Brian Friel: Commentary

Tyrone Guthrie
Ruth Neil
Ginete Verstraete
Richard Kearney
Seamus Deane
George O’Brien
Richard Pine
Roy Foster
Desmond Fennell
Paddy Woodworth
Patrick Mason
José Lanters
Robert Welch
Bridget O’Toole
Joe Dowling
Fintan O’Toole
Seamus Heaney
Edna Longley
Christopher Murray
John Keyes
Rhoda Koenig
David Krause
Tim Pat Coogan
Eoin O’Neachtain
Elmer Andrews
Elizabeth B. Cullingford
Katie Trumpener
David Nowlan
Thomas Kilroy
Helen Meany
Lionel Pilkington
F. C. McGrath
Scott Boltwood
Robert Shore
Conor McCarthy
Nicholas Grene
Eamon Kelly
Ulf Dantanus
Stephen Brown
Christopher Morash
Michael Cronin
Michael Billington

See Conor McCloskey on Friel, in ‘How writers sought to make sense of the Troubles’, in The Irish Times (1 Dec. 2016), copied in Library, “Criticism” > Reviews - as attached.

Taunt for the day: Paul Muldoon as referred to Friel’s link with the Field Day and its literary outcomes as ‘old whine in new bottles’. (Prince of the Quotidian.)

Tyrone Guthrie, review of Philadelphia Here I Come [in print]: ‘When one says that Brian Friel is a born playwright, what does it mean? If means that meaning is implicit “between the lines” of the text; in silences; in what people are thinking and doing far more than in what they are saying; in the music as much as in the meaning of a phrase. If you want to know what makes a born playwright, read the scene in this play between Gareth and his old schoolmaster [...].’ Further: ‘the humour, compassion and poetry which pour out of him with the spontaneity of a bird’s song’. (Quoted in Sam Hanna Bell, ‘Theatre’, in Michael Longley, Causeway: The Arts in Ulster, NI Arts Council 1971, p.89.) Note also that Guthrie held that ‘indigenous drama was a valuable element in both national development and international understanding, that art springs from the soil, that to be authentic was important in speech and action, not just on the stage but always and everywhere.’ (Acc. George O’Brien, Brian Friel, G&M 1989, p.2; cited in Stella McCuskar, ‘Emigration, Love & Relationships: Themes in the Work of Brian Friel’, UUC UG Diss. 2002.)

Ruth Neil, ‘Digging into history, into the past, is not a journey away from the present, from the realities of our modern world to an ideal world of the past, but rather the opposite’ (in ‘Digging Into History, A Reading of Brian Friel’s Volunteers and Seamus Heaney’s Viking Ireland - Trial Pieces’, in Irish University Review, 16, 1986, [q.p.].)

Ginete Verstraete, ‘Brian Friel’s Drama and the Limits of Language’, in Joris Duytschaever and Geert Lernout, eds., History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature [Conference of 9 April 1986; Costerus Ser. Vol. 71] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1988), pp.85-96: ‘The crisis of the word in Friel’s art cannot be separated from the problem of identity in Irish culture and by extension, from the sense of alienation in modern society ... It is a position of sceptical realism that results from his being a Catholic dramatist in Northern Ireland writing in the English language ... That is why the author strikes the reader as primarily interrogating the features determining Irish culture without offering clear-cut answers. Showing what is wrong, he demythologises some of the traditional illusions and forces us into a critical interpretation of the present ... like Joyce ... allowing language its genuine freedom.’ [quotes Friel, as infra.] (p.96.)

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Richard Kearney: ‘Brian Friel’s plays in the eighties have become increasingly concerned with the problems of language, so much so that they constitute not just a theatre of language but a theatre about language. (Transitions, 1988, p.123.) [Cont.]

Monica Randaccio, ‘Brian Friel as Linguist, Brian Friel as Drama Translator’, in Studi irlandesi / A Journal of Irish Studies, 3 (2013), pp.113-28.
Richard Kearney has been among those critics who highlighted the importance of language in Translations (Kearney 1987, 123-171). He notes how Friel’s plays in the 1980s “have become increasingly concerned with the problem of language” (123) and that his theatre is not “just a theatre of language but a theatre about language” (123). Although it would be too naïve to think that Translations deals only with theoretical linguistic questions because any Irish playwright who talks about language almost certainly has a political overtone, none the less Friel himself claims that “the play has to do with language and only language” (1983 [1979], 60). According to Kearney, Friel’s plays operate within two basic linguistic models – one ontological and the other positivistic. The former is, philosophically speaking, a kin to Heidegger’s approach to language as “the house of Being” (Kearney 1987, 155), a language which “tells us the truth by virtue of its capacity to unlock the secret privacies of our historical Being” (155-156). The latter, which is associated with the philosophy of British Empiricism, uses words as instrumental to pragmatic progress and reduces language to a utilitarian weapon for the colonization of Being (156). In particular, Kearney claims that in Translations:

Friel identifies the ontological vocation of the Word with the Gaelic and Classical languages. It manifests itself in the local community’s use of naming to release the secret of their psychic and historical landscape or in Hugh’s excavations of Latin and Greek etymologies. Friel’s play illustrates Heidegger’s claim that language is the house of Being not only in so far as it permits to dwell poetically in our world but also that it grants us the power to recollect our past, our forgotten origins. (156)

  • Brian Friel “Extracts from a Sporadic Diary”, in T.P. Coogan, ed., Ireland and the Arts (London: Namara House 1979), pp.56-61.
  • Richard Kearney, “The Language Plays of Brian Friel”, in Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture, Dublin:Wolfhound 1987), pp.123-71.
[ Available online; accessed 08-08-2015.]

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Seamus Deane, ‘Preface’ to Brian Friel, Selected Plays (London: Faber & Faber 1984), writes: [the stories] reveal the necessity of illusion in a society which distorts psychic life [11]; recurrent failures of the political imagination in Ireland. [12] the problem of temperament, an enhanced feature of people who are bedevilled by failure and compensate for it by making out of their own instability a mode of behaviour in which volatility becomes a virtue. [12] Irish temperament and Irish talk has a deep relationship to Irish desolation and the sense of failure. [12] Although the different kinds of pressure forcing them to leave their homeland are interconnected, the ultimate perception is that fidelity to the native place is a lethal form of nostalgia, an emotion which must be overcome if they are quite simply to grow up. [13] Brian Friel’s work registers a characteristic and irreversible development in modern Ireland. [13] (Cont.)

Seamus Deane, ‘Preface’ to Brian Friel, Selected Plays (1984) - cont.: In Philadelphia, Here Come, Gar O’Donnell recites several times the opening lines of Burke’s famous apostrophe to the ancient regime of France, written in 1790 by an Irishman who had made the preservation of ancestral feelings the basis for a counter-revolutionary politics and for a hostility to the shallow cosmopolitanism of the modern world.[see note; ...] Friel uses Burke here, at some risk, to display the fact that the Ballybeg that Gar O’Donnell is trying to leave is indeed the remnant of a past civilisation and that the new world, however vulgar it may seem, is that of Philadelphia and the Irish Americans. [14] The horrifyingly stupified condition of the Irish social and political world. [16] the sense of a whole history of failure concentrated into a crisis over a doomed community or group [17] men who make talk a compensation for their dislocation from family or society. [18] (Cont.)

Note: Anthony Roche characterises Deane’s remarks on the use of Burke’s sentence as ‘the most succinct and probing comment on its relevance to the play.’ (Roche, Contemporary Irish Drama, Gill & Macmillan 1995, p.93.)

Seamus Deane (Preface to Selected Plays, 1984) - cont.: ‘What is important in the desire they express, the lack they represent - Gar’s desire for a father he never had and S.B.’s desire for a son he never had. Gar’s memory represents an intimate connection with his father who exhibits a tender solicitousness and is happy just to be with his son fishing, S.B.’s memory represents a son who wants to emulate his father. The irony is that the connection fails in part because Gar is much like his father - an emotional cripple incapable of intimacy.’ (p.36.) Deane speculates on the origins of this incapacity in colonial servitude which produced fathers who were ’particularly inept or inhibited in providing a role model for their sons and all the intimacy that would entail.’ (p.36.) Further: ‘[Gar] is able neither to deny the emotion nor admit it. Gar is not his [S.B.’s] victim, he is his heir / He represents an intensification of his father’s mentality rather than the antithesis of it.’ (Ibid., p.38.)

