IRELAND'S GREAT THEATRE TRADITION IS HERE REPRESENTED
The Irish Theatre. Edited by Lennox Robinson. (Macmillan, 7s. Ocl.) Last Poems and Plays. By W. B. Yeats. (Macmillan, 6s.) The Star Turns Red. By Sean O'Casey. (Macmillan, 'Ts. 6d.) Three Plays. By Teresa Deevy. (Macmillan, 7s. 6c1.)
Reviewed by GERARD TYRRELL
AN Englishman of no literary pretensions presented with these four volumes might think himself in a very strange country indeed. Ireland is a famous enigma to the Briton and, sadly enough, to none so much as to him who tries hardest to 'understand.
Literary Ireland is a stranger country still, and if only as a casual guide to this reputedly twilit land Mr Lennox Robinson has done well
to collect the lectures delivered at the Abbey Theatre Festival in 1938.
Especially worth reading are Andrew Malone on the theatre's history (although it seems to me that he strangely underestimates the stature of Mr T. C. Murray); Mr E. R. Higgins on Yeats and the Poetic Drama; Mr T. C. Murray on George Shells and Brinsley Macnamara.; and a commentary by Mr Michael Macliammoir on Problem Plays, which entertainingly reflects the brilliance of his conversation.
To understand that unworldly trio of diverse personalities, Lady Gregory. Yeats and Synge (with the shadow of a romantical-practical Elizabeth Horniman well in the background) is to understand the Irish Literary Revival, to which they belonged—which, indeed, they were. Here Malone, ineluctably of the same tradition, is a sure guide.
" They created, these three," says Mr Murray, "a peasant world of their own and one surrendered to it as to the mood of a fairy-tale. . . I could never recognise the characters that moved on the stage as counterparts of the countryfolk of South Muester to which I betoneed." Perhaps it was in realising the gulf that separated her from the people of the West that Lady Gregory once said to Yeats that she had thought of " turning Catholic ' to come closer to the folk she loved so sincerely.
CYNGE was not only Protestant by
upbringing; he was an Englishman. The eye and ear that observed and listened to the peasant on Aran were those of Broadbent's romantic brother.
As for Yeats, he was at ease and at home in no world but the worlds he conjured about himself; he borrowed a stone here and there from everywhere to build up his tower of dreams.
He began his life in something of a dream, for he was of that enchanted country of the spirit, Anglo-Treland. A land to rear a tower to dream in; but the new Ireland—a land, it seemed to Yeats, of civil servants and shopkeepers, triumphant mediocrities who knew neither the splendour of high living nor the chastity of poverty—this 'realisation of his youthful aspirations for the land of " the noble and the beggar-man" oppressed his later years:
" You think it horrible that lust and rage Should dance attendance on my old age They were not ,such a plague to me when r was young;
What else have I to spur me into song?"
What else? Well, there was always memory: " You that would judge me do not judge alone This book or that, come to this hallowed place
Where my friends' portraits hang and look thereon; Ireland's history in their lineaments trace,
Think where iitan's glory most begins and ends, And say my glory was, I had such friends."
THESE were Yeats' last themes: old age and transience; something still of hatred for English rule, like a Galway feud that persists after everything has gone in litigation to the solicitors; a new pre-occupation with the physical side of love; a grateful remembrance of the past and of friends gone before. He had been a great poet indeed, —conscientiously so—and Mr McCarthy is right to say that his chief glory is that to him the nature of the poetic mind was itself an inspiration. It was also his chief weakness. "Man must choose," he had written, " perfection of the life or of the work." The dilemma was not unreal; as age and sickness troubled him, it expressed Itself: The Soul. Seek out reality, leave things that seem.
The Heart. What, be a Anger bora, and lack a theme? wrote for the epitaph to be carved near his tomb: "Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by!" He had no more to say.
TO turn to Mr Sean O'Casey from the world of the Irish Literary Revival is like coming suddenly out of Merrion Square Into Moore Street. For Mr O'Casey is the obverse of the magical token; he is dirt, oppression, poverty, grief, and hunger made bitterly vocal. Dark years have hardened a man who was once an artist into a propagandist after Lenin's own heart.
For all Mr O'Casey's eloquent and sometimes poetic dialogue in The Star Tlirlis Red, these characters are the trite symbols of the Muscovite cartoon torrentially articulate by his mouth.
The ground plan of this attack is familiar. The Church is, of course, the villainous tyrant of the poor; while Christ is conscripted into the ranks of the Communists : Bethlehem's star turns fivepointed and red.
Having seen this stuff so often before a repetition excites little indignation. Perhaps it is a pity that Mr O'Casey had not sufficiently the courage of his convictione to portray in the end of his play that systematic extinction of life and destruction of property which so far have not failed to succeed a successful Communist rising. It is a little late in the day to represent Communism coyly handin-hand with humanism. Needless to say, no positive programme for the regeneration of mankind emerges from Mr O'Casey's spate of all-in vituperation.
The first effect of a play conceived and written as revolutionary propaganda is to produce an equal and opposite reaction In the anti-revolutionary, that sinister character usually to be found in the morality labelled " reactionary " or "Fascist." It may be this which has prevented me from pointing to the very high artistic virtues of Mr O'Casey's work, and from admiring in particular his still tremendous vitality.
AST comes Miss Deevy. Last, etas, 1.• because it is the case with this reviewer that this very able playwright leaves him unexcited. Everything Miss Deevy does Is more than competent, higher than commonplace. Her dialogue, for one thing, is unusually actual. It is her interest in pure character— character for character's eake, so to speak, and feminine character at that— which leave one's reading unrooted in the mind, But what Miss Deevy writes is supremely actable, which is a virtue often far to seek in the plays of greater minds, I have seen both Katie Roche and The chtrrn of Spain's Daughter, and can vouch for this, which must remain Miss Deevy's glory for the time being: