The London Irish stage


THE above story leads neatly to the strong Irish presence on the London stage in recent months, which caused the Guardian to run an article yesterday headlined: The Irish are Coming. The Abbey's production of Frank McGuinness's Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme at the Barbican has been praised, with the Independent calling it "the finest Irish anti war play since The Silver Tassie". Jimmy Murphy's Brothers of the Brush at the Arts Theatre has been named by the Guardian's Michael Billington, with another play, as the best new play running in London. Bryan James Ryder's A Soldier's Song at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, about life for an IRA man after the Ceasefire has been called a "promising debut", Martin McDonogh's The Beauty Queen of Leeane has just stopped wowing them at the Royal Court, while Marina Carr's The Mai makes its London debut there next month, and Conor McPherson's This Lime Tree Bower, My Prison opens at the Bush in July.

Lyn Gardner turns these positive indicators over, saying that one of the reasons for the bounty is the difficulty of getting produced in Ireland. She blames "the dominance of the Abbey". This is arrant nonsense. There can be few national theatres in the world which produce as much new work. The plays of Carr, Murphy and McGuinness, listed above, all premiered at the National Theatre. The fact that other houses are now doing so much of the best new work can only be a bonus.

The usual bumps and disappointments aside, new Irish writing is well aired here. The real question is this: when Michael Billington is hailing the rise of a new wave of English playwrights - and when cultural relations between the countries are such a burning issue - why do Irish theatres do almost no new British work?