Seamus Deane (Preface to Selected Plays, 1984) - cont.: [T]he return to home and death out of exile ... reinstitutes the social and political dimension which had been otherwise so subdued. Home is the place of the deformed in spirit. The violent men who kill the faith healer are intimate with him, for their savage violence and his miraculous gift are no more than obverse versions of one another. Once again, Friel is intimating to his audience that there is an inescapable link between art and politics, the Irish version of which is the closeness between eloquence and violence. The mediating agency is [...] disappointment, but it is a disappointment all the more profound because it is haunted by the possibility of miracle and Utopia.’ [20; quoted in part in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation, Crisis and Culture in Ireland, 1969-1992, Four Courts Press 2000, pp.77-78.)

Seamus Deane (Preface to Selected Plays, 1984), on Translations: ‘a theme which has been subjected to a great deal of vulgarisation and hypocrisy. [21] the recognisable Frielian outsider who has the intimacy of an insider, the man who is betraying his ancestral and anachronistic community into the modern, Anglicised world. [21] the salience of the connection between language (its loss and its mastery) and politics (its violence and its authority) [21] the final incoherence that has always characterised the relationship between the two countries, the incoherence that comes from sharing a common language which is based on different presuppositions. [22].

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George O’Brien, Brian Friel (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989): ‘The willingness exhibited by Friel’s protagonists to extend themselves in either thought or deed suggests the capacity to find the outsider in themselves, to inhabit a more natural and more complete edition of themselves than their restrictive, border-haunted society can tolerate.’ (p.24.) Further: ‘[T]he illusion of their survival is more humanising than the reality of their execution. Friel’s theatre privileges the illusion in order that the humanising option be kept alive’ (p.79). [Cont.]

George O’Brien, Brian Friel (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989) - cont.: ‘Many of the families in the plays however lack the completeness of structure that families in the stories possess. Partly due to the necessarily restricted child’s-eye view that communicates Friel’s typical perspective on them, families in the stories are generally seen as detached, discrete entities, tangentially if decisively connected to social structures more powerful than themselves. The plays, however, offer a different more problematic sense of families. [...] The playwright’s disinclination to be loyal to one of the crucial figures from the world of the stories [i.e., the mother] results in dramas where family and other types of loyalty becomes a vital issue.’ (pp.26-27.)

George O’Brien, Brian Friel (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989) - cont.: ‘In the plays however, the typical protagonist is inevitably a man of language composing and recomposing his identity in the light of the cultural options to which his language provides access. Such activity does not necessarily cure the protagonists isolation, but it does ensure he is no longer the passive figure in a landscape typical of the stories.’; Friel in his plays is a much more obviously individuated writer, intellectually committed and aesthetically adventurous to such a degree as to suggest that the theatre was an artistic rebirth for him. On the other hand, these advances are still very much in the service of the world of stories the modest characters who inhabit it, and the recessive culture that distinguishes and stigmatises it.’ (Ibid., p.29; the foregoing all cited in quoted in Stella McCuskar, ‘Emigration, Love & Relationships: Themes in the Work of Brian Friel’, UUC UG diss. 2002.)

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Richard Pine, Friel and Ireland’s Drama (London: Routledge 1990): ‘Friel establishes those tenuous relationships and uncertainties in order to show “a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household”, that the external world is not as dangerous or as precious as the inner, because it holds neither the same threats nor penalties nor the same hope of reconciliation. Thus a future-oriented love is inevitably at risk, while a retrospective love must live with all the failures of ecstasy.’ (Ibid., p.86; both the foregoing cited in Stella McCuskar, ‘Emigration, Love & Relationships: Themes in the Work of Brian Friel’, UG diss., UUC 2002.) Further [poss. of Dancing at Lughnasa: ‘It is a most triumphant rewriting of his early work and stands in a peculiarly ironic, almost parodic relationship to Philadelphia Here I Come!, of which it is both the subversion and the fulfillment.’ (Friel and Ireland’s Drama, 1990, p.20).

Richard Pine, The Diviner: The Art of Brian Friel [2nd rev. edn.] (Dublin: UCD Press 2000): ‘Some may find it ironical that a writer who has questioned the nature and status of authority both in society (The Freedom of the City) and in the theatre (Living Quarters) should, as an author, insist on immutability of the text. If the playwright is God, then the director is his high priest, but for Friel to have referred to the work of the director as “a bogus profession” and to his function as “a lollipop man” - carrying the actors from text to performance in safety and by a recognised route - is to deny the shamanistic or divining role of the director. To have decided to take matters into his own hands in personally directing Molly Sweeney and Give Me Your Answer, Do! is to see god dispensing with his high priest and taking on that function himself. Friel has been criticised for this decision and there can be no doubt, watching Patrick Mason initiating the actors - and the playwright himself - into the ritualistic nature of the text during early rehearsals of Wonderful Tennessee that it is a necessary function closely related to that of the author. / This decision may have been occasioned by what Fintan O’Toole perceives as “a loss of faith in the theatre” on Friel’s part, in particular seeing Making History as “a hesitant move into unknown territory” where the concept of failure was no longer “counterbalanced by some mysterious faith”. While I would not agree with the latter aspect of his commentary, it is clear that Friel does share at least in part in what O’Toole calls “a crisis of faith in what the theatre can achieve” - something something which has been evident in his work to some critics at least since his early years.’ (p.330.)

Richard Pine (The Diviner, 2000) - cont.: ‘The circularity is striking: the figure of authority who apppears throughout Friel’s earlier work - as father, teacher, priest, policeman or army officer - is related in his own biography to the figure father-schoolmaster, and something of the relationship was resolved in Translations. The idea that Friel himself might follow in his father’s footsteps was doubly evident in his original decision to enter St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, in search of a vocation, and once that had proved illusory, to enter the teaching profession and to remain in it for over ten years. But (much later) to attribute his unsuitability for the priesthood to a ‘conflict with my belief in paganism’ is to point us in the direction of the later work and its tensions between different kinds and styles of authority and between the author, his text and his audience. It brings him back to the question of how we become aware of our own existence - how [to] author ourselves? - when ‘the child’ is manifestly there, aware of others, yet unaware of how or why he is there himself. This has become the chief predicaments of the drama which Friel has engendered. / The dramatic trick which Friel has played in both Translations and Making History is to divide both time and people. The ‘private’ and ‘public’ personae of Gar O’Donnell have by this stage become the past and future aspects of life in whatever particular context he chooses to evoke. There is no person who can be regarded as whole, yet all participants are required to act a role which recognises the future as well as the past; in Bhabha’s terms they are thus ‘less than one and double’. The centre is void, and Hugh O’Neill and Molly Sweeney become persons - lost to their loved ones and to History. What happens in [352] Volunteers between the internees and Leif - the imagining of his life and the circumstances of his death, his context - is now happening between Friel’s characters and his audience. This is the trick which he has demonstrated, but not fully explained, to his successors / But generally the circularity of Irish drama has kept some writers silent while others have explored the same themes with alarming repetition […]’ (pp.352-53.)

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Richard Pine, ‘Friel’s Irish Russians’, in The Cambridge Companion to Brian Friel, ed. Anthony Roche (Cambridge UP 2006), pp.104-16. ‘What are the chief characteristics persuading us that, in the words of the Irish writer George Moore in 1991, “Ireland is a little Russia” (Hail & Farewell, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1976, p.124-35)? There are the sociological and political givens, such as prevalence of famine in bother countries and the comparability of the emancipation of the Catholic “serfs” in Ireland in 1832 and that of their Rusian counterparts in 1861. Behind them lies a psychological terrain of hope and longing, despair, deferral, unease, wonder, sadness, exhaustion and irony. As Emma Polatskaya has writter, it is “Russian’s inner state [which] shapes people’s individual destinies,” and this “Russian soul” - in the nineteenth century, at least - had much in common with “Irishness,” not least in the dramatists’ “sudden awareness of a wasted life! where Turgenev had writte of russian as “that immense and sombre figure motionless and masked like the Sphinx,” , Friel [107] has referred to the inbred claustrophic Ireland,” and the “romantic ideal we call Kathleen.” Quotes Friel: “individuals, isolated, separated, sick and disillusioned with their inheritance, existing in the void created by their rejection, waiting without hope for a new social struture tat will being meaning to their lives [...] [When the modern dramatist] depicts man as lost, grouping, confuse,d anxious,, disillusioned, he is expressing the secret and half-formed thoughts in all our hearts.” (“The Theatre of Hope and Despair” [1967], in Christopher Murray, Brian Friel, p.21-23.) [For further remarks on the Russian writers by Friel, see under Quotations - as infra.]
Richard Pine, Brian Friel Obituary - The Guardian (2 Oct. 2017)


The fact that Friel seldom gave interviews, especially to eager PhD-hunters, created the erroneous impression that he was aloof, even arrogant. One of the few interviewers whom he trusted was the influential critic Mel Gussow, of the New York Times. Although he discounted the opinions of critics, he knew their importance in the theatre business, and was particularly admired in the US by Frank Rich, and in Britain by Michael Billington. Trust was essential, especially to someone who had grown up within the marginalised nationalist community of Northern Ireland, where he was officially recorded as “Bernard Patrick”, Brian not being recognised by the registrar as an acceptable forename. Officially, “Brian Friel” did not exist.

