Digging around in the past for a glimpse of the future

Declan Hughes’s ‘Digging for Fire’ is more than 20 years old, but its current revival shows it was – and remains – ahead of its time for Irish drama

Back in 2000, Declan Hughes published one of the most important essays yet written about contemporary Irish drama. Adopting a trenchant tone from the start, by calling the article “who the hell do we think we still are?”, Hughes set out to argue that there was something terribly wrong with theatre in this country.

Why, he asked, do so many dramatists write plays that are set in nostalgic versions of rural Ireland? In a nation that was rapidly changing with the onset of the Celtic Tiger, our theatre-makers were still using an exhausted repertoire of images. “Even if we do it in an iconoclastic way, the iconography remains powerfully the same,” Hughes complained: “half-door, pint bottle, sacred heart”.

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