(Fintan O’Toole’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 6/19.)
The most obvious thing about Garry Hynes’s extraordinary production of Shakespeare’s Henry plays is that it is not as previously advertised. When the project was announced it was called The Irish Shakespeare. Now it’s called DruidShakespeare. It is a mark of Hynes’s commitment to what emerges in the process of making a piece of work that the initial concept has all but disappeared. An intellectual idea – let’s explore these plays of English nationhood in the context of the wars in Ireland that shaped their creation – has been replaced by a theatrical one: let’s make these plays our own.
Ireland as an idea has fallen away to the extent that the famous first Irish character in a major drama, Macmorris in The Life of King Henry V, has been consigned to the wastebasket, taking his plangent question – “What ish my nation?” – with him. Instead of Ireland as an idea we get Ireland as a presence, as the bodies and voices of a great ensemble of Irish actors. The point is no longer to interrogate Shakespeare. It is to embody and inhabit, indeed to possess, him.