Conall Morrison


1966- ; b. Co. Armagh; ed. St. Patrick’s College, Armagh; saw The Importance of Being Earnest with Ray McNally, Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea at 14; initiated to theatre by Field Day production of Friel’s Translations, 1980; sent early play to Brian Friel and received advice (‘too much dialogue … don’t tell me, show me’); began philosophy and literature degree at Edinburgh and completed a degree in theatre studies at Liverpool Polytechnic, 1991;

directed Gary Mitchell’s In a Little World of Our Own; also a version of Sophocles’ Antigone, set in the Middle East today (2003); a play, Hard to Believe, in the form of an 80-min. monologue of John Foster, a dirty-tricks British agent in Northern Ireland; wrote As the Beast Sleeps; also Rough Justice, on punishment beating; Green, Orange or Pink, on sexual intolerance; also authored Hard to Believe, commissioned by Bickerstaffe (Andrews Lane 1995); dir award-winning production of Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn; also Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn (1998);

appt. Assoc. Director of the Abbey; dir. Shakespeare's Tempest (Abbey 1999); went on to direct Juno and the Paycock by O'Casey, Dancing at Lughnasa by Friel, and  Hamlet (Lyric Belfast/Abbey Dublin); directed Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Co. (2007); directed The Taming of the Shrew (RSC 2008); dir Translations (Abbey 2011); dir. Importance of Being Earnest (Pittsburg/PICT, Aug. 2011); also dir. The Bacchae of Baghdad, after Euripides [q.d.]; dir. Playboy of the Western Wold (Lyric, Belfast, 2012).

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Sophocles’ Antigone, produced by Storytellers Company in Galway (Town Hall Th., 13-15 Feb.), Bray (19-22 Feb.), Cork (Opera Hse., 25 Feb.-1 March) and Dublin (Project Arts Centre 4-14 March).

“Hard to Believe”, in John Farleigh, ed., Far from the Land: New Irish Plays [ Contemporary Irish Plays ser.; Methuen Drama] (London: Methuen 1998), xiv, 340pp. [with support of NI Arts Council & An Chomhairle Ealaíon and in co-operation with the Stewart Parker Trust] (source: COPAC).

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Irish Times [profile] (15 Aug. 1998); ‘Five Questions for Conall Morrison: Following last year’s successful take on Macbeth, director Conall Morrison has been invited back to the RSC to put his stamp on The Taming Of The Shrew’, on Metro (7 Oct. 2008) - online [accessed 07.07.2104].

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Storytellers Co.: ‘As outside forces move us, perhaps inexorably, towards war, Storytellers Theatre Company presents Antigone, one of the greatest and most enduring dramas of all time. The story of Antigone’s passionate defiance of her Uncle Creon’s autocratic rule of law has never been more apposite. In his searing new adaptation, award winning writer and director Conall Morrison, has honoured the traditional Greek belief in the theatre as a place for ethical and political debate. He sets the story in the context of the contemporary Middle East and uses the Antigone myth to investigate the current situation there and our response, in the western world, to it. To correspond with the Greek use of mask, music and dance, this production will also feature live music from an original score by Conor Linehan and an elaborate series of back projections. These will work together to create atmosphere and situate the play but more importantly work to provoke questions. How do we respond to images of conflict? Do we question motive or context? Do we just switch off? Rather than reaching for the remote or flicking past the foreign news pages, Storytellers invites an audience to sit together for ninety minutes and experience the conflict of ideas and emotions as mediated through Sophocles’ dynamic, piercing lens, to feel the corrosive power of the Antigone story as it echoes up and down the ages. Cast: Donal Beecher, Bosco Hogan, Pauline Hutton (Antigone), Louis Lovett, Simon O’Gorman, Diane O’Keefe, Robert O’Mahony (Creon), Dylan Tighe, Helena Walsh Costume design by Catherine Fay Lighting design by Paul Keogan Music composed by Conor Linehan Set design by Sabine Dargent.’ (Storytellers Co. [website text]; tupplied by Laredana Salis, UUC 2003.)

Conall Morrison and Alan Stanford
on The Importance [go online]

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C. L. Dallat, ‘Identity on the Verge of Extinction’, review of Conall Morrison, Hard to Believe and John Donnelly’s Bone, in Times Literary Supplement (15 Oct. 2004), calls Morrison’s [new?] play ‘an eighty minute-long suicide note from an army dirty-tricks merchant on the verge of self-destruction in Northern Ireland’.