The impression of Friel’s apparent arrogance was consolidated by his openly dismissive attitude to the profession of theatre director. Despite the fact that his third daughter, Judy, and his wife’s nephew, Conall Morrison, had followed it, he called it “a bogus profession”, responsible only for ensuring that the actors appeared on time and knew their lines. Nevertheless, he had immense regard for three directors in particular: Patrick Mason, Joe Dowling (who directed the Guthrie theatre in Minneapolis, 1995-2015) and Lyndsey Turner of the Donmar Warehouse, London, to whom he gave plays in preference to lucrative West End productions. When he took directorial matters into his own hands, insisting that he should direct Give Me Your Answer, Do! (1997) among others, the results were debatable.

As a friend Friel was loyal and generous. He was not without humour of the driest kind (he gave his hobby in Who’s Who as “slow tennis”), and his letters invariably caught the mot juste apparently effortlessly, a private mirror to the exact eloquence of his plays. But very few knew him: his wife, Anne (nee Morrison), whom he married in 1954, four daughters and a son, and close associates such as the critic Seamus Deane, Heaney (who might have written the line “Whatever you say, say nothing” expressly for Friel), the folklorist David Hammond, the playwright Thomas Kilroy and the actor Stephen Rea. All were involved in the Field Day Theatre Company initiative, which Friel and Rea founded in 1980 and which signalled a new phase of cultural nationalism in Northern Ireland. [...]

Available at The Guardian (2 Oct 2015) - online; see also copy in RICORSO Library > Criticism > Reviews - as attached.

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Roy Foster, ‘Varieties of Irishness’, in Cultural Traditions in Northern Ireland: Varieties of Irishness, ed. Maurna Crozier [Proceedings of the Cultural Traditions Cultural Traditions Group Conference] (Belfast: IIS 1989): Speaking of ‘disingenuous argument’ in the notion that “we Irish” are more influenced by Europe than by England, Foster writes, ‘it was briefly, for obvious reasons, very popular in the Republic in the early 1970s, but had a much longer pedigree. It is satirised gently (I think) in Brian Friel’s Translations, where the hedge schoolmaster tells the English surveyor: “Wordsworth?” ... no. I’m afraid we’re not familiar with your literature, Lieutenant. We feel closer to the warm mediterranean. We tend to overlook your island.” / This is serious self-delusion.’ (Foster, p.15, citing Friel, Translations, Faber, 1981, p.49.)

See also Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch (London: Allen Lane 1993): ‘The Ordnance Survey, contemporarily described as associating geography with “the history, the statistics, and the structure, physical and social, of the country”’ (Dublin Evening Mail, 27 March 1844; here p.6; further quotes Alice Stopford Green [see under A. S. Green, infra].)

Desmond Fennell, ‘The Last Years of the Gaelteacht’, in The Crane Bag: Journal of Irish Studies, 5, 2 (1981), rep. in The Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies (1982), pp.839-42: ‘In Brian Friel’s play Translations, he dramatises the alienating effect on Gaelic speaking people of the Gaelic place names being translated into English, or anglicised, by the Ordnance Survey in the nineteenth century. In fact his was only a superficially alienating experience because the Gaelic speakers continued to use the original Gaelic names, at least for the places in their own immediate localities. Something much more alienating happens when the spoken language changes to English, for them a whole network of local place-names dissolves in a collective amnesia.’ (p.839.)

Paddy Woodworth, ‘Fact and Fiction and Friel’ in Fortnight, 350 (April 1992), p.35: ‘“A fact”, Friel told the BBC in 1972, “is something that happened to me or something I experienced. It can also be something I thought happened to me, something I thought I experienced. Or indeed an autobiographical fact can be pure fiction, and no less true or reliable for that.” He has two birth certificates, both registered Bernard Patrick Friel (Jan 9th & 10th 1929), but his name was registered at baptism as Brian Patrick O’Friel. “Perhaps I’m twins”, he wrote to Richard Pine.’ (See Pine, Brian Friel and Ireland’s Drama, q.p.; here p.35.)


Stephen Watts, Joyce, O’Casey, and the Popular Irish Theatre, 1991), remarks: Seamus Deane writes in his preface to Selected Stories: ‘Brian Friel’s people live in a state of permanent and alert disappointment. What they are is never fulfilled by what they do. Yet the very discrepancy from which they suffer sharpens the sense of what they are.’ Further quotes: ‘Confusion,’ says the school-master in Translations, ‘is not an ignoble condition.’ (q.p.)

José Lanters, ‘To achieve wholeness in familial and social terms, the incarnating sense of Irishness in which mind dominates matter must be abandoned and a healthy relationship between body and mind restored.’ (‘Gender and Identity in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer and Thomas Murphy’s The Gigli Concert’, in Irish University Review, Vol. 22, 2, 1992).

Patrick Mason, ‘Everyone [in Friel’s drama] seems on the verge of a major statement and it’s never quite made, and yet of course it has been made but not in the way that you think.’ (Interview, Sunday Tribune 27 June 1993, Sect. B, p.5.)

Robert Welch, Changing States: Transformations in Modern Irish Writing (London: Routledge 1993), ‘Coda: Seers and Dancers’, pp.285-89: ‘[…] When I saw Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa in the Phoenix Theatre in London in the summer of 1990, I came out during the interval to the bar almost unable to control my feelings. Tears were in my eyes. Something magnificent was taking place, had taken place, in the flour dance of the women in the first Act. [...] In spite of all difficulties – uncertainty about income, an illegitimate child, a retarded girl, a priest returned from the missions who has gone native and become deranged – the women dance. They are not, all the time, victims of their culture. Something exists whereby people can get outside their history, their given, fated narratives.’ […&c.; ending with the swapping of hats between Gerry and Jack: ‘They have changed places.’ End.]

Robert Welch [of Translations]: ‘The “truth” the play has revealed is that there are different sets of cultural awareness which are conveyed in different languages [and that] the end of the play is powerful in its unremitting focus on a man who is distrustful of language.’ (‘“Isn’t This Your Job - To Translate?”: Brian Friel’s Languages, in Alan Peacock, ed., The Achievement of Brian Friel, Gerrards Cross 1993, p.147.)

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Bridget O’Toole, review of Alan Peacock, ed., The Achievement of Brian Friel (1993), in Books Ireland (Nov. 1993), quotes Seamus Deane (‘Brian Friel, The Name of the Game’): ‘It is in Ballybeg that Hardy realises that it is the relation between the gift and the world that is at the root of the whole problem. He was not born to put the maimed world to rights. His art is not a therapy.’ Sean Connolly (‘Translating History: Brian Friel and the Irish Past’): [the ahistorical treatment of Mabel Bagenal is part of an attempt to] ‘advertise ... his liberation from the constraints of the historical record [and to] reinforce the play’s satirical treatment of the pretensions of history, by means of a subtle practical joke at the expense of the hapless academic fact checker’ Seamus Heaney (‘For Liberation, Brian Friel and the Use of Memory’): [on St. Columba in The Enemy Within:] ‘Donegal memory is something that the character re-enters not in order to avoid the present but because he wishes to fortify himself so as to deal with the present in a more competent way.’ Robert Welch (‘‘‘Isn’t It Your Job to Translate?’’: Brian Friel’s Languages’): ‘Friel distrusts the story-teller, the maker of fictions, the word-spinner.’ Thomas Kilroy (‘Theatrical Text and Literary Text’): ‘It is arguable that Friel discovered the extraordinary narrative tone of the later work - grieving and elegiac, but also lyrical and marmoreal - in the narratives of Living Quarters.’ Richard York [on Friel’s Russian plays after Chekhov and Turgenev]: ‘leisurely concern for making relationships manifest, they are manifest in expressions of anxiety, of affection, of insistence; delaying manoeuvres, indirect elicitations. Being together matters, not just sharing information’ (‘Brian Friel’s Russia’); Terence Brown (‘Have We a Context? Self and Society in the Theatre of Brian Friel’; p.200-01) [on the sisters in Dancing at Lughnasa]: ‘Their dance is the dance of the misplaced, of proud, gifted, bravely energetic women whose lives are misshapen by an Irish society that will as it changes, destroy the life they have struggled to achieve.’ Also Fintan O’Toole [as infra]; and see Table of Contents in Criticism, supra.)

