Speaking at the official opening of the new Druid Theatre last Friday evening, the award winning writer Colm Tóibín firmly placed this Galway theatre at the centre of “ the very life of the country itself, in its shifting sense of itself, in its very reality”...
‘At the beginning of his book on the painter Jack B. Yeats, published in 1945, Thomas McGreevy wrote: ‘If I were asked by an outsider what Jack Yeats paints that makes his work as important as I think it is, I should probably begin by answering obscurely, “He paints the Ireland that matters.”’ That might be a good way also of describing why or how Druid has been important, and why this space is one of the richest and most vibrant spaces in Ireland. It is because the Ireland that matters has been enacted here, and dramatised here, and because the effort to get things right and to make things matter because of a mixture of intelligence, dedication, talent, inspiration and hard work, soared so many times towards what seemed effortless here. What was done here was both weightless and filled with weight. It came to matter. The work of Druid paid all due attention to gravity, to precise cadences of voice and costume, to details of movement and gesture that were filled with the life of the world outside, but were also filled with vision, with the possibility of utter transformation, with the pure excitement that life seldom offers us.
The imagination of Ireland
The work done here, which was led by Garry Hynes, and included others as the beginning such as Mick Lally, Marie Mullen and Sean McGinly and was guided by the calm vision and wisdom of Jerome Hynes, has meant that in a time when certainties crumbled in Ireland, a serious interrogation using dramatic forms took place of the ruins that remained, or the foundations that held, or the gap between what was once certain and was now turned to dust. Many of us here will remember seeing this work for the first time, the shock, say, of its fearless physicality, the sheer glittering intelligence of the interpretation, the shock of recognition, the hilarity, the timing, the absolute sense of seriousness that the Ireland which mattered could matter most in a single second in the theatre when something, some impossible mystery or set of oppositions were suddenly resolved, or some set of lazy and accepted harmonies usurped.
When we think about the failures within the public realm in Ireland over the past 35 years, the lack of imagination, the disappointments, the lack of ability and foresight, or even charity or solidarity, we have to remember that the public realm came in many guises and that the high achievement of Druid was to make the theatre in Ireland into a fundamental territory within the public realm. It was to make sure that the Ireland that mattered, the imagination of Ireland, its ambiguous soul, the Ireland that playwrights and actors dreamed of was represented in the public realm as an aspect of the public realm. So that what happened here offered not only an interpretation of life, or a representation of life, but life itself, life as its most shimmering, glittering and true. This is where we stared in the face at life, and where something stared back at us too, some deep sense of mystery and possibility, something dark and strange at times, and uplifting because of its unflinching intensity and fearlessness and readiness to be transformed.
Most successful and important...
I think the connection between McGreevy’s remark about Jack Yeats and Druid over 35 years is useful not just for his definition but for something else as well. Jack Yeats as a painter was in possession of considerable technical skills, he underwent many transformations, there was something restless, questing about his imaginative systems, he loved the west of Ireland and then set about making its wind-swept skies and its scenes where people stood alone or where crowds gathered not into sketches or pictures that were simple or easy on the eye but statements of great painterly complexity, paintings which transformed the scene through mystery into images of unforgettable clarity; he cast new light on the world, his work took its bearing from the local and then managed that idea with bravery and subtlety until the difference between the local and the universal was quite irrelevant. All of this could be said as about Druid’s achievement as, indeed, it could also be said about the work of Tom Murphy, in its restlessness, its complexity, its use of the local and its transformative power. Many of us will remember the work that Druid and Murphy did when they combined, and how the theatre served the written word and the image in plays such as ‘Conversations on a Homecoming’ and ‘Balilegangaire’, which were, when we consider the public realm in Ireland over recent years, among the most successful and important things that happened not just in the theatre or in the imaginative systems of the country, but in the very life of the country itself, in its shifting sense of itself, in its very reality.
Therefore, it is an honour and a pleasure to be here tonight for the re-opening of this theatre’.