Stewart Parker (1941-88)

b. 20 Oct. 1941, Sydenham, East Belfast, second son of George Herbert Parker, a tailor’s cutter, and Isabel [née Lynas]; ed. Ashfield Boys’ Sch., Sydenham, having failed eleven plus; introduced to drama by teacher John Malone; played Everyman in school play, 1955; proceeded to Sullivan Grammar School, Holywood - where he was told by the headmaster to lose his East Belfast accent; and afterwards QUB, 1959-64, with MA in poetic drama; with others, fnd. literary magazine Interest; acted, directed and wrote for QUB Drama Society; commonly played older parts on account of stature and voice; estab. New Stage Club with Bill Morrison; attended the First International James Joyce Symposium in Dublin, 1967; taught at Hamilton College and Cornell Univ., 1969-74; suffered the loss of a leg from bone cancer, 1971 [aetat. 20]; worked as freelance writer in Belfast to 1978;
contrib. “High Pop”, a critic-column, to Irish Times; moved to Edinburgh, then London; contrib. six radio plays and one TV play to BBC; edited and introduced Sam Thompson’s Over the Bridge (1970); Spokesong (1975), produced successfully in 1975 Dublin Theatre Festival, playing in John Player Theatre, S. Circular Rd., Dublin, with Niall Buggy in the lead, moving afterwards to London where it won the Evening Standard Drama Award, and then Belgium; received Thames Television grant, 1976; The Actress and the Bishop (1976); Catchpenny Twist (Peacock, 25 Aug. 1977), a satirical fantasy, soon after televised; Evening Standard Award, 1977; Ewart Biggs award, 1979; Nightshade (1980), a black comedy - deemed his most problematic play but also his own favourite; Pratt’s Fall (1982); Northern Star (1984), commissioned by Belfast Lyric, deals with Henry Joy McCracken; Heavenly Bodies (1986), dealing with the career of Dion Boucicault; Pentecost (1987), concerning the ghost of Lily Matthews, a decent Protestant woman with a secret, whose house comes to be occupied by Marian, who is joined by Lenny and his friend Peter returned from Birmingham, all besieged during the worst of the modern troubles in Belfast; formed lasting relationship with Lesley Bruce;
Northern Star was produced by Field Day (dir. Patrick Mason), with Stephen Rea, premiered in Derry, Sept. 1987, and moved to the John Player Theatre during the Dublin Theatre Festival, [Oct.] 1987, later winning the Harvey’s Best Play of the Year Award; also radio plays, The Iceberg (1975); The Kamikaze Ground Staff Reunion Dinner (1980); TV plays incl. I’m A Dreamer, Montreal (1979), winner of the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize; Iris in the Traffic, Ruby in the Rain (1981); Joyce in June (1981); Radio Pictures (1985); Blue Money (1985); Lost Belongings (1987), version of the Deirdre story as C4 series set in 1980s; d. 2 Nov. 2988, of stomach cancer; Pentecost was revived by Rough Magic at the Project, Oct 1995, with Eleanor Methven as Marian; and played again at St. Andrew’s Lane, Dublin, July 1996; Northern Star was revived by Rough Magic under direction of Lynne Parker at the Dublin Theatre Festival, Oct. 1997, in the Samuel Beckett Centre, TCD; commemorated by Stewart Parker Trust; a commemorative conference was held in QUB (Belfast) on 31 Oct.-1 Nov. 2008; an authoritative biography was written by Marilyn Richtarik (2012). DIW DIL FDA OCIL