Joe Dowling, commends the playwright for writing ‘to communicate with the audience rather than alienating them and holding them at bay.’ (‘Staging Friel’, in Alan Peacock, ed., Achievement [... &c.], 1993.)

Fintan O’Toole, ‘Marking Time, from Making History to Dancing at Lughnasa’, in Alan Peacock, ed., The Achievement of Brian Friel (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1993): ‘It is always Ballybeg. It is, in Translations, Making History and Dancing at Lughnasa, the August of the year ... Basic situations recur, regardless of the time in history. Gar O’Donnell [in Philadephia ...], Manus in Translations and Rose in Dancing at Lughnasa are all trapped into the same escape from Ballybeg. The christening of Nellie Ruadh’s baby at the start of Translations in 1833 is repeated in the comic christening of the radio at the start of Lughnasa in 1936 and in the eternal, placeless present of Faith Healer which begins with Frank Hardy’s act of naming. And in each case, even this act of naming, of christening, does not really set time in order by marking a proper commencement. What is christened or inaugurated is already dying, Nellie Ruadh’s baby will soon be waked; the baptised radio will hover between life and death throughout the play; the places named by Frank Hardy are “all those dying Welsh villages”. History changes nothing.’ [...] ‘Brian Friel does not write history plays, but plays that mock history. He looks for a time that is outside history, a personal time, the time of our lives.’ (p.202.) Deane calls Friel ‘a writer who has faith in politics, history, and above all in the power of language, not merely to communicate but also to change them.’ (p.205.)

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Fintan O’Toole, review of Molloy Sweeney, ‘Second Opinion’ [column], The Irish Times (27 Sept. 1994): ‘It is particularly tempting to see Molly Sweeney as a pessimistic response to Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy. In Heaney’s play, the giving up of a physical disability festering wound that Philoctetes carries as a defiant badge of his hurt - is a prelude to hope and political change. Molly Sweeney, on the other hand, poses the question of whether the giving up of a disability is not the surrendering of a whole way of understanding the world.’ (See full text, Library, “Reviews”, infra.)

Fintan O’Toole, ‘Distorting the Past, True to the Present’, in The Irish Times (31 July 1996): ‘[...] Translations was hailed, not just as a terrifically skilful piece of theatre but as a definitive statement about the nature and meaning of colonialism. / So suffocating was the reverence, indeed, that Friel himself, ever his own most acerbic critic, thought that his play was “treated much too respectfully” and that there was too much “pious rubbish” written about it. He felt compelled, indeed, to follow it with a farce, The Communication Cord, that satirised precisely the metropolitan nostalgia for lost rural idylls that Translations had evoked. / This response was very much in line with what Friel had written in his diary at an early stage of the play’s composition: “I don’t want to write a play about Irish peasants being suppressed by English sappers. I don’t want to write a threnody on the death of the Irish language. I don’t want to write a play about land surveying. In deed, I don’t want to write a play about naming places.” Yet the response to the completed play suggested that he had written a play about all of those things.’

Fintan O’Toole, review of The Home Place, in The Irish Times (3 Feb. 2005): ‘[...] One of the pleasures of new work by an old master is the sense of retrospection. Friel’s writing has always been deeply embedded in theatre history, and there are obvious echoes here of Plays as diverse as The Cherry Orchard and Waiting for Godot. / But The Home Place is embedded, too, in Friel’s own history. It revisits both Aristocrats and Translations, and brings their disparate worlds together. The setting is virtually the same as that of Aristocrats: a Big House room opening out onto a lawn lit, by the sunshine of late August. There is the same atmosphere of a family’s vigorous past slipping away into inevitable decline. David Gore (Hugh O’Conor), the son and heir of the landlord Christopher, is a sketchier version of Casimir in Aristocrats. / But The Home Place glances back at Translations, too. That play’s arrival in Friel’s mythical Ballybeg of the English map-makers has its parallels here in the arrival from England of Christopher’s bumptious cousin Richard, who wants to take physical measurements of the locals as part of his obsession with the racist pseudo-science of “anthropometrics”. / [...] What makes The Home Place far, far more than a mere reprise of earlier work, though, is that it knits these two stories into one. Planter and Gael are seen to share a predicament. The central characters, Christopher and Margaret, are both, albeit in different ways, people in no-man’s land, neither one thing nor the other. Christopher, part of Donegal but still regarding Kent as the home place of the title, comes to realise that he is “an exile from both that memory and this fact now”.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, infra.)

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Seamus Heaney, ‘For Liberation, Brian Friel and the Use of Memory’, in Peacock, ed., Achievement of Brian Friel (1993), ‘[F]alse memory sends the quester into the limbo of meaningless invention; but true memory gives access to the dancing place, the point of eternal renewal and confident departure.’ Heaney also notices the cathartic effect of Friel’s plays on audiences. ‘Their elation comes from the perception of an order beyond themselves which nevertheless seems foreknown, as if something forgotten surfaced for a clear moment. Whatever they knew before that moment becomes renewed, transfigured in another pattern.’

Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994): ‘Ballybeg [...] has fused within it the socially depressed and politically dislocated world of Derry and the haunting attraction of the lonely landscapes and traditional mores of rural Donegal’ [q.p.]. ‘Defending Ireland’s Soul: Protestant Writers and Irish nationalism after Independence’, in (?p.159, & note, also cites ‘sense of a whole history … group’.)

Christopher Murray, review of Volunteers, in Irish University Review Vol. 10 (1980): calls Volunteers ‘the play Mr Friel had to write after The Freedom of the City, an excoriation of the Southern establishment.’ (q.p.)

John Keyes reviews Molly Sweeney (Gate 1994), in Fortnight (Sept. 1994); notes that Friel quotes Diderot: ‘Learning to see is not like learning a new language; it’s like learning a language for the first time.’ The characters are Rice, the opthalmological surgeon; Molly, and her self-educated husband; play also includes reference to Thomas Molyneux’s contribution to the controversy on vision.

Rhoda Koenig, The Literary Review (Sept.1992) [‘the green shoots that flowered into the lyricism and passion of his later work’]; The Guardian [interview] (27 Sept. 1980); Mervyn Rothstein [reviews Philadelphia [ &c.]in New York Times, 28 Aug. 1990); Seamus Heaney, Digging Deeper’, Times Literary Supplement (21 Mar 1975), p.306 [on chars. in Volunteers, ‘trapped between political, economic, and social realities and received ideas’].

David Krause, ‘When Dancing is Not Enough’, in ‘Second Opinion’ [column], The Irish Times (16 Jan. 1993), being a critique the box-office success of Dancing at Lughnasa, claiming that Friel ‘has constructed a memory-play that recreates the aura of an idyllic past, and indulgence in nostalgia that calls for a basically sentimental tone and flattened language that do not lead to a very complex or profound experience.’ In the course of the review, Krause refers to the Northern Ireland town of Ballybeg, showing a limited grasp of Irish political geography. He accuses Friel of employing the exhilarating Lughnasa dance as ‘the central and perhaps too easily earned symbol of the play, a purely visual symbol of Friel’s theme of repression and sublimation.’ He goes on to criticise the characterisation in Gerry Evans who, ‘in something like a quixotic afterthought’, goes off to fight in Spain. Quoting Deane’s introduction to the Faber Collected Plays, he reminds the reader that Friel’s previous works were ‘fiercely spoken plays’ and asserts that here Friel has ‘failed to allow for the important distinction between life and art’. (Krause is a leading writer on Sean O’Casey and Emeritus Professor of English at Brown Univ., Rhode Island; most recently the author of The Profane Book of Irish Comedy, Cornell UP).

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Tim Pat Coogan, ed., Literary Review - Special Issue, Ireland and the Arts (London: Namara n.d.), writes that Friel has expressed doubts about the possibility of ‘a congruence of past and present’, and finds it hard to believe in a ‘Golden Gaelic Age’; quotes: ‘One aspect that keeps eluding me [is] the wholeness, the integrity of that Gaelic past. Maybe because I don’t believe in it.’ He further expressed concern about the ‘almost wholly public concern of the theme’ [in Translations], and expressed the idea that ‘the play must concern itself only with the exploration of the dark and private places of individual souls.’ (‘Extracts from a Sporadic Diary’ [recorded during preparation of Translations.]

