suddenly everything has changed: Wayne Coyne was probably talking about my PhD [an update]

current mood: contemplative, thinking, are we still in 1994, let’s have Beth Gibbons pictures everywhere

Hello everyone. I know I don’t really update this corner of the internet much anymore. I’m currently in the third year of this PhD, so TWO MORE YEARS and YOU SHOULD BE WRITING and GET OFF TWITTER and YOU STILL AREN’T WRITING are the slogans marching around inside my head for the last month or so. I’m teaching, too — since earlier this year I’ve been given the opportunity to teach undergraduates solo, which is exciting and challenging. I get to work with some brilliant students. All good.

I’m at the stage of my thesis where I’m starting to believe that I’ve found my focus, so to say. My research has now become a study of Shakespeare performance in Ireland in relation to how it operates in and out of current Irish debates on gender and sexuality, as well as issues of national identity. This makes sense to me, this excites me, and this allows me to take ownership of this work. It’s funny, because in some ways, that focus has been there since the beginning: being adamant about taking an intersectional feminist approach to my work regardless, becoming invested in the #WakingTheFeminists and #repealthe8th campaigns, and unconsciously taking an interest in women and queer people’s approaches to Irish Shakespeare.  I had been thinking about the project so broadly beforehand, and spent ages struggling with how to siphon everything down. So, when I walked into a supervision in August saying ‘I get to write about #WakingTheFeminists in my thesis now!!!’ (after having seen the wonderful and distinctly Irish Globe The Taming of the Shrew), that was a clear indicator to my supervisor as to where the thesis ought to go. And, eventually, to me, too. [I’ll actually be talking about this production in relation to Irish feminism at this symposium in Maynooth at the end of the month, fyi.]

And what’s the most wonderful thing about this development is that my feminism, my queerness, and my research do not need to be separate from each other. They co-exist and they inform each other. And despite my own fears and hesitations, I know that can be possible. Just yesterday, I attended the second day of the 1916: Home: 2016 conference (co-organised by brilliant colleagues of mine at NUIG), in which a panellist stated that ‘I don’t see why I can’t be both an activist and a historian.’ And we, as younger scholars, need affirmations like that, as we try to carve out our own paths. At the same time, Academic Manel Watch is gathering steam on Twitter, as is the hashtag #WakingTheAcademics. Conversations are happening.

So there’s that. Our objectives now are to keep those conversations and actions going. In the meantime, myself and three brilliant colleagues/friends/sisters-in-arms are running our own podcast called Feminist Theatre Squadron: you can listen to us talk about theatre, feminism, and being cranky here. And sure, that sounds like a cynical shill. But given our own current political situation (Brexit and its aftermath, the rise of the alt-right, so much inaction close to home, #WakingTheFeminists offering some semblance of hope and change), I think it’s important that we talk, and keep talking, and refuse to stop. I’m sure it won’t be our only contribution to this conversation, but it’s a start nonetheless.


Unknown Pleasures: looking at Fregoli’s Pleasure Ground


[This show has been sitting at the back of my brain since the end of August, and a review has been gestating ever since. Apologies that it’s so overdue, but it may as well surface before the show heads to Dublin and Boyle…]

Fregoli Theatre Company have been a mainstay of Galway’s theatrical scene for a good number of years. One early memory that I have of experiencing Galway theatre was watching At A Loss at the Jerome Hynes One Act festival as a precocious eighteen-year-old first year student in college, and telling its director (and Fregoli’s artistic director) Maria Tivnan after the show that I really liked the piles of boxes that she used as a set. (Well, I was eighteen at the time, of course I’d focus on the boxes.) One striking thing about that show was its jumps in time, its jumps between characters with very little effort, and its very minimalist design — those boxes were dumped on stage by the cast at the outset, thus creating their own set. That show was performed soon afterwards under the official Fregoli banner for 2009’s Mosaic of Dreams, where it was positioned alongside other one-acts that expressed a similar style: an ensemble of actors shifting between characters, space, and time, and a spartan set that would facilitate and assist with this stretch of the imagination. Given that the company have been a ubiquitous presence on the stage over the last number of years, when they were announced as the Michael Diskin bursary award winner one couldn’t help but be surprised that they hadn’t been on the Town Hall Theatre main stage yet, or that they hadn’t performed a two-act play before. And the play that the company brought to the stage was Pleasure Ground, a new play by one of its ensemble members, Jarlath Tivnan. The play in performance espouses Fregoli’s usual performance style and ethos, but given the longer running time and larger performance space, the company are allowed to experiment with other forms, resulting in the company’s most ambitious, and most mature, production to date.

