Community Politics and the Peace Process in Contemporary Northern Irish Drama
Ort: Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien
Verlag: Peter Lang GmbH
Autor(en): Eva Urban
Autor der Rezension: Michael Heinze
ISBN: ISBN 978-3-0343-0143-5
Umfang / Preis: 303 pages / £ 38.00
Eva Urban’s study Community Politics and the Peace Process in Contemporary Northern Irish Drama is based on her PhD research in the field and has been published as volume 31 in Peter Lang Publishers’ series “Reimagining Ireland.” This series has an amazing scope. Edited by Eamon Maher from the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, it shines through its successful interdisciplinary approach to Irish Studies and the question of Irish-ness as well as through its sheer vivacity, best illustrated by the fact that 25 volumes have been published since 2009 and fifteen more are forthcoming. This volume ties in neatly with the wide ranging topics of the series and looks at a topic vital to Northern Ireland’s cultural set-up.
Unlike other thematic, historic approaches to Northern Irish drama and theatre, Urban’s definition of ‘contemporary’ for her study reaches from the 1970s to the early years of the new millennium – a wise choice as this era spans a period from the worst of the Troubles to the continuing peace process in the last ten to twelve years. The author’s ‘Introduction’ is a stumbling block to the progress of the volume. In it, Urban not only outlines her ‘mission statement,’ she also goes through Ulster’s theatre history, the sociological, philosophical and literary background of her approach as well as the relevant secondary literature (not to mention a very brief historic outline of the political history of NI). The result is an introduction that is on the one hand too bulky and on the other slightly unstructured as the different purposes seem to tumble across each other. All elements are worthwhile and needed, but more rigid structuring would have been helpful.
All ‘mission statements’ are – to the current author – only readable if concise and not too self-analysing. It must therefore be seen as rather troubling to find the following statement in the ‘Introduction’: “In the course of this study there will emerge a consistent thread of Marxist analysis […]. This political analysis draws upon Existentialist Marxism as developed in French political scientist and critic Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of the relationship between the oppressed in everyday life” (p. 25). This is not to criticise a Marxist approach, it is merely to question the wisdom of self-analysis in the very introduction to the study, of pushing the reader into a direction which should become self-evident (and does so) in the later chapters.
But this maybe slightly awkward opening chapter is no indication for an unstructured publication. The following chapters are well structured, take the reader ‘by the hand’ and thus also enable readers who are not familiar with recent NI drama to follow the argument. In her first thematic chapter, “Political Purpose and Dramatic Alienation: Patrick Galvin’s We Do It for Love and Tinderbox Theatre Company’s Production of Convictions,” Urban juxtaposes Galvin’s 1973 play with a collective 2000 production which was staged at the Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast, a pivotal landmark in NI’s capital. Both plays follow a Brechtian approach, but whereas Galvin’s play in 13 episodes has a linking plotline and focuses on the Troubles, Convictionsconsists of seven unrelated playlets which illustrate post-Troubles rivalries and visions for the future of the province. Both plays can be called highly didactic, a term that Urban uses frequently in her discussion of Galvin’s play, and open up hopeful perspectives for a peaceful future. Galvin emphasises that all sides suffer, and probably one of the reasons for the rather violent reception of the play in the early 1970s is the fact that the British Army is included in this portraiture of the sufferings in the conflict. Urban chooses a commendable approach of analysis, discussing Galvin’s play in a more traditional text-analytical manner and focusing on the dramaturgic aspects of the staging of Convictions. This mélange is a general forte of the book as a whole, in particular as it underlines the special nature of dramatic texts which must never only be seen as literary products.