Eoin O’Neachtain, letter to Times Literary Supplement (9 June 1995), characterises Colm Tóibín’s classification of the political project of Field Day as ‘the last serious outing that unreconstructed nationalism will have’ as ‘a mite too pat’ and simplistic while containing an essential kernel of truth’; adds that the ideological battle with nationalism in Ireland will have to be conducted with more intellectual skill and sophistication than ... by Tóibín in his blinkered attack on Translations, arguably Brian Friel’s masterpiece ... [which is] much more nuanced piece of drama than he suggests ... does not indulge nationalist pieties about pre-famine Ireland ... cannot be see as an uncritical lament for the decline of Gaelic, neither are the English characters presented as barbarians; broadly endorses Austen Morgan’s classification of Field Day as the ‘cultural wing of the SDLP’; ... the tragedy of Field Day is that it has turned its back on the complexities and ambiguities of the visions and possibilities explored in Translations. Those opposed to the project should not do the same. [&c.]’.

Elmer Andrews (on Making History): ‘The intention is to shake the two divided and embartled communities in Northern Ireland into awareness that the myths and values to which they adhere are not absolute, but selective, atavistic histories which have only succeeded in imprisoning them in their respective bunkers and which cry out to be rewritten, translated into new forms.’ (The Art of Brian Friel: Neither Reality Nor Dreams, London: Macmillan 1995, p.202.)

Elizabeth B. Cullingford, ‘British Romans and Irish Carthaginians: Anticolonial Metaphor in Heaney, Friel and McGuinness, in PMLA (March 1996), pp.222-36, remarks: Hugh stumbles in his translation as he realised that the destruction of Carthaginian culture by the Romans prefigures the destruction of Gaelic culture by another people ... English descendants of Aeneas grandson Brutus’ Overcome with emotion, [he] cannot complete the reference ...’ (p.231.)

Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton UP 1997), ‘Friel’s translatons (1981) uses the ordnance’s anglicization of Irish palace-names to raise the question of cultural imperialism. Yet J. H. Andrews argues that the [Ordance Commission] survey’s nomenclature became controversial only in the late eighteenth [err. for nineteenth] century, during the nationalist revival of interest in Gaelic. During the 1830s, the nationalist debate about the survey was focused rather on the decision not to compile “memoirs”.’ ([Introduction, n.65, p.200; citing Andrews, A Paper Landscape: The Ordnance Survey in Nineteenth-century Ireland, Oxford 1975, Chap. 4.].) Trumpener further notes, after Andrews, that commentators complained that the survey made a categorical and polemical distinction between Anglican churches and Presbyterian meetinghouses and Catholic ‘chapels’ which were noted on the map in smaller italics. (Andrews, op. cit., p.86; Trumpene, n.66, idem.)

David Nowlan calls Uncle Vanya in Friel’s version based on a literal translation provided by Una Ni Dhubhghaill as ‘an almost perfect demonstration of the art and life of theatre and the best Uncle Vanya that this reviewer has seen or expects to see.’ (Irish Times, ?26 Oct 1998.)

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Helen Meany, ‘Questions of creation’, in The Irish Times ([q.d.] March 1997) [H.M. ‘looks at the script of Brian Friel’s new play, Give Me Your Answer Do!, which opens at the Abbey tonight’.] ‘In the opening scene of Brian Friel’s new play, Give Me Your Answer, Do!, the novelist, Tom Connolly, addresses an animated monologue to his silent, autistic daughter, Brigid. Compensating for her muteness by loquacity, he makes her a gift of a string of verbal jewels in a blend of comic fantasy and hyperbole which becomes mockingly ironic as he parodies his publisher’s reaction to his latest novel:“The best thing you’ve ever done, Tom. It’s intelligent and rich and elegant and heartening and true and compelling and disturbing and witty, and deeply, deeply moving, Tom ... Do you know the effect it had on me, Tom? It made me feel humble.” This stock vocabulary of evaluation and critical judgement has a jaded, hollow ring; throughout the play it both attracts and repels Tom Connolly as he attempts to work out how much he needs the validation of experts, arbiters - or audiences. In the course of a single summer’s day in a dilapidated house in Co Donegal, Tom Connolly and his wife Daisy, Daisy’s parents, Maggie and Jack, and their friends, Garret Fitz-maurice (also a novelist) and his wife Grainne, come together to sit in the garden, talking, drinking and listening to music, while a literary agent decides whether his university in Texas will buy Tom’s complete collection of manuscripts for its Irish archive. They are waiting, as Daisy says, “for the big answer”. The fact that the agent, David Knight, has already made a generous offer for Garret’s manuscripts adds to the tensions in the atmosphere, which is thick with the dust of disappointed dreams, the collusions and petty destructiveness of marriage, the evaporation of love and hopes. The intense, lyrical monologues of Friel’s last play, Molly Sweeney, have given way to the elliptical exchanges of the ensemble; characters speak past and through each other, revelations are interrupted, moments of potential closeness or illumination are smothered and truncated as brutally as in any Beckett play; private pain becomes public performance. Friel has captured the unease of family members in proximity, huddling in pairs to speak in hushed, concerned tones about the one who has just left the room. Give Me Your Answer Do! recreates the elegiac tone of Living Quarters (1977), Aristocrats (1979) and more recently, Wonderful Tennessee (1993). With its house-party setting and air of expectant lassitude, it echoes the work of Chekhov and Turgenev, who have both been translated and adapted by Friel in the past. Here, the selling of literary estates to an American university becomes the equivalent of the sale of the Russian dachas. Some quotes from The Three Sisters early on make the allusions more explicit. While the money from the sale of Tom’s manuscripts would be more than welcome to the Connollys, who live an isolated, impoverished life, there is more at stake than that, as Daisy relentlessly points out to Tom: “That acknowledgment, that affirmation, might give you, whatever it is - the courage? the equilibrium? the necessary self-esteem just to hold on? Isn’t that what everybody needs?” Tom does not want to listen to Daisy, whose role in the play is to ask questions that become increasingly uncomfortable - and acerbically expressed - with each glass of gin. A talented musician in her youth, Daisy has now given up on her own life and concentrates on analysing Tom’s. Both she and Grainne, who makes bitter public comments about her husband Garret’s work, function as judges and critics who do nothing themselves, but uphold exacting standards for their husbands and express the anger and disappointment of people who had hoped that they could live through someone else. Grainne wounds Garret by telling him: “You aren’t at all the writer you might have been - you know that yourself. Too anxious to please. Too fearful of offending. That has made you very popular ... . But I thought once you were more than that. I think you did too.” Even when Grainne thinks about leaving the marriage, it is the effect of this on Garret’s work that she is thinking of: “If I weren’t in your life, maybe you’d find your own resiliences. They won’t make you a stronger man but perhaps they’d make you a better writer.” The two women are stern critics, but their judgement is tainted by disillusionment. Even the great arbiter, David, is as fragile, flawed and quietly desperate as everyone else. Friel is turning the spotlight on to what he has called “our trivial achievements and abysmal failures”. In earlier work, such as Philadelphia, Here I Come!, his characters looked to their fathers for approval. Give Me Your Answer Do! questions the criteria by which we measure success or failure, and our need to jump through the correct hoops to receive a validating imprimatur. “What’s the yardstick anyway”, Daisy’s father, Jack, asks Tom, “whatever money David offers you?”

