The Irish Times and Two Female Theatre-Makers

Last Saturday the Irish Times had two very interesting features about female theatre-makers.

The first was written by Olwen Fouere, about her new show Riverrun (which starts tonight in Galway).  Fouere gives an interesting account of how her response to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake took shape, describing how it had its genesis when she was asked to read from the text in Sydney. Aside from being a useful description of the process of adapting (or not adapting) Joyce, her piece is also very well written. Take this, for example:

How now to create a performance that can remain fluid, the form non-fixed, everything the theatre fundamentally aims for, but this time the question is a lot more complicated. It’s also wildly exhilarating. The river of words fills you with negative ions.

As an example of how the creative process can often involve a series of questions, the line is both informative and eloquent. The full article is here and is well worth reading. It makes me look forward to seeing the show itself next week, and appears in the print edition’s Weekend Culture pages.

Meanwhile over in the Magazine, Lara Marlowe has interviewed Yasmina Reza – and it’s notable that whereas the Fouere article appears under ‘Culture’ on the Irish Times website, the Reza profile is under “Life and Style”, perhaps in part because this weekend’s magazine was a special issue about France and all things French. Again, we have an interesting discussion of what motivates Reza as a writer. As Marlowe recounts:

Reza says she wanted to explore human relationships “not as a subject of happiness but as a subject of disaster. That is what I have always done, in all my plays. For me, the couple has always been the very subject matter of disaster . . . Love exists. Happiness exits. Love and happiness have been associated in culture since the dawn of time, but it’s an aberration. Adam and Eve were not happy.”

That’s one of the better explanations of the seriousness of comedy that I’ve read recently. And it encapsulates well Reza’s distinctiveness as a writer: she understands love and happiness but also understands disaster – and finds a way to make those different elements cohere in a way that manages to avoid cynicism or sentimentality.

There are some lines in the feature that made me pause – notably this one (which was first pointed out to me by my wife): “Reza is a literary powerhouse, but there is something sex kittenish about her clothes and high-heeled shoes.” I found myself wondering if any Irish dramatist would ever be described as “sex kittenish”, and found the “but” in the middle of the sentence quite telling (literary powerhouse BUT sex kittenish: can’t she be both?). And while some might be critical of parts of the article for being a bit gossipy about Reza’s relationships with Sarkozy and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, those issues do shape her public perception, at least in France, so they seemed relevant and important.

The full article is here, and again I’d highly recommend it. It’s interesting in its own right, and as ever with Marlowe it’s very well written.

The contrast between the two articles says a lot. Fouere is one of our great theatre artists, and it’s a relief that we still have an outlet in which a theatre practitioner can write about the creative process for a general audience. That hardly ever happens any more, and I’ve chaired enough post show talks in the last few years to know that audiences everywhere love to hear artists talk about their work. And it’s good too to read more about Reza, whose theatre has not often been seen in Ireland and who deserves to be better known. And it deserves also to be taken more seriously: Art and God of Carnage are sometimes spoken of in a slightly snobbish manner, as if they are inherently unworthy of serious discussion. Those plays are not always well produced, but they are well written and merit attention.

And it’s interesting to see the placement in the newspaper of the two pieces: Fouere, who adapts Joyce, is seen as ‘culture’ – but Reza, who writes comedies and has interesting things to say about James Gandolfini, is part of ‘life and style’.

I’m not complaining about this – I’m glad to see the Times profiling two women theatre-makers in this way. But isn’t it interesting that the woman who writes ‘comedies’ is considered part of ‘life’ but the woman adapting Joyce is seen as ‘culture’? Perhaps it says something about where theatre fits in our societies that life and culture are seen as distinctive, and not just in The Irish Times. And perhaps there’s evidence too of the old idea that a person who writes comedy can’t be as admirable as someone who writes something more challenging and less accessible. Reza and Fouere are very different from each other, of course, but can both be admired hugely for their achievements.

I don’t want to make too much of this: newspapers divide their content in various ways and this will sometimes give rise to overlaps and contrasts. But the pattern seemed worth remarking upon.

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