- Theatre and Globalization: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era
In 2009, Irish drama is arguably at an unprecedented level of popularity as measured by the number of international tours, productions, and translations of plays worldwide in recent years. This popular contemporary phase of Irish theatre significantly emerged as part of a period of rapid social change in Ireland itself: the Celtic Tiger era of unprecedented financial growth that ended with a descent into recession. During this period, starting roughly in the mid-1990s, Ireland was ranked briefly as the most globalized nation in the world and saw its non-Irish-born population jump from 6 to 12 percent by the end of 2008. The full outcome of this era’s uneven economic prosperity and social change remains to be seen, but Patrick Lonergan’s Theatre and Globalization: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era sets out to investigate these shifts from the point of view of the period’s theatre.
Lonergan analyzes the themes and practices of globalization—as “a cultural phenomenon, an economic process, a mode of rhetoric” (4)—in relation to the theatre. He focuses on the ways in which processes of globalization have fundamentally changed relationships among playwrights, artists, and audiences in terms of mobility, themes, and modes of representation, using Irish drama as a test case of these shifts. He argues that contemporary Irish theatre’s frequent disjunction between the society it purports to represent and commodifiable representations of “Irishness” that make it onto world stages are symptomatic of the challenges faced by all contemporary (national) theatres. In this way, his [End Page 659] study looks beyond Ireland and speaks to diverse international audiences about the way globalization potentially works vis-à-vis theatre and drama.
Lonergan addresses the indigenous Irish theatre industry, the circulation of Irish theatre abroad, and the reception of non-Irish plays at home to demonstrate the multiple global flows that shape the concerns and practice of Irish theatre. He implicates a growing alliance among business, theatre, and the state in the Irish context through an increased emphasis on the ability of theatre to contribute to “state activities, such as tourism, education and attraction of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment)” (68). He further argues that increased circulation of Irish theatre abroad “tends to involve the use of branding to manage risk” (85). This branding leads to an elision of differences in regions within Ireland so that the work can be made palpable to wider audiences. Thus, he claims, globalized Irish theatre “succeeds not because it is universal, but because it stimulates a reflexive response from audiences” (85).
One of the book’s major conceits is to examine major productions of three Irish plays at different times (Dancing at Lughnasa, The Plough and the Stars, The Shaughraun) to identify how their staging dramatizes the issues at the heart of his study. In the history of these three plays in production, he traces an increasing tendency to represent them as confirming expectations of Irishness through tropes of traditional music, dance, and scenic conventions—even going so far as to hire Riverdance director John McColgan to direct The Shaughraun at the Abbey in his theatrical debut. Lonergan criticizes Irish theatre for a diminishing willingness to reflect critically on its own past. He most memorably contrasts Garry Hynes’s brutal and controversial 1991 Abbey revival of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars with a 2002 revival, which he describes as “firmly in the style of a ‘heritage’ production” (67) and “designed to appeal to theatregoers’ sense that they were purchasing an ‘authentic’ experience” (67).
The usual suspects of Irish drama (Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Dion Boucicault, Sean O’Casey, Brian Friel, Marina Carr) are well represented, with some marginal and emerging voices also examined (Enda Walsh, Marie Jones, Elizabeth Kuti, and the dance theatre company Fabulous Beast). Yet, his readings of even familiar works are refreshingly rigorous. He draws on the plays’ receptions, their intersections with other key social issues or theatre markets at the time, and the...