Helen Meany (‘Questions of creation’, 1997 - cont.): Having explored in earlier plays the untrustworthy, inadequate, politically circumscribed nature of language (Translations, Communication Cord), the unreliability and deceptions of memory (Faith Healer), and the impossibility of constructing a historical narrative that can ever be more than a version of the past (Making History), Friel now turns his attention to the nature of aesthetic judgement, which is inevitably coloured by relativism, culturally determined values, subjectivity and, of course, the marketplace. Is it possible to arrive at the reasoned defence of a judgement which could claim a universal status and transcend the conventions of taste? In other words, can Kant’s Critique of Judgement be re-written for a post-modernist age? As ever, Friel is searching, and posing questions which the unfolding drama attempts to answer. Many commentators have noted the tension between the priest and the politician in Friel’s work. There is also, invariably, a teacher, who pops up to wag a finger and say “listen to me, now” - whether the lesson is about the ideological construction of history (Making History) or Berkeley’s theories on the relationship between tactile and visual perception (Molly Sweeney). In this play too there is a lesson, about the impossibility of making verdicts, and it comes from Daisy in a final, explicatory speech: “Uncertainty is necessary . . . Because there can be no verdicts, no answers. Indeed there must be no verdicts. Because being alive is the postponement of verdicts, isn’t it?” While the play is not political in the sense that The Freedom of the City, Volunteers, Translations and Making History were, with their explorations of history, myth, the language of Politics and the politics of language, the questions it raises are Broadly political, evoking the cultural politics of post- colonialism. Literary merit is conferred through financial acquisition, and novels become the property of whichever foreign institution pays the most. The Irish literary canon can be bought, collected, owned and contained. The emigration and exile of the early plays has been replaced by the export of culture, by which, as Grainne says, “its real worth is established.” Or is it? Give Me Your Answer, Do! opens tonight at the Abbey Theatre. (Copied by Jay Dooling, Irish Aires; Irish Studies E-List [Virginia], 13 March 1997.)

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Lionel Pilkington, ‘Theatre and Insurgency in Ireland’, Essays in Theatre/ Études Theatricales, 12, 2, (1994), pp.129-40: ‘[I]n each instance Friel’s anti-republican tendency is based, tautologically, on the ultimate passivity of the spectator. As in the case of the final moments of The Freedom of the City and Volunteers, for example, it is the spectator’s inability to do anything, except watch passively the action on stage, that serves as the proof that nothing, in fact, can be done [...] All that the theatre can do in the face of political resistance is re-confirm an identity which is recognisable as “true”. In doing so, however, the bourgeois theatre reveals (at least to criticism) its implicit counter-insurgency function. To adapt the definition of counter-insurgency that appears in a British Army manual of 1971, the theatre functions - like censorship or the imposition of a military curfew - as a means of isolating an and-colonial politics “physically and psychologically from [its] civilian support”.’ (pp.134-35.)

Lionel Pilkington, ‘Getting a feel for Friel’, review of Anthony Roche, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Brian Friel, in The Irish Times (3 Feb. 2006), Weekend, p.10: ‘From the beginning, Friel’s work tends to concede - albeit elegaically or sometimes scathingly - the absolute inevitability of this transition. Ireland’s surrender to late capitalist modernity is shown as regrettable (“We are no longer even West Britons”, he wrote in 1972, “we are East Americans”), but also as a philosophical and emotional necessity. The young male protagonist in Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1964) feels compelled to emigrate from Co Donegal not so much for economic reasons but in order to reconcile the public and private parts of himself; at the end of Translations (1980) the audience is left in no doubt as to the necessity of adopting English as Ireland’s vernacular because this is part of the inexorable progress of history and the only escape from retaliatory violence and republican irredentism. And in Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) we are left with the sad incommensurability of modernity and the traditional, broken world of the Mundy sisters. / Characters’ efforts at resistance either are ostentatiously ineffectual or exacerbate their subjection. Moreover, the plays themselves are often written and produced in the teeth of vibrant contemporary political opposition to such changes: one thinks, for example, of Philadelphia, Here I Come! and of the contrasting optimism of Fr James McDyer’s socialist-oriented co-operative movement in Donegal in the early 1960s. This alone is a strikingly important reason why Friel’s work requires rigorous interrogation. To no small extent, understanding Friel’s literary achievement is very closely bound up with how we in Ireland understand ourselves.’ Pilkington goes on to praise Anna McMullan’s essay (‘[a] probingly intelligent examination of gender and performance’) which he summarises: ‘while the subjected male protagonists of the plays often attempt to resist the pressures of socio-political conformity by adopting the role of trickster or joker figures, this is hardly ever the case for Friel’s women. Even when female characters do produce performances that offer some liberation from confining gender roles (as in the dance scene in Dancing at Lughnasa (1990)), the overall impact of such performances is to reinstate a gendered construction of women as non-rational.’ Pilkington remarks: ‘she relates this gender discrepancy to Friel’s overarching formal reliance on mimetic verisimilitude. Friel’s claim that all representation is a construction - and thus that any form of political expression is, at best, a distorting approximation - underlines his plays’ political pessimism. But, McMullan points out, such an assumption is contradicted not only by the fixity of gender roles in Friel’s drama but by a neo-naturalistic theatrical style that insists resolutely on its own truth and authority. Finding a way out of the blanketing effect of the plangent political inevitability that Friel’s plays so often induce, therefore, is difficult, but not impossible. In what is fittingly one of this collection’s concluding contributions, Anna McMullan’s essay points to the need for a more rigorous and historically-based criticism of Friel’s drama. Crucial as a starting point is an exposure and critical examination of the historical absences and constitutive contradictions that are central to Friel’s formidable literary achievement.’ (End; for full text, see infra.)

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Thomas Kilroy, ‘The Life and Art of Brian’, in The Irish Time (24 April, 1999), Weekend, gives an account of his first meeting with Friel at Mary Lavin’s house and subsequent acquaintance, incl. an account of the writing and expansion of Faith-healer (‘one of the great theatrical texts of our time in the English language’), from its inception as a single monologue’; ‘the versions of stories throughout contradict or modify one another but never to the point of cancellation’; speaks of discussions within Field Day, its role in opening channels between Irish and English theatre; ridicules views of Field Day as the cultural wing of the IRA; ‘from within the confines of field Day itself such claims appeared risible.’; ‘The members of the board represented a wide range of political opinion, the only constant being a fierce belief in the engagement of the imagination with issues which were politically and historically important. One of the reasons why I eventually resigned from the board was because I wanted to push Field Day towards more overt political gestures. I realised this could not happen because Field Day had no single ideology; elements and its true energy [sic] was one of the process, not movement towards fixed goals.’

F. C. McGrath, Brian Friel’s (Post-)Colonial Drama: Language, Illusion and Politics (Syracuse UP 1999): ‘In the heat of passion after Bloody Sunday, Friel does not revert to his pre-bloody Sunday position of cautiously warning writers to remain on the sidelines: “The experience is there,” he says, “it’s available. We didn’t create it, and it has coloured all our lives and adjusted all our stances in some way. What the hell can we do but look at it?”’ (p.99; quoted in Debbie Cairns, UUC UG Diss, 2005.) Further, ‘Making History marks the transition from Gaelic, political, legal and social structures to English sructures as Translations, set more than two centuries later, marks the transition from Gaelic to English language’ and notes “the acceptance of a hybrid Anglizised Ireland.”’. (p.212).

Scott Boltwood (Draft study on Brian Friel, UUC/CILB Fellow 2000): ‘[...] after 1977 Friel demonstrates an increasing ability to seek an alternative to the ideological constraints that imprisoned his earlier characters. Thus, not only do the characters of Dancing at Lughnasa and Wonderful Tennessee chafe under the tyranny of religious nationalism, but they glimpse an alternative to it. Likewise, Making History and Translations present characters who resist the imperative to conform to the Irish stereotype because Friel seeks an identity that transcends the narrowly defined model.’ [END; p.34.]

Robert Shore, review of Brian Friel, Faith Healer, prod. Jonathan Kent, at Almeida Th. (King’s Cross), in Times Literary Supplement (14 Dec. 2001), writes ‘[…] Frank is the image of the Irish artist in exile. The return to his native land is undertaken in the knowledge that it will being rejection, failure and ultimately death, the name of the fateful town of Ballybeg being repeated with increasing and alarming insistence as the play winds towards its extraordinary final revelation.’ Further remarks: ‘Faith Healer is a tale told by ghosts about fading beliefs in vanishing places.’