Our storytellers for the evening are four twentysomethings, either returning to or stuck in their own respective Ballygobackwards – the gentle, Riverdance-loving farmer Brendan (Peter Shine); the unfulfilled shop attendant Linsey (Kate Murray); the successful actress Aisling (Eilish McCarthy); and the corrosive businessman Evan (Jarlath Tivnan). All of them congregate for a funeral of a man none of them really knew, not even his ex-girlfriend Aisling or his former best friend Evan. Whereas the first half largely focuses on the four’s personal narratives and their own connections, tangential or otherwise, to the dead man David, and also largely relies on the familiar shifts between characters/space/time, the second half turns this on its head. The four characters find themselves at the local playground, the Pleasure Ground, for the second half of the play, and it’s here at this playground that the play takes a turn for the realism – the play never once leaves that particular time and space from then on, nor do the actors alternate between different characters at will. What’s most important here is how these four people connect, and in some cases reconnect, with each other in the moment. When you think about it, connections, whether they are lost or found, are what’s key to the play – Brendan dreams of asking the Aldi checkout girl on an date (‘Her name is Eva… she’s German I’m sorry, but I think she’s grand’); Aisling tortures herself over the emotionally unavailable David; Evan mourns the loss of David’s friendship, long before he committed suicide; and Linsey embarks on an affair with David’s dad, promising Aisling that she’ll be ‘ending it’ very soon, but we’re not sure if she actually will. But the most important connection, it seems, is the one that the four create among themselves, as they address their petty rivalries and hostilities over cheap Aldi biscuits and alcohol over one night. Linsey takes Brendan under her wing, and gives the lonely farmer the courage to ask Eva out. Aisling and Evan share their grief over losing David. There’s a sense that these characters might just begin to move forward — but, as the play closes, it’s ambiguous as to whether all of them will.

The play is uproariously funny, with some very strong performances – young Brendan’s discovery of Riverdance (‘LOOK AT THIS MAN DADDY, HE’S WEARING WATER’) and his love of Aldi are comic highlights, and Shine’s absolute sincerity as an actor is crucial for this to work. His desire for the simple pleasures in life contrasts with Murray’s Linsey, who holds McCarthy’s Aisling responsible for ‘stealing’ her dreams of becoming an actor – Murray flits between absolute frustration and complete naivety, and her comic timing is just as evident as her ability to draw pathos. It could be said that Tivnan plays the least sympathetic character, but it soon becomes evident that Evan’s viciousness in dealing with other people is a self-defence mechanism – his pain at losing David to Trevor, ‘the Other Best Friend’ is something that has pained him for years, and his guilt at not returning David’s call in the lead-up to his death continues to plague him. McCarthy portrays Aisling as a woman whose own pain is kept under wraps, and which slowly begins to unravel, thus challenging Linsey’s resentment of her.

Pleasure Ground is essentially a snapshot of the Irish millennial generation, and Tivnan captures this not just through highlighting these characters’ own nostalgia for the past (he throws several cultural touchstones at us, not just Riverdance but the killing of Billy Meehan in Fair City forms the cornerstone for a rather excellent gag), but also through exploring their own complicated relationships with family, friends, lovers, each other, and with a stifling landscape that they all call ‘home’. It’s rare to see a show like this on a regional stage outside of Dublin.

Pleasure Ground is a funny, heart-breaking, honest play that deserves to be seen. It’s touring to Dublin and Boyle in December, and it really is worth your while seeing this show. Get your tickets for this one, trust me.

Irish Women Making Shakespeare #WakingTheFeminists

Aisling O'Sullivan as Henry V in DruidShakespeare (dir. Garry Hynes).
Aisling O’Sullivan as Henry V in DruidShakespeare (dir. Garry Hynes). Photo by Matthew Thompson.

Okay, so this is a quick post (out of so many scheduled blog posts — long gestating theatre reviews and other thought pieces come to mind). So the #WakingTheFeminists movement has jumped into hyperspeed, with a public meeting called for this Thursday at 1pm at the Abbey Theatre. I’m concerned that the Abbey are calling it a debate when they clearly know that they have to address gender inequality in the theatre, but that’s by the by. Anyway, I’ll be at the meeting, and if you’re in Ireland and concerned about this, I hope you will be there too.

