Report: DruidShakespeare Symposium, Lincoln Center Festival, NYC

Druid Marty-Rea-as-Richard-II-in-DruidShakespeare-photo-by-Matthew-Thompson

Marty Rea as Richard II in DruidShakespeare. Photo by Matthew Thompson

This conference report by Emer McHugh relates to a one-day symposium held in New York on the relationship between Shakespeare and Ireland, and Druid theatre’s intervention in that relationship with DruidShakespeare. Further details about the day are available here.

This blog post contains some spoilers for DruidShakespeare.

As of writing, I am currently on the road to the Kilkenny Arts Festival to watch DruidShakespeare for the fifth time this summer. As I’m planning to write a thesis chapter on the show (my PhD thesis looks at Shakespeare in modern Irish performance, it’s fun but of course I would say that), it’s been very important for me to follow the show around as much as possible. It’s interesting to see how many roads your thesis leads you down.

One of these roads, you could say, was a symposium marking DruidShakespeare’s performance at Lincoln Center, organised by Fordham University’s Institute of Irish Studies in association with the Irish Arts Center and NUI Galway’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, and held at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. The day proposed to investigate the relationship between Shakespeare and Ireland from the early modern to the present, and was intended as a contextual counterpart to DruidShakespeare. It began with a roundtable featuring the historians Christopher Maginn and Brendan Kane, who spoke eloquently on early modern Irish history, highlighting the social diversity of Ireland at the time, itself ‘a laboratory for empire’. This was then followed by a conversation between Druid’s artistic director Garry Hynes and actress Derbhle Crotty, who plays Henry IV in DruidShakespeare, which was moderated by Thomas Conway, the production’s dramaturg and Druid Director-in-Residence at NUI Galway. Hynes spoke at length about how the production took her out of her comfort zone, and also about using gender-blind casting (stating that she did not want to be surrounded by men in the rehearsal room). Crotty spoke about highlighting femininity in playing Shakespeare’s men for Druid, and revealed that she had never worked with Marie Mullen prior to this production.

Druid Derbhle-Crotty-as-Henry-IV-and-Aisling-O'Sullivan-as-Henry-V-in-DruidShakespeare-photo-by-Matthew-Thompson

Derbhle Crotty as Henry IV and Aisling O’Sullivan as Henry V in DruidShakespeare. Photo by Matthew Thompson

Next Conway chaired a session featuring Mark O’Rowe, who adapted the plays for Druid. O’Rowe talked about editing and stripping down the plays (DruidShakespeare was not his first stab at the Histories, as he had adapted 1 Henry IV for the Peacock in 2002), including his decision to cut Hal’s ‘I know you all’ speech – stating it was more ‘dramatically alive’ to do so – and replacing the wooing scene with Falstaff’s death scene at the end. Interestingly, O’Rowe noted that ‘our nationality lets us do this’ compression of the text, arguing that it would take a lot of nerve to do this in England.

The final panel featured myself and  Patrick Lonergan, Professor of Drama at NUI Galway, speaking about modern and contemporary Irish theatre. I spoke about Druid’s earlier Shakespeare, namely 1981/1982’s Much Ado About Nothing directed by Hynes, and Lonergan explored the presence of Shakespeare in modern Irish theatre and culture, with a view to exploring their own presence in DruidShakespeare. Lonergan took us through, among many other elements, Chimes at Midnight at the Gate Theatre (yes fact fans, Orson Welles came to the Gate), Harold Pinter’s experiences of performing Shakespeare with the famous amateur theatre director Anew MacMaster, Joyce and Heaney’s responses to the plays, and the influence of Synge and DruidSynge particularly on the production (key word: peat moss). And indeed, taking us up until the present day was perhaps a fitting way to conclude the day’s proceedings. I’d like to think that many of the audience members that day would have gone on to watch the show, either that evening or another evening after that, and would have begun to think about Druid’s history, Elizabethan Ireland, Orson Welles, peat moss, and all the disparate elements that have gone into informing and creating the show that they saw in front of them. For me, the symposium reinforced questions that I’ve been wrangling with: who does Shakespeare belong to? What is ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ Shakespeare, and moreover, is there really an incompatibility between ‘real’ Shakespeare and Irish Shakespeare?

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