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  • Spokesong (Samuel French 1979); Nightshade (Dublin Co-Op Books 1980).
  • Catchpenny Twist (Gallery Press 1980).
  • Three Plays for Ireland: Northern Star, Heavenly Bodies, Pentecost, with an Introduction by the author (London: Oberon Books 1989).
  • The Casualty’s Meditation (Belfast: Festival Publ. 1966) [pamph.].
  • Maw (Belfast: Fest. Publ. 1968) [pamph.].
See also Dramatis Personae [John Malone Memorial Lecture] (QUB: John Malone Memorial Committee 1986), and Parker’s ‘Introduction’ to Over the Bridge by Sam Thompson (Gill & Macmilllan 1970), rep. in Honest Ulsterman (Autumn 1994), pp.20-24.
  • Clare Wallace, ed., Stewart Parker: Television Plays (Prague: Litteraria Pragnensis 2008), 580pp. [“I’m A Dreamer Montreal” (1979); “Iris in the Traffic”, Ruby in the Rain” (1981); “Joyce in June” (1982); “Blue Money” (1984); “Radio Pictures” (1985); “Lost Belongings” (1987)]
  • Gerald Dawe, Maria Johnston & Clare Wallace, eds., Stewart Parker: Dramatic Personae & Other Writings (Prague: Litteraria Pragnensis 2008), 120pp. [Dramatis Personae; Buntus Belfast; Chickens on Parade in Belfast, USA; An Ulster Volunteer; School for Revolution; It’s a Bad Scene, Mrs. Worthington; The Tribe and Thompson; Introduction to Sam Thompson’s Over the Bridge; The Green Light; Exiles by James Joyce; The Dream and After; Belfast Women: A Superior Brand of Dynamite; State of Play; Me and Jim; Signposts; Introduction to Lost Belongings; Foreword to Plays: 2].

Pratt’s Fall (for stage); The Kamikaze Ground Staff Reunion Dinner; The Traveller; I’m a Dreamer Montreal (all for radio); Iris in the Traffic, Ruby in the Rain (for tv.). See also ‘The Iceberg’ [radio play], in The Honest Ulsterman, 50 (Winter 1975), pp.4-64.

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See Stewart Parker Commemoration (2 Nov. 2008) hosted by Queen’s Drama Department in association with the Stewart Parker Trust, the Belfast Festival and the BBC - covered by Culture Northern Ireland with programme notes of selected Parker plays, radio plays, screen plays and collected writings, all written by academics and theatre practitioners, from the accompanying Queen’s Drama Department brochure [copy or online]

  • Marilyn Richtarik, Stewart Parker: A Life (OUP 2012), 448pp., ill.
  • Andrew Parkin, ‘Metaphor as Dramatic Structure in Some Plays of Stewart Parker’ in M. Sekine ed., Irish Writers and the Theatre (Gerrards Cross 1986), pp.135-50.
  • Elmer Andrews, ‘The Power of Play: Stewart Parker’ s Theatre’, in Theatre Ireland, 18 (April-June 1989), p.24.
  • Elmer Andrews, ‘The Will to Freedom: Politics in the Theatre of Stewart Parker,’ in Irish Writers and Politics, ed. O[kifumi] Komesu and M[asaru] Sekine (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1990) [var. 1989], c.p.268.
  • Claudia W. Harris, ‘From Pastness to Wholeness: Stewart Parker’s Reinventing Theatre’, in Colby Quarterly [Contemporary Irish Drama Special Issue, ed. Anthony Roche], XXVII, 4 (Dec. 1991), pp.233-41.
  • Anthony Roche, ‘Northern Irish Drama: Imaging Alternatives’, in Contemporary Irish Drama From Beckett to McGuinness (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1995), pp.216-78, espec. 216-28.
  • Philip Hobsbaum, ‘The Belfast Group: A Recollection’, in Éire-Ireland 32, 2 & 3 (Summer/Autumn 1997), pp.173-82.
  • Claudia W. Harris, ‘Stewart Parker’ in Irish Playwrights, 1880-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook, ed. Bernice Schrank & William Demaste (CT: Greenwood Press 1997), pp.279-99; Gerald Dawe, The Rest is History (Newry: Abbey Press 1998) [influence of Belfast culture on Parker and Van Morrison].
  • Munira Mutran, ‘Confluence of Multiple Points of View: Three Plays for Ireland by Stewart Parker’, in Jürgen Kamm, ed., Twentieth-Century Theatre and Drama in English: Festschrift for Heinz Kosok on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday (WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier 1999) - Part II: Ireland [q.pp.]
  • Nelson Pressley, ‘Raising the Curtain on Modern Ireland’, in Washington Post (Sunday 22 Oct. 2000), p.G9 [notices Lynne Parker dir, Stewart Parker, Pentecost, Kennedy Centre, May 2000].
  • Akiko Satake, ‘The Seven Ages of Henry Joy McCracken: Stewart Parker’s Northern; Star as a History Play of the United Irishmen in 1798’, in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre, ed. Eamonn Jordan (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2000), pp.176-86.
  • Terence Brown, ‘The Drama of Stewart Parker’ in The Cities of Belfast, ed. Nicholas Allen & Aaron Kelly (Four Courts Press 2003) [q.pp.].
  • Rachel O’Riordan, ‘Dead Women Walking: The Female Body as a Site for War in Stewart Parker’s Northern Star’, in Women in Irish Drama: A Century of Authorship and Representation, ed. Melissa Sihra (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2007) [q.pp.]
  • Aidan O’Malley, Field Day and the Translation of Irish Identities: Performing Contradictions (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2011) - on Parker: Pentecost (pp.107-18).
See also M. Etherton, Contemporary Irish Dramatists (Macmillan 1989), pp.15-25.