Perhaps it is because I am so very predictable, but I began to wonder how many female theatre practitioners, or any practitioners who are not white cisgender men, have directed canonical works at theatres at the Abbey. More specifically, I started thinking about Shakespeare performance directed by women based in Ireland, and at the Abbey.

Hear me out here — sure, we don’t have a tradition of performing Shakespeare so entrenched as that of the UK’s. But the reason why I’m so interested in Irish Shakespeare in relation to #WakingTheFeminists is how, more than ever, Shakespeare performance and its criticism must be feminist, and it must be intersectional. Feminism and Shakespeare/early modern performance aren’t necessarily exclusive terms — I think of Harriet Walter and the Women’s Group at the RSC in the 1980s (ask any feminist Shakespearean about Clamorous Voices and you will receive an enthusiastic response), I think of Maria Aberg’s productions for the RSC over the last few years, I think of Walter’s collaborations with Phyllida Lloyd and Clean Break at the Donmar. And in terms of research, I think of the work of Sarah Werner, Susan Bennett, Kim Solga, Pascale Aebischer, Nora Williams, Miranda Fay Thomas, and Sophie Duncan. There are more of us than you think.

To illustrate what I’m trying to say, I’m copying in Solga’s definition of early modern performance studies (which is what I, and many others, refer to our field as). It’s a definition that speaks to feminist activism, that speaks to the present day:

Early modern performance studies examines the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries by exploring in rich detail the cultural contexts in which that work was made, and also thinks about contemporary productions of early modern play texts within the cultural contexts of the producers (that is, you and me). Our culture has a seemingly tireless fascination with four-hundred year old plays; my work asks why that is, and digs deeply into the kinds of contemporary messages (for example, about men and women, about violence, about space and place) we use those plays to communicate to one another now.

I guess what’s most relevant about that quote is the latter part: how early modern performance speaks to the here and now, and what messages we send out through the production of these plays. And it is my belief that you cannot stage Shakespeare, or any early modern play, without critically engaging with its misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and the dominance of its male characters. This is not a world where The Merchant of Venice can be performed as a Good v Evil romp, or where you can play Othello or Aaron in blackface, or where you can brush over the attempted rape in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, or where you can take Kate’s last speech in The Taming of the Shrew for granted. A feminist approach towards performing Shakespeare is absolutely crucial and necessary for the theatre. Not every Shakespeare performance gets it right, or thinks about it that much, however — but it’s been done before, and it can continue now.

So, what about Ireland? Druid and Rough Magic are the first to come to mind. I could write all day about DruidShakespeare being one of the most radical and wonderfully feminist Shakespearean productions I’ve seen in a long time, but I won’t because that’s for the thesis. Lynne Parker’s directed Macbeth for the Lyric (and as for the Lyric, let’s not forget Mary O’Malley), as well as directing The Taming of the Shrew as set in rural Ireland for Rough Magic. Selina Cartmell’s work for Siren includes her landmark Titus Andronicus and Ben Power’s A Tender Thing, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. We’ve also got some fantastic actresses who have played Shakespearean roles too: Natalie Radmall-Quirke, Aisling O’Sullivan, Derbhle Crotty, to name a few. That’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. (There’s a lot to be said about the cultural politics of staging Shakespeare in this country, and how this ties in here, but that would take even longer and… look, wait until I finish my thesis, okay?)

As for the Abbey, I decided to have a look at the statistics. In its history, there have been twenty-four Shakespearean productions, including Joe Dowling’s upcoming Othello. Some of the artistic directors have had a bash: Dowling and Patrick Mason, for example, as well as other directors such as Jimmy Fay, Jason Byrne, and Wayne Jordan. But out of those numbers, only one woman has directed Shakespeare for the Abbey over 110 years of the theatre’s history: that’s Cartmell, who directed King Lear in 2013.

I’m not saying that men can’t direct feminist Shakespeare (in fact, Jordan must be applauded for his productions of Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet — the latter performed at the Gate — and their sensitivity towards patriarchial and heteronormative power structures). But only one female director, in so long a history? That’s embarrassing, really.

That needs to change. Feminism can reinvigorate Shakespearean performance, that’s clear. And there needs to be more room for women, for other genders, to explore how this can be possible. And on Thursday, the Abbey has the chance to make that space, because Irish Shakespeare performance, and Shakespeare performance in general, is not the provision of white cisgender men.

…How did we get here?

