In honor of St Patrick’s Day, I was wondering what kind of stage shows featured an Irish theme or were set in Ireland. Here’s a quick look at a few of these. No! Brigadoon is not one of these. That was a Scottish village.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a 1996 black comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh which was premiered by the Druid Theatre Company in Galway, Ireland. It also enjoyed successful runs at London’s West End, Broadway and Off-Broadway.
It was nominated for an Olivier Award as Best Play for the London production, and the 1998 Broadway production was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning four, for Best Leading Actress in a Play, Best Featured Actor in a Play, Best Featured Actress in a Play and Best Direction of a Play.
The play centers around Maureen Folan, a plain and lonely woman in her forties, who lives with and cares for her elderly mother Mag in the small village of Leenane, Connemara. With possibly her first and last chance at love, Maureen must deal with her manipulative mother who is trying to derail it.
John Bull’s Other Island
John Bull’s Other Island is a comedy about Ireland, written by George Bernard Shaw in 1904. Shaw himself was born in Dublin, yet this is one of only two plays of his where he thematically returned to his homeland, the other being O’Flaherty V.C.. The play was highly successful in its day, but is rarely revived, probably because of so much of the dialogue is specific to the politics of the day.
The play deals with Larry Doyle, originally from Ireland, but who has turned his back on his heritage to fit in with the English and Tom Broadbent, his English (and very Machiavellian) business partner. They are civil engineers who run a firm in London. They go to Roscullen, where Doyle was born, to develop some land.
Doyle has no illusions about Ireland while Broadbent is taken with the romance of the place. Broadbent, a lively man who seemingly is not always aware of the impression he makes, becomes a favourite of the people. Before the play is over, it is clear he will marry Nora Reilly, the woman waiting for Doyle (who is more than happy to let her go) and become the area’s candidate for Parliament after Doyle refuses to stand, but has also ‘called in’ all his loans given “so easily” to the locals against their homes and intends (as he had planned all along) to make the village into an amusement park.
Another major character is the defrocked priest Peter (Father) Keegan, the political and temperamental opposite of Broadbent, who sees through him from the beginning and warns the locals against him.
Dancing at Lughnasa
Dancing at Lughnasa is a 1990 play by dramatist Brian Friel set in Ireland’s County Donegal in August 1936 in the fictional town of Ballybeg. It is a Memory play told from the point of view of the adult Michael Evans, the narrator. He recounts the summer in his aunts’ cottage when he was seven years old.
It’s August, 1936 in rural Ireland. Step into the kitchen of the five proud Mundy sisters, a place for talking, laughing, and lively dancing—moments that defy the hardships of their daily life. Their brother, a missionary, has just returned from Uganda, and the sisters find themselves each on the brink of momentous change. Friel’s Tony-Award-winning play captures a beautiful and exuberant sliver of these women’s lives, a summer where love—and everything else—seemed possible.
Once is a musical stage adaptation based on the 2007 film of the same name by John Carney. Like the film, music and lyrics were by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, including the Academy Award-winning “Falling Slowly”. The book for the musical was written by Enda Walsh. The musical premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2011, before transferring to Broadway in 2012. The production received eleven 2012 Tony Award nominations, and won eight including Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Book. The musical also won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. It has since spawned a London production, with a North American Tour which started on 1 October 2013.
In the musical, the cast also serves as the orchestra. A minimalist set is used, including a bar in center stage with chairs lining stage left and right. Exiting cast members simply step to the side of the stage and sit down. They serve as the orchestra from these chairs. The bar is used before the show and at intermission as a working bar for theater patrons.
Guy is an Irish singer and songwriter who spends his days fixing vacuums in the Dublin shop he runs with his father, and his nights playing his music in local pubs. He is on the verge of giving up music altogether when a Czech immigrant, “Girl,” walks into the bar, hears him play and refuses to let him abandon his guitar. As it turns out, she has a broken vacuum cleaner, Guy repairs it, and she pays him in music on a piano she plays in a record shop. Over the course of a week, Girl convinces Guy to believe in the power of his music and his love for the woman who inspired his songs. They scrape together money to record a demo album with a motley crew of bar friends, and their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful—but very complicated—love story.
The Bloody Irish
Written by Barry Devlin, directed for the stage by Michael Barker-Caven, music composed and arranged by David Downes, this 80 minute musical drama based on the events of the 1916 Rising had its premier broadcast in October 2015 on the prestigious Public Broadcast Service (PBS), the most watched public service station in the USA.
General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell – the man who signed the death warrants of the 1916 leaders – narrates this dramatic retelling of the events of Easter Week. Starting out with a belief that the rising is a foul act of treachery, Maxwell has a change of heart, asking in the end whether he has made a grievous mistake in sending Pearse, Connolly and the rest to their death.