Vic Merriman, ‘The Theatre of Tiger Trash’, in Irish University Review, Autumn/Winter 1999, pp.305-17

Uses Awam Amkpa’s model of Colonialisation - anticolonioalism - neocolonisialism - postcolonialism - decolonisation.

‘Among the most celebrated Irish playwrights of teh late nineteen-nineties are Masrina Carr and Martin McDonagh. In an apparently bold oppositional stance, their successess have been built around plays which stage Ireland as a benighted dystopia. At a time of unprecedented affluence, Carr adn McDonagh elaborate a world of the poorly educated, coarse and unrefined. The focus is tight, the display of violence inhering in the people themselves, grotesque and unrelenting. [...; 312] //The appearance in wedding dress of the traveller woman, Hester Swayne, at the monstrous petit-bourgeois wedding of Carthage, her daughter’s father, in By the Bog of Cats evoked no closed eyes in the auditorium of the Abbey Theatre. On the contrary, the mother-in-law’s racist epithet “Ya piebald knacker!” brought the house down. The moment when the bride’s father shoves a loaded shotgun under Hester’s skirt is an image of gross brutality so gratuitous that it risks rupturing the boudnaries of the fictional world altogether. And dangerous and amoral woman, even Hester’s marginal economic status turns out to have been [313] attained by means of fratricide. [... &c.; [...] Criticism [314] goes no further than documenting the quality of the spectacle, is wholly inadequate to critique what these plays amount to as cultural interventions. The resources of the most successful of Irish theatre companies have been deployed in the service of deeply problematic work, to the extent that their theatricality their ability to operate as spectacle - overpowers engagement with their significance as dramatic art. What is at issue here is the meaning of these representations as constitutory events in the evolution of civil society. What is being played —about whom, to whom and in whose interests? What are its meanings, and their consequences? / For some, the perceived importance of Carr’s work rests on a claim that she brings feminist perspectives to the stage. Others celebrate the perceived boldness of her literary achievement. If this is feminist writing, it is of the kind which has been challenged by those outside the cultural economies of Western bourgeois circulation. Hester Swayne demonstrates in an Irish context the limited egalitarianism of such a cultural stance. The most fully female of all the dramatis personae on show, she is also the most comprehensively damned in and of herself for her unnaturalness. And this is a crucial point. The application of referents in classical and renaissance drama upon which Carr tends to draw, results in the unproblematic ascription of fatedness to the poorest and most vulnerable in the social order. Such a manoeuvre, in which class and entitlement are ignored, inaugurates not questioning but evasion of the social meaning of their position. In a truly ironic inversion of a powerful feminist slogan, Swayne is obliged to play “nature” to the audience’s “culture”.’ (pp.314-15.)

There is a view that McDonagh’s work is in some postmodernism sense metatheatrical, that the whole project is a wonderful jape in which the jade repertoire of Boucicault, Synge, and the “lesser” Abbey playwrights has been plundered as an antique hoardof quirky, dated images. Such theatrical freaks have no currency in an urbane present, so to prarade them in all thei benightedness is a big joke .... From teh point of view of the art form itself, one of the casualties here is the radical potential of those theatrical figures from the past ... [315] McDonagh’’ plays are often greeted as parodies of he works of John Millington Synge. This needs to be challenged .... The journey from Synge to McDonagh takes us all the way ffrom images which challenge the submerged ideological positions of an emergent neocolonial class to those which collude in reinforcing them. / The success of Carr’s and McDonagh’s plays has little to do with the loss of relevance of older worlds and their inhabitants. ... A neocolonial society in the throes of globalisation is a pecularaly inhospitable location for postcolonial critique. The argument that the apparent playfulness of McDonagh’s work [316] marks an ability on the part of the nation to laugh at itself claims cultural significance for the plays as manifestations of a coming of age, a type of postcolonial2l maturation. In reality, the comfortable echelon of a nakedly divided society is confirmed in its complacency, as it simultaneously enjoys and erases the fact that ’our’laughter is at the expense of “them”. This phenomenon both illustrates and deploys the confusions about the status and meaning of postcolonialism to which Amkpa’s model draws attention. The movement of the dramatis personae of By the Bog of Cats and the Leenane Trilogy to central positions in Irish theatre enables such figures to occupy and redefine the co-ordinates of cultural space. In celebrating the new Irishness of the audience for such spectacles, they simultaneously negate the interrogation of the conditions in which such images are produced and have their points of reference. In this way, they point to a turn away from public inquiry, a willingness to settle for a divided society, a fatal refusal of the difficult process of decolonisation itself. A spurious post-coloniality of chronological severance institutes a lesser public role for theatre itself, in which its credentials as spectacle overpower its ethical obligation to critique and thus renew the social order.

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