Greetings, everyone. I have not written here in a long time (a lot has happened — we have marriage equality and gender recognition, for one), so I’ll do one of those update posts á la Sophie Duncan’s at Clamorous Voice (you all should read that blog, as it is indeed Very Good).


1. I am about ten months into my PhD. I did a bunch of writing this year, passed my GRC meeting in May (that’s Graduate Research Committee, fact fans, kinda like a progress panel), and thus launched into four to five weeks of SO. MUCH. TRAVELLING.

2. The first was a trip to BritGrad at the Shakespeare Institute, which is generally brilliant every year — I always come away from it having spent quality time with old friends and having got to know excellent new friends. It’s essentially a holiday at this stage. Second trip was the STR New Researchers’ Network symposium (I’m a committee member, fnarr) at the Shard, which I came away from loving all of the delegates and all of my fellow committee members, and also feeling very hopeful for the future of theatre and performance studies. Every panel I went to was great, and taught me something new. Third was, following a weekend at Dublin Pride with friends, a trip far down south to Skibbereen in west Cork. I stayed in a very swish B&B, or what my housemate called ‘a sex B&B’. (FYI, I did not have anyone to have sex with in that B&B.) The reason I was down there was that Druid’s latest production, DruidShakespeare, was performing there for a night, and the thesis dictated that I would basically follow that production as much as I could over the summer. Other than the show being Very Good (I’ve seen it several times now), I came away from it thinking that all theatre shows could do with serving free tea at intervals. And then I went to New York to speak at a symposium about the show and then got to see it in the city there too. Which is all pretty good. (All I need to do now is get tickets to see it in Kilkenny — performing at Richard II’s digs! — and then the odyssey will be over for now.)

3. I arrived back from New York on Monday, attended the launch of the Yeats & the West exhibition (you should check it out, it’s so pretty), saw Luck Just Kissed You Hello with my friend Chris that night, and went to see St. Vincent on Tuesday night. The only downside is that now, my body is beginning to revolt, and as a result I am experiencing All Of The Jet Lag. The worst part is the sudden feeling of constantly being off-balance, so now I am in my bed, trying not to lift my head too high, and attempting to strategically drink cups of tea without lifting my head too much. We’ll see how things go. I would like to be able to stand in the shower and not feel nauseous.

4. My department are organising this conference next week and you should go because it’ll be great and I’ll be volunteering at it and being overly chirpy at the registration desk. Oh, and it’s GIAF. Hurrah.

5. I really don’t want to get on another plane for another long while but then I remembered I’ve to go to London at the end of next month. Damn.

6. My tea is now cold. Shit.

Have I No Mouth: on talking, speaking, spluttering, anxieties, and those uncomfortable silences

Yesterday was not one of the good days. Not to go into detail, but it was one of those days where everything seems to be constantly falling away at the seams: things fall apart, or they feel too massive for your very small self, or even the smallest gesture can send you into a panic or slip you into a spiral. Horrible, really.

And if I tried to communicate this verbally, how would it come across? I would say not very well.

Being autistic means that anxiety is my constant bedfellow. Most especially, anxiety is there every single time I open my mouth to speak, and when that mouth opens I quickly lose faith in everything that tumbles out of it. My sentences stop and start. I mumble and I run through words like they were water. I start waving my hands around because any words I have left will be terribly forced, uninteresting ones. The whole process is as if English is actually my second language, second only to flailing and spluttering and excruciating long pauses, searching for lost words. I’m very good at making eye contact with someone who is talking TO me, but if I’m the one who’s talking my eyes dart towards the left or right of the person I’m talking to and now I’ve become super self-conscious about it and I’ve started thinking that that might be too rude and that they must think I’m looking for better people to talk to than them and that’s not true because all it really is that I’m so unsure of what I’m saying and I sound terribly stupid when I say it and they probably are getting very bored of me right now and I’ve probably offended them in some way and they don’t REALLY want to talk to me anyway.

And this is coming from someone who says that she wants to embark on an academic career? Hahahahahaha.

I’ve talked about how I’m more self-conscious about my articulation and self-expression than I am about my weight, my hair, my face, or whatever part of me. People have pointed out that I am much more articulate and eloquent online than I am in person, and it actually cuts to the bone. I love writing and I loved acting because there were words on the page and I could prepare them or rehearse them. And they were THERE, they were RIGHT THERE, and only I could control or shape them. But the fact that I can never match up to the person I am in writing hurts. There’s only so much that scripting can do: meeting new people almost feels like being confronted with some new blank slates. What is it that you do with them? How do you approach them? What the hell do you say to them? What can you do when your internal script just fails you, or actually just sounds so ridiculous that you don’t use it anyway?

