One of the key roles of a national theatre is to stimulate debate about contemporary issues through the presentation of world class theatre. Both in Ireland and in Scotland, the national conversation inevitably includes expression of national identity. The Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre, has a 100 year history of presenting plays by Irish writers which reflect, as Yeats put it, ‘the deeper emotions of Ireland’ and which comment on political issues through allegory, fable and myth.
After a period of stabilisation at the Abbey following a crisis three years ago, the Abbey is this year presenting major new plays by Irish and international writers. Marble by Marina Carr is on until 14 March and is a brilliant and disturbing play . It has many layers of meaning. None of them simple, all of them absorbing. At simplest, its a play about modern marriage and the crime of ‘dying of an empty heart’. Its about impending catastrophe, infidelity and the struggle between conformity to social mores and the need for creativity and self expression.
But it can also be seen as an allegory for the economic turmoil in the Irish economy and the breaking of faith in the Celtic tiger.
Theatres rarely commission writers to order, to write about specific issues. The writer has an idea for a play, a story in which there is drama and the great plays are those which catch the issues of the day. Often the plays are commissioned and written before issues emerge.
Marina Carr’s epic play is complete without adding the additional lens of the possible end of a dream for the Irish economy but the timing is everything.
Black Watch, Gregory Burke’s international success for the National Theatre of Scotland was commissioned before the first SNP administration in Scotland and before the Black Watch were sent to Afghanistan. A brilliant play and brilliant production, Black Watch’s popular, political and diplomatic success for Scotland has been intensified because of the timing of its production at a time of political change.