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Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000), writes: ‘My intention ... to try to flush out the implicit politics of these plays [Living Quarters & Faith Healer], which are read mostly as stUdies of familial dysfunction and the nature of dramatic art [resp.].’ (p.45.) Offers analysis of the ‘bardic’ posture in espoused by Friel (“he knew no reason why Ireland should not be ruled by its poets and dramatists”; interview, in Hickey & Smith, A Paler Shade of Green, 1972, p.224-25) and finds in it an assertion of bourgeois subjectivity: ‘so Friel is interested in the status of the creative writer, and sees him as having a special relationship with “the people”’ and undertakes to trace ‘the crisis and breakdown of this idea in Friel.’ (p.47). ‘Changes in the family, the social role of the writer, the yearnings, failings and disillusionment of the middle classes, emigration, the decline of the “Big House”, the demise of the Irish language, the difficulties of the intellectual, the Northern crisis and political violence, and, behind all of these, the idea of modernity itself - all of these issues emerge in Friel’s plays.’ (p.45.) McCarthy interrogates the notion of the bardic artist from The Mundy Scheme onwards. (p.46.) Of The Mundy Scheme: The critique offered in the play of the new materialism, modernisation and embourgeoisement of the 1960s is conducted in primarily moral or ethical terms. ... White Friel is cealry aware of the problematising of national dientity brought by the new economic policies, and the dependent relationship with foreign states and capital they produce, he can only criticise the social structures and phenomena produced in Ireland by these changes in terms of the (im)moral behaviour of bureaucrats. He offers no analysis of the fundamental economic and class dynamic at work, only a moral castigation of an epiphenomenon.’ (p.49.) ‘Looking back at the conception of society Friel hinted at in 1971, we realise that he saw society as made up of “individuals” whose identity was threatened by the tide of modernisation. This identity was composed equally of nationality and humanity, and both were at risk. ... The individual is incomplete or damaged if without a clear national self-consciousness. This confusion also applies to the bardic conception of the writer, who is, for Friel, somehow of the world, but not in it.’ (p.50.)

Conor McCarthy (Modernisation, 2000) - cont.: of The Freedom of the City, ‘the balladeer is, in fact, an illegitimate version of Friel himself. He is the sentimental and bellicose nationalist artist that Friel refuses to be. As rendered by the balladeer, the Enlightenment bourgeois revolutionism of Tone, the Gaelic nationalism of Pearse, and the working-class Marxism of Connolly are demoted and discredited. / The problem with this links back to [...] Friel’s bourgeois (or constitutional) nationalism. [...; 53] ‘The only political space left at the end of this relentless process of depoliticisation is that which it is not necessary to represent in the play, because it is, for Friel, “natural”. That is, unsurprisingly, bourgeois or “constitutional” nationalism.’ (pp.53-54.) McCarthy offers extended remarks on the concept of ‘authority’ in Said, Bordieu, Giblert and Gubar, Foucault, et al., thus providing a hermeneutic linch-pin for his discussion (p.56ff.) ‘In relation to Friel’s work, insofar as this amounts to a narrativising of Irish contemporary history, the North representes discontinuous experience to the South. It offends and complicates the developmental narrative of Southern modernisation. There it is to be repressed. The North is the “event” that might have been included in Living Quarters but was left out.’ (p.64.) [Cont.]

Conor McCarthy (Modernisation, 2000) - cont.: ‘Friel’s most Brechtian play remains firmly in the hands of the institutional theatre, and as such remains in accordance with the model of the dominative theatre explained by [Augusto] Boal’ (Theatre of the Oppressed, trans. Charles and Maria-Odilia McBride, Pluto Press 1979, p.66). Further [Of Living Quarters]: ‘Frank offers himself to the audience as a sacrificial victim to a guilty audience [sic], but it they who have been interpellated into the subject-position of killers by the ideology of authorial and stage authority. So story-telling is socially cohesive or “healing”, but also narcissistic, and inclined to draw attention away from the world, and the imbrication of the theatre in that world. Even at the moment of its greatest critis, Friel’s (self-)understanding of authority remains firmly rooted in the bourgeois conventions identified by Boal. The fierceness with which they are asserted is the sign of that crisis. [.../] It has been in these plays of the 1970s that Friel most radically explored the crisis of authority of both state and author. (p.79; end.)

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Declan Kiberd, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’, in The Irish Review, 27 [“A Post-Christian Ireland?” Iss.] (Summer 2001), pp.18-39: ‘Set in Donegal during the late summer of 1936, Brian Friel’s Dancing in Lughnasa asks the question: who is to inherit Ireland? That question is implicit rather than explicit, however, in a work which is thoroughly addressed to the integrity of the local moment. The long decline of rural Ireland over the previous century has almost come to an end, and the five Mundy sisters are just about clinging onto a way of life that cannot last. The oldest, Kate, is a local primary schoolteacher and her income holds the home together. She played a part in the War of Independence, but neither that nor its outcome is ever discussed. Another, Maggie, keeps house. They are in their thirties. The youngest, Chris, is twenty-six and mother of a seven-year-old boy named Michael. He is the offspring of an affair with a travelling salesman, Gerry, who returns twice during the action. Michael appears both as a boy and as the young man who narrates the events over a quarter of a century later. / Apart from a passing line urging people ot vote for de Valera, there is no reference to the politics of the new Ireland. In fact, there is more interest in the wars in Abyssinia and Spain. Yet the very lack of a visible political structure in a Donegal well remote from the affairs of Dublin opens the way for a deeper set of questions as to whether, in that condition of vulnerability, the received culture of the sisters might sustain them. There is something strangely exhilarating, as well as terrifying about their raw exposure to the resources of culture as they face into the future. Like Edward Said’s Palestinians, they live at those frontiers “where the existence and disappearance of people fade into each other, where resistance is a necessity, but where there is sometimes a growing realization of the need for an unusual, and to some degree, an unprecedented knowledge.”’ (Said, After the Last Sky, NY 1986, p.159.) [...] (p.16; see further under Kiberd, Quotations, infra.)

Bibliography cites Claudia W. Harris, ‘The Engendering Space Performing Friel’s Women from Cass Maguire to Molly Sweeney’, in Brian Friel: A Casebook, ed. William Kerwin (NY 1997), pp.43-76; Patrick Burke, ‘“As If Language No Longer Existed”: Non Verbal Theatricality in the Plays of Brian Friel’, in Kerwin, ed., op. cit. (1997), c.p.19; J. J. Lee & Gearoid O Tuathaigh, The Age of De Valera (Dublin 1982); Terence Brown, ‘Have we A Context? Tradition, Self and Society in the Theatre of Brian Friel’, in The Achievement of Brian Friel, ed. Elmer Andrews (Gerrards Cross 1992), cp.201; Brian Girvin, Between Two Worlds: Politics and Economy in Independent Ireland (Dublin 1989); Peadar Kirby, Has Ireland a Future (Dublin 1989); Therese Caherty, ed., Is Ireland and Third World Country? [Report on Conference held Teachers’ Club, Dublin on 20th April 1991/Centre for Research and Documentation, Belfast] ([Belfast: Beyond the Pale 1992]), et al., incl. and works of Marshall McLuhan.

Nicholas Grene, ‘Reality Check: Authenticity from Synge to McDonagh’, in Irish Studies in Brazil, ed. Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1] (Sao Paolo: Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), pp.69-88, espec. ‘Translations’ [p.82ff.]: ‘[...] The famous theatrical device at the centre of the [82] play is the convention that the Ballybegers are supposed to be speaking Irish, the English soldiers English, and that they are mutually incomprehensible to one another - even though all the lines are actually m English. But, objected the historians, English was in fact a principal subject taught in the hedge schools. Friel’s image of a school community moving between their own native Irish and the classical languages of Latin and Greek, overtaken by a modernising colonial system bent on imposing English on them, is a romantic fiction. Parents who paid to send their children to the hedge schools wanted them to learn English because it was their passport to success in a wider world. Further objections came from John Andrews about the representation of the map-making. The Ordnance Survey did not, as in the play, make up English place names, obliterating the Irish originals. Although Anglicised transliterations of the place-names were introduced, great care was taken to consult local sources to try to render the names as accurately as possible. What is more, John O’Donovan, the real-life equivalent of Owen in the play, was one of the great Irish scholars of his day, whose work for the Ordnance Survey was of crucial importance in recording the oral folklore associated with particular places and placenames. Finally, the draconian scorched earth act of reprisal threatened by the English army commander when one of his fellow officers is missing presumed dead, would have been quite impossible, according to John Andrews. Such a commander would have had no authority to make or carry out such a threat, and the soldiers involved in the Ordnance Survey were unarmed. / A debate was organised in the wake of the play’s production in which Friel met face to face with Andrews so they could argue the case. Although the playwright admitted to having unfairly misrepresented O’Donovan, on the whole he stood his ground, acknowledging only “tiny bruises inflicted on history in my play”. [84; ...] Fair point. Shakespeare deliberately rewrote the chronicled facts of Macbeth’s reign [...] But at the root of the objections to Translations was not just the inaccuracy of the representation of the past but the way that mapped on to the politics of the present.’ (pp.82-84; cites Brian Friel, John Andrews & Kevin Barry, ‘Translations and a Paper Landscape’, in Crane Bag, 7, 2, 1983, pp.118-24;123-24; for longer extracts, see Archives, “Criticism”, infra.)

