Throughout the twentieth century the Literary Revival provided a template for subsequent writers and theatre practitioners for decolonizing Ireland on the stage. The political idealism of the prerevolutionary plays of the Revival's founders could be judged only by the realities of postrevolutionary guerrilla and civil warfare. And almost as a continual act of unconscious amnesia, Abbey Theatre audiences, fed on a diet of 'jog-trot nationalism' and 'comfortable images of their own Irishness', decried all attempts to break away from naturalism as the dominant theatrical form. So entwined has political nationalism been with theatrical practice that Irish theatre has struggled to find deviant voices, or to find a form beyond heightened political and poetic rhetoric. Contemporary writers complain of the expectation laid on them to uphold the tradition of writing the nation. But while writers in Northern Ireland have not been afraid to reflect the everyday realities of armed struggle, in the Republic of Ireland writing on contemporary political realities has rarely been a major part of the theatrical landscape. The Abbey, by far the single greatest producer of new Irish plays, has always felt its ‘national’ tag as a filter for the issues of those produced. This part of its national project has been to expand the ‘canon’ in the mould of its founders, as well as to revive the early canon in a spirit of deference and national triumph.
Revivals are safe programming choices in times of economic hardship and thus O’Casey’s early Dublin plays came to be the mainstay of Irish theatre throughout the twentieth century while the poetic-allegoric work of Yeats and Lady Gregory fell out of favour and the repertory.
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