The Comic Everywoman in Irish Popular Theatre
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The Comic Everywoman in Irish Popular Theatre

Political Melodrama, 1890-1925

Susanne Colleary

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eBook - ePub

The Comic Everywoman in Irish Popular Theatre

Political Melodrama, 1890-1925

Susanne Colleary

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About This Book

This book is a comprehensive study of comic women in performance as Irish Political Melodrama from 1890 to 1925. It maps out the performance contexts of the period, such as Irish "poor" theatre both reflecting and complicating narratives of Irish Identity under British Rule. The study investigates the melodramatic aesthetic within these contexts and goes on to analyse a selection of the melodramas by the playwrights J.W. Whitbread and P.J. Bourke. In doing so, the analyses makes plain the comic structures and intent that work across both character and action, foregrounding comic women at the centre of the discussion. Finally, the book applies a "practice as research" dimension to the study. Working through a series of workshops, rehearsals and a final performance, Colleary investigates comic identity and female performance through a feminist revisionist lens. She ultimately argues that the formulation of the Comic Everywoman as staged "Comic" identity can connect beyond the theatre toher "Everyday" self. This book is intended for those interested in theatre histories, comic women and in popular performance.

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Information

Year
2018
ISBN
9783030020088
© The Author(s) 2018
Susanne CollearyThe Comic Everywoman in Irish Popular TheatrePalgrave Studies in Comedyhttps://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-02008-8_1
Begin Abstract

1. Front Cloth

Susanne Colleary1  
(1)
Institute of Technology Sligo, Sligo, Ireland
 
 
Susanne Colleary

Abstract

The Front Cloth sets out its stall for the work. It introduces the reader to the shape of the book, which begins by tracing the socio-historical and cultural contexts that informed the world of the popular plays in Ireland. It speaks briefly to melodramatic aesthetics, and it outlines the dual approaches of academic and practice-as-research strands of analysis that form the spine of the book. It sketches the performance possibilities of Irish comic women on popular stages. It outlines the nature and function of the comic everywoman as a means to recognise comic women and their audiences in popular theatre during some of the most turbulent years in Irish history.

Keywords

PatrioticMelodramaTheatreComedyComic Everywoman
End Abstract
This book is born of a love of comedy and performance. It takes as its focus Irish political melodrama as mass entertainment through the late nineteenth and into the first decades of the twentieth century in Ireland. The timeframe encapsulates some of the most turbulent years in recent Irish history, incorporating as it does the growing struggle to gain independence from British rule. The study dates are an attempt to capture those years, offering a broad historical guideline, and in that respect, they create the shape for the work. Tackling comedy when nationalist politics are in the same sentence can be difficult. Those discourses kept pulling away from the comic elements for some time, because the nationalist emblem is writ so large through the plays and reflected in the breadth and depth of cultural work about this period in Irish history. Those debates and controversies are well rehearsed elsewhere, and it would do little good to repeat what others have done far better than I. Necessarily, the work begins by tracing the historical, cultural and theatrical contexts of the period, within which the patriotic plays lived; those contexts inform and scaffold the remainder of the book. However, this book represents an exploration into the world of the patriotic melodramas in a related but different way. Moving on from those contextualised brushstrokes, the book makes enquiry of melodramatic worlds, its aesthetics as performance on both sides of the Irish Sea, with some discussion of the cultural anxieties surrounding its popularity on Irish stages. It does so in order to direct the enquiry towards alternative comic possibilities for the playtexts as popular theatre, while building on the substantive work of those who have already established the native dramas as significant in Irish political and cultural history.
Approaching the work from a comedy studies perspective was rewarding and challenging in the same measure. Extracting the comic structures from the plays was invigorating and laborious; the plays are built in soap opera repetition and for me, for some time at least, impossible to fully catch hold of. This is in part due to the familiarity of plot and motive, which can meld, but also because, in my view, the texts serve as a key; in other words, the plays only really come to life as performance. I acknowledge the bias while also suggesting that the idea is helped by the ways in which the plays came into the world; they are not born of a literary or ‘writerly’ tradition. Reading them, however much you like them, can make you forget, playing them makes you remember. And written as they were by actor-managers for performance, and as popular entertainments they had a ready market in Dublin, along the theatrical axis, and in the ‘smalls,’ which toured the rural towns of Ireland. So this study became about the comedy in the works and the working of that comedy through the totality of the performance text. It also became about practice and performance, and both approaches are detailed in this book. The academic study concentrates on in-depth, comic analysis of four of the patriotic plays, by the playwrights J.W. Whitbread and P.J. Bourke, as exemplary of their type, while also signalling to the works of those who had gone before, including Dion Boucicault and Hubert O’Grady. The selected plays evolved with the new decades of the twentieth century and the rising political and cultural tensions in Ireland. The analysis draws out the comic women while the practice-as-research enquiry offers new insights into their performance, with emphasis on staged comic women. Having separated out the approaches, it is important to note that they fold back in on each other; they are interwoven, with the discussion building from both, either in parallel or simultaneously. At the nexus of both approaches is a loose association of ideas, which I have called the comic everywoman. What became the comic everywoman started out with an arc of research that worked from broad understanding of the nature and function of the patriotic plays to the comedy at work in the plays to the comic women at work in the plays. Focussing in on the comic women deepened the direction of the study towards female comic agency on the popular stage: its freedoms and its constraints. The enquiry became about that mediated space for comic women, and what it might allow. The practice-as-research approach both on its own terms and speaking dialectically to the academic work goes some way to sketching how comic women had access to power within that inverted space of play. Both approaches also examine those inversions as the means to capture ways of playing that went beyond the text. The comic everywoman then is built out of the familiarity of stock, performing twice nightly for thousands of men and women and staging comic identity that has the means to play out versions of the performance text in relationship with, and to, her audience. This is the centre of the book and represents its beginning only. The formulation is proposed as a way for the comic women of distant texts and on popular stages in Ireland to be, as Cathy Leeney would say, seen and heard; for me, that is what is most exciting about it.
© The Author(s) 2018
Susanne CollearyThe Comic Everywoman in Irish Popular TheatrePalgrave Studies in Comedyhttps://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-02008-8_2
Begin Abstract

