It was always intended that there would be a “sister” database to the Irish Theatre Institute’s Irish Playography, which catalogues new Irish plays in English from 1904 to 2006. Playography na Gaeilge, cataloguing new plays (and adaptations and translations) in Irish from 1901 to the present, went live for the first time earlier this year with Phase One: plays from 1975 to 2009. The Irish Theatre Institute (ITI) also published an accompanying 'Findings Report', compiled by Jen Coppinger and Claire O’Neill, which analyses the content of the catalogue in detail, breaking it down by venue, theatre company, geographical spread (pictured), gender, etc. The rest of the last century’s plays will be published online by the end of 2011, as well as the combined findings (English and Irish) of the Playography.
The Irish Theatre Institute (ITI) started work on Playography na Gaeilge three years ago, with the financial support of the Arts Council and Foras na Gaeilge. Although the intent was to make the two databases as alike as possible, so that the ways in which they “talked” to each other could be seen as clearly as possible – in the words of ITI’s co-director, Siobhán Bourke, the slight shifting of the parameters shows that the worlds of English and Irish-language theatre are only partially comparable. For example, it was important to include pantomimes in Playography na Gaeilge, because pantos, particularly the once-annual panto trí Gaeilge at the Abbey Theatre, have such importance in the history, but (perhaps through misplaced high-mindededness?) they are not included in the English language Playography.
And while scripts for puppetry-based productions are excluded from both databases, the impact of the loss of the puppets to Playography na Gaeilge is far more serious. Puppets make up a strong part of the repertoire, perhaps because broader strokes are needed when language is not always clear and a community of understanding not assumed; perhaps because it’s just another language with another tradition.
Theatre is an urban tradition, after all, and there has never been a city of theatre-going Irish speakers. There are only small rural communities in which mutual understanding through Irish is assured, and, in any case, the performance tradition in the language is mostly concentrated on the individual performer, known to the audience. There is a different relationship with professionalism in Irish – as well as far fewer professionals – and this is why amateur, professionally-led productions are included in Playography na Gaeilge and not in the English database. It may be that seeing the differences when the two repertoires are placed side by side will be as useful as seeing the similarities.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Irish Playography’s mapping of our theatre history, which has no international equivalent. Researcher and editor Anna Bale began with Pádraig Ó Siadhail’s Stair Dhrámaíocht na Gaeilge (A History of Drama in Irish), and moved on to search the Irish Theatre Archive in Dublin and An Taibhdhearc’s archive in NUI Galway, and other diverse sources, to commit to the computer at least the bare facts of the performances. The website is also intended to be a source through which scripts can be bought.
There are buckets of material here to be explored. An Taibhdhearc is by far the main producer in the period under review, with 115 new plays, and their playwright Máire Stafford having most credits for shows including many which need no translation, such as Annie, Mikado and Ó Susanna. Aodh Ó Domhnaill’s plays for Aisteoirí Bulfin are also much referenced, such as Republica, An Campa (The Camp) and Bertie Bush agus an Diabhail (Bertie Bush and the Devil).
Eoghan Ó Tuairisc, also a noted poet and novelist, wrote extensively for the Abbey, but also has credits at An Taibhdhearc and in the dying days of Dublin’s Damer theatre, which closed in 1981. While in recent years, Connemara’s novelist, short-story and radio-script writer, Joe Steve Ó Neachtain has been producing hugely popular contemporary dramas for An Taibhdhearc. Belfast-based company, Aisling Ghéar (pictured), is the second most prolific producer in the period, with a total of twenty-six plays in Irish.
And then there are the curiousities, such as the late Mick Lally’s translation of Tom Murphy’s Famine for An Taibhdhearc (Gorta) and Siobhán Mc Kenna’s adaptation of Brian Merriman’s Cúirt an Meán Oíche for the Abbey. Go find!
Victoria White is a writer and journalist based in Dublin. See her accompanying article on the past twenty years of Irish language theatre.