January 26, 1998: McGuinness, Mutabilitie


Why is the National Theatre producing such claptrap? McGuinness’s play, set in the sixteenth century, pits the colonizing English against the subversive and vengeful Irish, making much of the idea that mutability — inevitable, unpredictable change — is the very stuff of life, but then showing us at the end how accommodation and forgiveness of one’s enemies is what makes the world go round. This is a three-hour-long video, as it were, to be watched by all parties to the peace talks so that they can really understand the futility of incessant strife and violence. It is the veriest schlock. Parricide, betrayal, human sacrifice, and of course the requisite male nudity are served up for our proper delectation. The set is a wild Irish creek bed, downstream from a Norman keep, where the “poet” Edmund — for whom read Spenser — is the Queen’s Viceroy. We also see King Sweeney and Queen Maeve (two characters that, my companion tells me, have nothing remotely to do with one another) being leaders and then handing over their reign to the proud son Niall, who they require to kill them. (A strikingly ironic commentary on The Chairs.) He does so, and feels he loses his soul at the moment. Well, we certainly get that lesson, don’t we? Even Shakespeare shows up here, as “William,” one of three traveling players who come to Ireland for a lark; the other two are brutally murdered. What the point of it all may be, aside from the prospect of feeding the current English craving for genuine — but, here, curious — Irish theatre, I can’t imagine. This is very tawdry stuff altogether. Like the RSC Mysteries, it constituted an expensive (£17.00) and wasted evening in the theatre.


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An American Playgoer in London by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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