2. Popular Theatre in Ireland

Susanne Colleary1
(1)
Institute of Technology Sligo, Sligo, Ireland
Susanne Colleary

Abstract

This chapter sketches the broad historical and socio-political contexts that inform the world of popular theatre in the years surrounding the 1916 Rising in Dublin. The work considers the Queen’s Theatre as the ‘Home of Irish Drama’ in relationship to its audiences and to the wider theatrical landscape in Dublin. The chapter then moves on to consider the melodramatic aesthetic and its uses in the Irish patriotic plays, in order to understand how the political plays worked as performance. It makes discussion of the cultural anxieties surrounding the plays then and now, and it signals out to the work of the remaining chapters, placing comic women in Irish popular performance as central to the study.

Keywords

Queen’sNationalismPoliticalTheatreMelodramaActingAudience
End Abstract

2.1 Brushstrokes

There was no shortage of entertainment for those out and about for the evening in late nineteenth-century Dublin, where the theatrical landscape was bountiful and eclectic. Dublin then housed three patented theatres, licensed to produce drama, the Queen’s Royal Theatre, the Gaiety Theatre and the Theatre Royal. In 1871, brothers Michael and John Gunn opened the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, declaiming their intent to “give the public in Dublin the best in Variety and excellence the world can afford.”1 In 1874, the brothers took over the controlling interest at the Theatre Royal and ran it as a touring house in much the same vein as the Gaiety.2 Typical entertainments at the Gaiety included offerings of Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Sheridan and Wilde, while the operas of Wagner, Verdi, Bizet and Gilbert and O’Sullivan were also popular. Farces and romantic and/or musical comedies were also well received.3 Not far away the Queen’s Royal Theatre, under the directorship of Arthur Lloyd, “increasingly presented Music-Hall fare—comic turns, songs and performing animals.”4 Christopher Morash notes that touring companies were also becoming more popular, “playing Belfast, Cork and sometimes Limerick or Waterford,’ [constituting] the Irish theatrical axis.”5 The circuit was attractive to English companies at the time, following rail lines as well as older established theatrical routes, which for practical reasons, including poor transport links, tended to exclude the midlands and the west of the country. Morash notes that as the end of the century approached, the time lag between London openings and Irish touring dates narrowed, so that Irish audiences were appreciating Gilbert and Sullivan or Pinero not long after their English counterparts. He also makes the point that plays written about Ireland by Irish playwrights, including the works of Dion Boucicault and Hubert O’Grady, often opened in England or America, only coming to Ireland as part of the touring circuit.6
The road less travelled was accommodated by the ‘fit ups’ or ‘smalls’—bands of travelling players who performed from town to town up and down the country.7 While the performance histories of the fit ups are underwritten in Irish academia, what is known is that they existed at least from the early nineteenth century onwards. The oldest and most famous of the troupes arguably were the J.B. Carrickford Company and Tommy Conway (or Keegan), who formed the Bohemian Minstrels in the late 1800s.8 Others included the Anew McMaster Company, which began before the 1920s. Typically the travelling companies:
… carried all their props, scenery, costumes, curtains and light system … and if necessary the materials for a temporary improvised stage which they would fit-up in whatever s...

Table of contents