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Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985) also lists The Traveller, radio (1985); The Iceberg appeared in Honest Ulsterman 50 (Winter 1975) [DIL]. FDA3 selects Catchpenny Twist; BIOG, 1306 [as supra], and REMS 633n, 1139, 1140.

Edward Lucie-Smith, ed., and intro., British Poetry Since 1945 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970), incls. Stewart Parker, ‘Health’, ‘Paddy Dies’ (pp.346-47), with introductory remark: ‘A rawer, rougher, more unformed writer than either of the other two Belfast poets represented here [Heaney and Mahon], Stewart Parker seems to show considerable promise.’ ANTH, Andrew Carpenter and Peter Fallon, eds., The Writers: Sense of Ireland, O’Brien Press, 1980), contains two scenes from Catchpenny Twist: A Charade (pp.180-85).

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Roy Foster, review of Stewart Parker: A Life, by Marilyn Richtarik, in The Irish Times (13 Oct. 2012): "Living in a legendary bohemian commune on Rugby Road in Belfast during the 1970s, Stewart Parker and his friends used to entertain themselves with a Victorian magic-lantern set. Ancient slides were picked up in Belfast’s rich trawl of junk shops, but never came complete: “The challenge would be to concoct a story that could connect, say, half a set of Great War images and half a set of Jack and the Beanstalk.” / These were the years when Parker was meditating his own first plays, which create similar fusions of images, and treasure objets trouvés from a disregarded past. In a judiciously detailed narrative, this biography profiles the development of a unique and much-missed creative inspiration. / Parker’s life began in “an average Unionist family” in lower-middle-class Belfast in the 1940s and 1950s, experiencing intellectual liberation through Queen’s University, Philip Hobsbaum’s reading group, teaching posts in the US and, most influentially, 7 Rugby Road. [...]’ (The Irish Times, 13 Oct. 2012, Weekend, p.10; for full text version, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews” - as attached.)

Austin Briggs, ‘The First International James Joyce Symposium: A Personal Account’, in Joyce Studies Annual (Summer 2002), pp.5-31: ‘Drove down with Stewart Parker from Belfast to a hot and muggy Dublin. [...] Odd couple we must appear - the poet Ulsterman and the sentimental American. Stewart piratical in long hair, blue wash trousers, and mod-Edwardian pea jacket; artificial left gives nautical roll to his gait; I the fool, carrying ivy from Coole Park that languishes in murky water of Galway City Dairy and Tea Cozy bottle. / Excited to be back in Dublin, Stewart expands on play he’s been commissioned to write for Swift Tercentenary. His Belfast accent becomes even flatter each time he asks for anoter double-x at Neary’s Select Bar, where we have settled down in earnest.’ (p.5.)

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Northern Star (1984), Henry Joy McCracken to Jemmy Hope: ‘[Ireland perceived by nationalists as] a field with two men fighting over it, Cain and Abel. The bitterest fight in the history of man on this earth. We were city boys. What did we know about two men fighting over a field?’ (Quoted in Roy Foster, ‘Varieties of Irishness’, Paddy and Mr. Punch, 1993, p.37.)

