A companion to modern british and i rish drama
Edited by mary luckhurs
‘Modern British drama’ is a tricky label and a contested notion. The idea that certain playwrights and certain plays might be representative of various cultures and various communities is troubling. If the English were later than most to acquire a national theatre, it was in many ways because it was not seen to be needed: there was Shakespeare, there was the English language and there was imperial self-regard. The fact that the National Theatre came into existence during the postimperial crisis is no surprise. But recognizing the power of that seismic crisis and acknowledging the continuing quakes is another matter entirely for the English. Only very slowly indeed is that happening, and as Declan Kiberd points out in chapter 2, it has been at the prompting of plays by modern Irish dramatists, which the English have imported to view themselves at a safe remove. ‘The project of inventing Ireland’, Kiberd says, ‘presupposed the task of helping the neighboring people to reinvent the idea of England’ and the ‘shaping of the modern democratic polis has been rehearsed in the dramas of England over the past half-century’. A major difficulty for the idea of English drama is that it has been consumed by the notion of British drama, just as ‘England’ has been consumed by the idea of ‘Britain’. Englishness needs redefining just as English drama needs re-viewing and reassessing with postcoloniality in mind. Irish drama, Scottish drama and Welsh drama can all be seen to be engaged in the political project of interrogating histories and identities, and reimagining past and present. Drama in England is generally not thought about in this sense, and the academy lags behind the inventive endeavours of many playwrights and theatre companies. The postcolonial agenda, then, is strong in this Companion to Modern British and Irish Drama, and because of recent history the forum for much reflection, as Victor Merriman elucidates in chapter 1, is the dramatic traffic that has flowed from Ireland to England and vice versa.