“History Plays: Representations of the United Irishmen in Northern Star by Stewart Parker and Tearing the Loom by Gary Mitchell,” the second chapter, then analysis a play from 1984 and one from 1998. Both plays take the United Irishmen Rising of 1798 as a historical foil for a discussion of NI politics of their respective era. This is one of Urban’s strongest chapters. She first shows the longstanding tradition of history plays beginning with the Irish literary renaissance (Gregory, Yeats et al.) in which these plays stand, then goes into a detailed analysis of the plays before shedding light on dramaturgical concepts and the workings of the historical analogies and utopian visions of the plays. One of the strong points of this chapter is the extensive historical background the author gives the reader, of the 1798 uprising and of the situation of NI in the 1980s and 1990s. Even a reader uninitiated to or with only rudimentary knowledge of Irish history will be able to follow her arguments easily as she strongly ties the plays into their respective backgrounds. A round-up of the production history ties in effortlessly. This chapter underlines the present author’s criticism of the Introduction. About Parker’s play, Urban writes: “In Northern Star Parker is superimposing a Marxist reading on these historical events [i.e. the Rising of 1798; mh], presenting sectarianism as grounded in imperialism and class dynamics” (p. 96). Her following analysis of this ideological guiding line is succinct and neat, which goes to show that this discussion is incorporated effortlessly and did not have to be ‘announced’ in the fashion of the Introduction. It comes natural and is a vital point of the discussion.
Ideological conflicts draw on and create mythologies. Urban picks up this myth-building process in the two following chapters. In chapter 3, “Remodelling Mythologies: Field Day’s ‘Fifth Province’ and Frank McGuninness’s Ulster Plays,” the author picks up two partly opposing constructions/deconstructions of mythologies around the very nature of the province of Ulster by discussing two plays by McGuinness from the 1980s and productions and statements of Field Day Theatre Company. An interesting sideline of this chapter is a brief look at international productions and the fact that much of the underlying mythologies inevitably get lost when the plays are presented to a non-Irish audience (cf. p. 138). Chapter 4, “Caricaturing Iconographies or Puppet Masters with Broken Strings in Tim Loane’s To Be Sure or How to Count Chickens When They Come Home to Roost and Caught Red Handed or How to Prune a Whin Bush,” reads like a necessary next step from the previous chapter. Caricature is one of the most powerful literary forms, and Urban chooses two particularly forceful plays of the first decade of the 21st century. In her summary of the chapter, the author highlights the close link with the previous chapter: “Like Frank McGuinness, Belfast playwright Tim Loane deconstructs myths and ideologies through the use of diverse meta-theatrical and intertextual elements. However, where McGuinness empathizes with the minds that construct such mythologies, although suggesting the need to re-imagine, Tim Loane caricatures the political iconographies with undisguised derision” (p. 200). These two chapters deal with powerful theatrical writing, and they do so in powerful academic writing.
Chapter 5, “The Politics of the Peace Process and Theatrical Imagination: Sole Purpose Productions,” successfully shifts the focus away from Belfast and from author-centred analyses to Derry production company Sole Productions. Discussing two of their plays and two very different dramaturgical concepts, Urban fastidiously incorporates Brechtian theory and modern cultural politics. This chapter is impressively counterpointed by chapter six which on the one hand discusses the Foucauldian concept of theatre as a mirroring device, as well as religious allusions, but imaginatively incorporates production histories that underline the argument of the chapter. Stating a minor glitch might be pertinent here: Urban’s chapter headlines are sometimes a touch cumbersome and could be more concise.
Urban’s conclusion, titled simply thus, is a structural forte of the study, summarising neatly and concisely the results of the book on some ten-and-a-half pages. The author does not shy away from bullet-pointing some results which makes the conclusion very readable and highlights her structured approach.
All in all, Community Politics and the Peace Process in Contemporary Northern Irish Drama by Eva Urban can be called a fascinating, enlightening and well written study of its topic, which can prove alluring to many different groups of readers. The present reviewer keeps up his criticism of the introduction, but it is a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent book.
Möchten Sie dieses Buch rezensieren? Wenden Sie sich an publikationen[at]theaterforschung.de und Sie erhalten dieses Buch als Rezensionsexemplar.
Interested in reviewing this book? Please contact us at publikationen[at]theaterforschung.de and receive a review copy.
Diese Nachricht wurde redaktionell betreut von Andreas Hudelist.
URL zur Zitation: http://www.theaterforschung.de/rezension.php4?ID=1195
Copyright by www.theaterforschung.de