“The playwright is not concerned to imitate a realistic action, but rather gradually to reveal an organic vision.” (Quoted in Roy Foster, review of Stewart Parker: A Life, by Marilyn Richtarik, in The Irish Times, 13 Oct. 2012, Weekend, p.10 - with the remark that the observation was written before Parker wrote any plays himself.)

Spokesong (1975), JULIAN: ‘Look at yourself. Hunkered down in this [...] blocked-up latrine of your own memories. That’s what memories are, big brother, that’s what the past is, history, the accumulated turds of human endeavour. I don’t like it, I’m a cleanly fellow. It has to come down, the whole edifice, brick by brick. Wiped. Flushed.’ FRANK: ‘Have you not learned anything at all? You are your own past, kid. You’re the sum total of its parts. Hate it and you hate yourself. No matter how calamitous it may have been, either you master it or die.’ (pp.60-61.)

Spokesong (remarks of Stewart Parker): Spokesong tries to isolate what is at the heart of the turbulence in Ireland at the moment. But I decided against writing a play about Protestants an Catholics. [...] That would only be dealing with the surface, anyway. I wanted to go underneath all that and look at the core.’ (Quoted by Robert Berkvist, ‘A Freewheeling Play About Irish History’, in The New York Times, 11 March 1979, p.4; cited in Maria Kurdi, ‘The Ways of Twoness: Pairs, Parallels and Contrasts in Stewart Parker’s Spokesong’, Donald Morse, et al., eds., A Small Nation’s Contribution to the World, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1993, p.61.) Note further: ‘ends on an ambiguous note, but not a pessimistic one’ (Berkvist, op. cit., p.8; cited in Kurdi, op. cit., p.64.)

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John Malone Memorial Lecture’ (QUB: John Malone Memorial Committee, 1986): ‘If ever a time and place cried out for the solace and rigour and passionate rejoinder of great drama, it is here and now. There is a whole culture to be achieved. The politicians, visionless almost to a man, are withdrawing into their sectarian stockades. It falls to the artists to construct a working model of wholeness by means of which the society can begin to hold up its head in the world.’ (Q.p.; quoted in Anthony Roche, Contemporary Irish Drama, 1995, p.220.)

John Malone Memorial Lecture’ (1986): “[P]lay is how we test the world and register its realities. Play is how we experiment, imagine, invent and move forward” (Ibid., p.6; quoted in Domingos Nunez, ‘A Brief History Of Cia Ludens and its Productions of Irish Plays in Brazil’, in Ilha do Desterro Florianópolis, Jan./June 2010, pp.479-505; p.480; available as pdf - online). Note: Nunez writes that his study of Parker led him to take Johan Huizinga’s concept of play as the directing theme of his theatrical enterprise embodied in the company CIA Ludens.

Plays & Ghosts: ‘Plays and ghosts have a lot in common. the energy which flows form some intense moment of conflict in a particular time and place seems to active both of them.’ (Introduction to Pentecost; cited in Roche, 1995, p.220.)

Missing Ulster: ‘The painful missing factor in the whole Ulster equation is a sane and compassionate leader of the Protestant working class.’ (‘Introduction’ to Over the Bridge, in Gill & Macmillan [rep. edn.; see Honest Ulsterman, Autumn 1994, pp.20-24. See further under Sam Thompson, infra.

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Marilyn Richtarik, (English Dept., Univ. of British Columbia, Vancouver), writes a letter seeking information about Parker in Fortnight (April 1995) [bio-dates as above]. Her biography of the playwright appeared from Oxford University Press in 2012.

Commemoration 2008: a commemorative conference was held in QUB (Belfast) on 31 Oct.-1 Nov. 2008 when speakers included Marilynn Richtarik, Thomas Kilroy, Terence Brown, Glenn Patterson, Shaun Richards, Gerald Dawe, Eamonn Hughes, Helen Lojek, Michael McKinnie, Tom Maguire, Paul Murphy, Des O’Rawe, Mark Phelan, Ondřej Pilný and Clare Wallace.

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