Further, ‘In a gripping solo performance, Séan Kearns manages to endow Foster’s abrasive story, its mix of braggadocio and apologia, and its non serviam to both Evangelical grandfather and bigoted Catholic mother, with credible pathos. The violence of rejection is softened by musical excerpts from Schubert and Ravel and the whole Agnus Dei from Bach’s Mass in B minor (Foster’s father was a music teacher). [...]. Divided backgrounds often produce individuals who can see both sides; equally well documented in recent turmoil are those who have chosen extremism as a reaction to-divided loyalties. Foster has, rather, embraced an unbiased hatred for both “houses” and joined what some see as a third party to the conflict, only for it all to end in self-loathing. This production, from Dublin ’s Storytellers Theatre Company, seems to signal - despite the current interest in political theatre as the verbatim reworking of recent events - that drama as a fusion of oral myth-making and private confession still has work to do.’ (p.19; for full text, see infra.)

Paterick Lonergan, ‘Queering Shakespeare at the Abbey: Wayne Jordan’s Twelfth Night, Scenes from the Bigger Picture [Wordpress blog] (3 May 2014) incls. remark - ‘[...] Conall Morrison in 1999 gave us a Tempest that marked both the end of Patrick Mason’s tenure at the Abbey and the beginning of the Peace Process.’ (Available online; accessed 07.07.2014.)

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Terry Blain, on Morrison's production of The Playboy of the Western World, by J. M. Synge, at the Lyric Th., Belfast (Aug. 2012), at Northern Ireland Culture website. ‘[...] Much of the opprobium was sparked by a single word in Synge’s script – ‘shift’, meaning a woman’s undergarment. / Its use seemed to provocatively crystallise the play’s dark, explosive sexual energies, the primal urges attracting the five women in the cast who pursue the ‘playboy’ of the title, a farmer lad who claims he stoved his father’s head in with a shovel. / We’re less prudish now, more liberated, more inured to random acts of violence. But Conall Morrison, director of the Lyric production, believes that Playboy still packs a mighty punch for contemporary audiences, not least because so many of the play’s themes remain sharply relevant.

[Quotes Morrison:] ‘Love, sex, revenge, the raging passions of violence and desire [...] All the energies in Playboy are so extreme, so remarkably overt. The sex and the violence are real, but they also function as metaphors for the whole mechanism of self-expression. In many respects the play is a paean to anarchy. Not anarchy for its own sake but anarchy as a mode of self-expression, saying “If I break free of societal constraints, I can be anything.” Overall the play just liberated too much energy for its early audiences, saying “This is actually a good thing.” That was what alarmed people, and they had to recoil from it.’

Does Morrison consider Playboy to be a kind of neo-Nietzschean tract, its anti-hero Christy an Irish Übermensch smashing the social and existential shackles that bind him? ‘It kind of is. It’s beyond good and evil. It’s saying “Enter fully into the unbridled force field of your passions, your imagination, your rage and your potencies.” And that is still a radical thought.’

‘Synge was actually dramatising,’continues Morrison, ‘how there were repressive forces abroad in general in the country, be it the Church, or publicans, or gombeen men. How the organised forces of society were trying to repress sexuality, or the imagination, or individuality. It’s a cruel satire on conservatism with a small ‘c’, on piety, on conformism, anything we find ourselves supine to.’

[On planning his new production:] ‘You go through all the usual nonsense,’ he comments self-deprecatingly. ‘You think, I’ll set it on the moon, I’ll set it on a submarine. But the more you talk about it the more the play speaks back to you and says “No, you don’t need to do that. I’ve done the thinking for you.”’ (Available online; accessed 07.07.2014.)

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Loredana Salis writes: ‘Morrison’s Antigone is about violence - psychological, physical, sexual violence but also verbal and political. It is about the conflict in the North of Ireland - though it does not say, this version is indebted to Paulin’s The Riot Act and Mathews’ Antigone. Significantly, Michael Longley’s poem “Ceasefire” is reprinted in the play’s programme notes. The play was reviewed in the course of the RTÉ programme “The View” on 25 Feb. 2003. On the panel were Louis Lentin, Stephanie McBride, Susan McKay.’ (UUC, 2003.)

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Hard to Believe, commissioned by Bickerstaffe (Andrews Lane 1995) is a play in the form of an 80-min. monologue in which John Foster, a dirty-tricks agent for British Army Intelligence in Northern Ireland [“tout”] invokes his Protestant preacher grandfather and his turncoat father who married a Catholic and denied his background.

Antigone: Morrison’s version of Sophocles’ Antigone, set in the Middle East today (2003), shows images of the conflict in Palestine on a megascreen at back-of-stage.

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