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Eamon Kelly, reviewing of Toby Corbett, Brian Friel: Decoding the Language of the Tribe [Contemp. Irish Writers & Film-makers Ser.] (Dublin: Liffey Press 2002), writes: ‘Friel’s adaptations of Chekov have been widely praised with many critics struck by the similarities between the Irish and Russian mindsets and how perfectly placed Friel is to adapt the works of the Russian master. His first adaptation of Chekov came shortly after the completion of Aristocrats and it seemed a natural progression from there to an adaptation of Chekov’s Three Sisters. He went from this to an adaptation of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons following this - interspersed of course with his own plays - with an adaptation of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya. More recently he gave us a dramatisation of The Lady with the Lapdog, The Yalta Game which was produced along with Friel’s version of The Bear. These were followed by Afterplay, a short play that features two Chekov characters, Andrey from The Three Sisters and Sonya from Uncle Vanya, meeting some twenty years after the action of their respective plays in a Moscow café. / This is a playful work and was very well received when it played in London last year with John Hurt as Andrey and Penelope Wilton as Sonya. Both characters in their respective plays looked forward to bright futures. Friel has taken these two hopefuls and in a neat Chekovian twist has paired them off in a dismal café trading disappointments. Andrey, the younger brother from The Three Sisters is, in Chekov’s original, a romantic idealist with his eyes fixed on romantically idealistic futures. So disinclined is he to be involved in the present that he even seems reluctant to take part in the play, having to be cajoled on time and again by the other characters. He prefers to read behind the scenes and play his violin while dreaming of going to university in Moscow. Instead he falls in love and gets married but soon tires of this, a dream in the present soon fades. Besides, his new wife has no ear for his violin playing describing it as “scratching away”. / In Friel’s Afterplay we find Andrey twenty years on in a rundown Moscow café looking the worse for wear after a day’s busking with his violin. Here he meets Sonya from Uncle Vanya. Plain, diligent, hardworking Sonya is still searching for ways to save her father’s estate. After a round of the banks for financial advice she retires to the same caf6 she had found the day before. As the play begins, we learn that she met Andrey the previous day in the café. Sonya can barely remember the meeting. Andrey, after a lifetime of looking to futures, seems incapable of making an imprint in the present. But more than that, Sonya has given up on love. The result is a play both poignant and funny.’ (Books Ireland, April 2003, p.84.)

Ulf Dantanus, ‘They [the plays] have been affected by his awareness of the essential loneliness of the individual human being, the difficulty of communicating private emotions or even the failure to communicate at all, the individual perception of life and reality and the consequent availability of an individual truth of illusion, and finally, a frequently acute sense of the precariousness of life and love and the arbitrary and capricious working of Fate’ (Brian Friel, A Study, 1988, p.216). Further, ‘There is little doubt that with their plays, their pamphlets and their anthology, Field Day will have successfully created the artistic community of a fifth province. This force will address the whole island culturally, if not politically.’ (Ibid., p.209; quoted in Stella McCuskar, ‘Emigration, Love & Relationships: Themes in the Work of Brian Friel’, UG diss, UUC 2002.)

Stephen Brown, ‘The Future’s Here’ [review of Afterlife], in Times Literary Supplement (4 Oct. 2002), p.21: ‘Brian Friel’s new play gives an afterlife to two Chekhov characters from two separate plays, imagining that they meet by chance in a dilapidated Moscow café, some twenty years after the end of their previous fictional existence. [...] Friel’s play, consisting of just this one meeting between Andrey [Prozorov] and Sonya [Serebryakova] and lasting for a little over an hour, is a melancholy “what if” fantasy. Andrey and Sonya talk a great deal about the past, often rather obviously bringing the audience up to date with what has happened since the events of their respective plays. [...] Afterplay is an act of homage, and and therefore not quite a proper play. There is some fun to be had in wondering about the life of characters beyond the boundaries of a creative work, but it is mostly a base kind of curiosity, the crutch of second-rate novelists and play-safe Hollywood executives. Works of art have their edges for good reason. Theatre in particular preserves its characters in an eternal, repeating present - something that a play like Three Sisters is certainly aware of. Having Andrey tell us that his two surviving sisters have never made it to Moscow turns a fragile, suspended theatrical metaphor into something dully empirical. To have him go on to say that “they know in their hearts that the Moscow dream-life is just that - a dream” reduces him to the role of plodding critic. Many of Afterplay’s speculations seem merely to recycle Chekhov’s original situations or follow through rather obviously on his plot lines, with the added disadvantage that Chekhov showed the emotions that Andrey and Sonya for the most part talk about. Most surprisingly, perhaps, Friel has almost nothing to say about the central, compelling question raised by his dramatic situation: what happens to Chekhov’s characters, with all their chatter about history and progress, after the Russian Revolution?’ (See full text, infra.)

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Christopher Morash, ‘Viewfinding’, review of Brian Friel, The Home Place, in Times Literary Supplement (20 Feb. 2005 ), p.20: ‘[…] The idea has been with Friel for some time now. More than a decade ago there were rumours that he was working on a play about Victorian racialists who believed that physical characteristics were the visible signs of moral and intellectual differences. Watching The Home Place (which marks a triumphant return to form after Friel’s disappointing Performances last year) it is easy to see why he would be fascinated by this pseudo-science. Several reviews have called the play Chekhovian, but this misses the point: The Home Place is the mature work of a major writer who has, yet again, found an intrinsically theatrical language (which draws only partly on Chekhov) for interests that have been remarkably consistent for more than forty years. […] The Home Place is something of a companion piece to Translations. Set in 1878, the year before the Land League was founded, the action takes place over a long summer’s day in a country house in the fictional village of Ballybeg, the setting for most of Friel’s plays. A country house poised for destruction, its walled garden in ruins, its trees, planted a century before, in need of felling: the comparisons with Chekhov are obvious. However, the situation more closely echoes Friel’s own Translations than The Cherry Orchard. In Translations, the attempt to map the Irish countryside triggers the cataclysm that will destroy a traditional Irish-speaking community. In The Home Place, the efforts of the local landlord’s English cousin to measure the skulls of the local “specimens” mark the beginning of the end for a Donegal country house which has been home to generations of the Gore family (who nonetheless continue to refer to the family seat in Kent as “the home place”). Woven around this scenario are a medley of themes that have never been far from Friel’s work: memory, exile, language, the transcendent power of music - and confusion. […] Brian Friel is now in his seventy-fifth year. In The Home Place, we see a writer who has crafted a world whose political and philosophical concerns go to the heart of the theatrical experience, and whose elements he is now free to unravel and weave together again in new combinations from threads that extend back over four decades. It is time we stopped calling this particular theatrical world Chekhovian and gave it its proper name: Frielian.’ (Morash gives a summary of Friel’s dramatic career; for full text, see infra.)

Michael Cronin, in Translation and Identity (London & NY: Routledge 2006), calls Owen in Translations, considered in his role as interpreter, an ‘amphibian figure, straddling two cultures and languages’ and compares him to interpreters in Iraq during the US invasion. (p.76.)

Michael Billington, review of Hedda Gabler at The Old Vic, in The Guardian (13 Sept. 2012): ‘[....] Anna Mackmin’s very good production is marred by the tendency of Brian Friel’s new version to spell out things Ibsen left implicit. We know, for instance, that George Tesman, Hedda’s new husband, is an earnest academic; but, at the very time when productions have rescued him from stereotypical buffoonery, Friel equips him with a comic aria in praise of his exquisitely embroidered slippers. / Friel’s penchant for embroidering Ibsen is also shown in a later episode when Tesman dreams up ever more preposterous names for Hedda’s anticipated baby. / Even Hedda is not immune to Friel’s tinkering when she explains to Judge Brack her violent mood swings by attributing them to a form of quasi-diabolical possession. / This last intrusion seriously affects the balance of the play. Hedda’s tragedy is partly that she realises that, with her aristocratic instincts and distaste for intellectual pursuits, she is an anachronism in a world of growing equality between the sexes: that is her dilemma rather than that she is a female Jekyll and Hyde. / Even Smith’s admirable performance is affected by the idea of a psychological double-Hedda in that, in the first half, her affable social mask only slips in rare moments of total solitude. But her performance grows in power and what she shows, as Hedda finds herself increasingly trapped by Judge Brack’s sexual blackmail and the drab realities of provincial life, is the character’s entrapment and isolation. What Smith’s fine performance shows is a woman slipping into total despair as her options narrow.’ (Available online; accessed 01.10.2016.)

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