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Extra info for Brian Friel: Theatre and Politics
Over its duration the play works to establish a very precise correlation between that all-too-visible oscillation between physical 26 Brian Friel well-being and infirmity, and Columba’s troubled relationship with his native land. Columba has lived long enough to have become a myth, a name, and it is his reputation that has brought most of the young novices to Iona. The play explores the conflict between the public and the private man, and as will so often prove the case in Friel there is a strong element of demythologizing.
In the Guthrie Theatre archive at the University of Minnesota is a newspaper article from May 1963 by Herbert Whitaker entitled ‘Tyrone Guthrie at Work’ whose author sat in on those very same Hamlett rehearsals Friel attended. Not that the auditorium was filled with eavesdroppers. Whitaker had badgered Guthrie for a full ten years on the subject before being given permission to sit in and record what he saw. The only other viewers Whitaker notes are Lady Guthrie and the lead actress from the Chekhov.
Regarding the theatre that premiered The Francophile in 1960, he offered carefully limited praise to the ‘old warhorses’ of the Group because they ‘kept the tradition going’. 38 Friel’s second stage play, The Enemy Within, seeks to escape containment by getting out of Ireland altogether. It is one of the very few of his plays to do so, taking its literal location as the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. There, Columba is the abbot of a community of some two hundred monks. With Ireland at the time of the play’s composition in the early 1960s considering membership of what was then called the European Economic Community, the diverse membership claimed for the ethnic makeup of the monks – ‘there are scores of young men from all over the world: French and German and Italian and Spanish and, of course, Irish’39 – deliberately places Ireland in a European context.