Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros45-1Comptes rendusPatrick Lonergan, Irish Drama and...

Comptes rendus

Patrick Lonergan, Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950

Hélène Lecossois
p. 133-135
Référence(s) :

Patrick Lonergan, Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950, London, Methuen Drama, 2019, 263 p.

Texte intégral

1Patrick Lonergan’s latest book offers a well-informed survey of Irish drama and theatre in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, from the 1950s to the present. It looks at a wide range of plays, productions, and theatrical initiatives and provides its readers with valuable, up-to-date information on the latest developments of Irish theatre. The originality of Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950 lies in its interest in broadening our conception and understanding of what constitutes Irish theatre. The book argues for a more comprehensive, capacious definition – especially one which would embrace the internationalisation of Irish theatre. The influence of foreign playwrights and directors on Irish dramatists and theatre practitioners, and the role played by international audiences on the reception of Irish plays are thus consistently emphasised. Suggestion is even made that Irish productions of non-Irish plays could be considered as an integral component of Irish theatre. The notorious staging of Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo by the Pike Theatre Club in 1957 as part of the first Dublin Theatre Festival is here a case in point. Lonergan argues that the controversy generated by the showing of a (non)condom on stage at a time when contraception was illegal may be regarded not so much as symptomatic of “what was wrong in Ireland at the time”, but as an “act of resistance” which proved instrumental to “the dismantlement of Irish censorship” (p. 52-53): the work of Pike’s co-founders Carolyn Swift and Alan Simpson had a significant bearing on the subsequent developments of Irish theatre and society, especially as regards its secularisation.

2The shift away from an exclusively text-based approach to Irish theatre and the inclusion of the work of some actors, directors, and theatre ensembles is probably one of the most interesting attempts that the book makes at complicating the generally accepted narrative in histories of Irish theatre. As a survey, the book does not purport to be exhaustive or encyclopedic. The examples chosen are necessarily subjective. It is nonetheless refreshing to have our attention drawn to the work of actresses such as Siobhán McKenna and Olwen Fouéré, for example, and to that of stage directors such as Lynne Parker (Rough Magic), Garry Hynes (Druid), and Louise Lowe (ANU), for instance. The deliberate choice of female and feminist voices, perceptible also in the choice of playwrights whose works are looked at, is another instance of the book’s striving to revise the accepted narrative of Irish theatre history. The inclusion of Irish-language material, such as for instance Brendan Behan’s An Giall (1957) (The Hostage, 1958) or Mairéad Ní Ghráda’s An Triail (The Trial, 1964), is a welcome addition to this narrative as well.

3Furthermore, the book invites reconsidering the widely accepted view according to which the “Second Irish Renaissance” happened in the 1960s, highlighting instead the pivotal importance of the 1950s. One is thus reminded that the period saw the expansion of an amateur sector, the multiplication of theatre clubs – such as, for example, the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast, the 37 Theatre Club, and the Pike in Dublin, which were all established in 1951 –, the creation of the Dublin Theatre Festival and the emergence of new voices, prominent amongst which was Tom Murphy’s.

4Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950 comprises seven chapters. The first six are broadly organised in a chronological order. Each chapter focuses on what Lonergan identifies as a salient, characteristic feature of Irish theatre. It provides historical contextualisation and several case studies. The seventh and last chapter comprises three essays, written respectively by Finian O’Gorman, Áine Phillips and Siobhán O’Gorman. Its aim is to open things up by proposing other possible ways of looking at Irish theatre: through the prism of “the art of the amateur”, “the incomplete history of performance art” and the importance of “stage design”.

5Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950 is a very accomplished book, which enthusiastically supports Irish theatre in its different manifestations. The optimism as to what the theatre can achieve can be felt throughout, as for instance in the analysis of the last scene of Stewart Parker’s Pentecost (1987): “Here the theatre again becomes a space of ritual, in which the creation of art – music by the characters, theatre by the actors – offers the possibility of transcendence: of history, politics and religious division” (p. 65). Or as in the note on which the narrative concludes: “[The] aim here has been to show how theatre matters in Ireland: it is a driver of change, a source of consolation and entertainment, and a reflection on the country’s best and worst elements” (p. 204). Yet one cannot help but wonder at this unfailing optimism, especially in a period of such dire climatic, social and economic emergencies. This narrative indeed begs certain questions. One such question could touch on the book’s embracing of a forward-looking agenda, and the underlying imperative to keep going and do more with less. If the bearings of economics on theatrical productions are mentioned several times, the lack of funding is never seen as potentially problematic or damaging for the community of theatre practitioners. If anything, the emergence, during the post-Celtic tiger period of austerity, of the self-employed “theatre-maker”, who “has written a play” and who is now “producing, acting in, directing, marketing and otherwise staging their own works” (p. 201) is hailed as unambiguously positive.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Hélène Lecossois, « Patrick Lonergan, Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950 »Études irlandaises, 45-1 | 2020, 133-135.

Référence électronique

Hélène Lecossois, « Patrick Lonergan, Irish Drama and Theatre Since 1950 »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 45-1 | 2020, mis en ligne le 24 septembre 2020, consulté le 16 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Hélène Lecossois

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search