about who may occupy that space and how they should behave. Lojek argues that in Wonderful Tennessee (1993) Friel uses an exterior setting to situate characters in space less familiar to them and unlikely to play a regular role in their lives. Lojek suggests that Friel’s use of space highlights the vulnerability and freedom of the characters, but also the extent to which actions that occur there constitute an interlude in their lives rather than a quotidian reality. Anna McMullan engages with Friel’s latest play The Home Place, specifically in terms of its 2009 production by the Lyric Theatre at the Grand Opera House in Belfast. McMullan engages with such dramaturgical issues as to what extent Friel uses theatrical conventions, particularly on and off stage, appearances and disappearances, to raise questions about inheritances imposed or lost, and related questions of possession and dispossession, home and displacement.

I must express my thanks to all those scholars who were kind enough to read submissions and provide peer-review reports in good time, and to all the members of the Editorial Advisory Board for their support. I am very grateful to Eamonn Jordan and Carysfort Press for their support in producing the journal, and also to the Arts Council Ireland/An Chomhairle Ealaion. My thanks as always to my colleague Kurt Taroff for his technical expertise. I am also grateful to Trish McTighe, Emma O’Kane and Conor Plunkett for their assistance in editing this special issue of Irish Theatre International.

It is with sadness that I must note the passing of Desmond Ernest Stewart Maxwell who died earlier this year. Desmond was a distinguished scholar who made an enormous contribution to the study of Irish theatre in such books as A Critical History of Irish Drama: 1891-1980 (1984), and notably Brian Friel (1973), the first major study of Friel’s plays.It is only fitting that this issue of Irish Theatre International is dedicated to the memory of DES Maxwell.

Paul Murphy