And then, there are the days where verbal expression just absolutely fails me. Even when I’m with people I trust and love. There are days where I’ll lose the run of myself, and feel so anxious or so pressurised that I cannot actually get the words out at all. And it’s the most embarrassing thing in the world when it happens in front of your peers, your colleagues, and people you respect: they have to watch while I try to put sentences and words together, very very slowly and painfully. I fear that to them it looks like I haven’t thought things through or that I haven’t even tried. But I have: it’s just the sense of what I want to say never translates into the right-sounding words in my head, and my brain takes slower than most to formulate a response or argument. And then I beat myself up because I start to wonder: why can’t I be as quick-witted or as sharp to respond as everyone else? Why does it take several minutes when it could take a minute for someone else? Why can’t I just be normal like everyone else is?

I guess it feeds into my own feelings about myself as an autistic woman: feeling so out of place, feeling that I don’t match up, feeling that I have much more work to do in order to fit in or to make people like me. Allistic people, I wish you knew how lucky you actually have it. I wish you knew how lucky you are, because you can actually remember to do the simple things in life like laundry and shopping, because loud noises in nightclubs or elsewhere may be bothersome but not TOO bothersome, because you’re never constantly fearing that people will hate you over a single turn of phrase, because people will never think you’re stupid or lazy or making excuses for yourself when you find yourself unable to explain why it is that you are feeling so anxious right now or why you can’t get out of bed today or something as simple as, I don’t know, early modern theatre practice.

It’s hard. But this is normal for me. It always has been. And I really don’t think it’s going to change any time soon.

So, You Want To Do A PhD [And Get Money While You’re At It]

I have a strange kind of nostalgia for this time last year. I remember how I had arrived back in Galway for a few days to meet with a potential supervisor to discuss PhD ideas and funding, whilst also keeping my visit very low-key because I was a little bit worried about everything falling through (I’m cautious to the point of Let’s Not Do It At All, sometimes). Otherwise, I was spending my last few months in Stratford reading, researching, writing, thinking, putting together That Proposal. It’s amazing how much has changed in the last twelve months. When I think about it, those few months were fun, exciting, and full of possibility: now that I’ve started my PhD with full funding, I consider myself very lucky to be able to do what I want to do, to be able to do what I love with financial backing. It’s difficult at times, but there is nothing else I would prefer to do right now — which can only be a good thing.

Now, it’s that time of year where research councils such as the AHRC and IRC are rolling out their call for applications, and where people are putting together their proposals, and are sending tentative ideas to academics they’d like to be supervised by. I’m not saying I’m an expert on all that there is to know about applying for a PhD and getting funding (every situation is different), but this is all I can offer.

1. Initially, the process of choosing a supervisor should go like this: Topic, Supervisor, Institution. Which is a contradiction, but this was advice given to me by a PhD student at the Institute and he was damn right. I remember my MA supervisor telling me that I should do the project I’m doing *in* Ireland — because that’s where all the resources and archives and performances are. In that case, choosing my supervisor, and to that extent my institution as well, was a no-brainer (again, have you SEEN our archives?). As much as we all want to work with Tiffany Stern because she’s Tiffany Stern and pretty bloody amazing at what she does, do your research interests align with hers? No? Then don’t approach Tiffany Stern.

2. Make enquiries to intended supervisors. Who is the most enthusiastic about your work? Who makes time to answer your email in a detailed and timely fashion? Who shows interest? What is their attitude towards you? They could be a Big Shot in your field, but if they’re dismissive towards you… do you really want to work with them? This may not be feasible or maybe too expensive, but also try and meet with them in person. That will also give you some indication of how you might get on with them, and how excited they are about your project. I don’t have any advice on contacting supervisors you might not know (I was lucky in that I knew mine from my undergraduate days), but when initially emailing them, don’t send them A Huge Chunk Of Text. Especially if you’re prone to rambling about the stuff you love, like me. I remember redrafting my initial draft of the ‘so hey I’m interested in working with you’ email to my supervisor twice: partially out of fear, partially because it was too damn long. Save the rambling for when you meet them (but please don’t scare them off either).

3. Get reading! Get writing! Don’t be afraid to show drafts of applications to your intended supervisors. Contrary to popular belief, they will not think you are wholly incapable of doing research because of a rough draft you send to them. Remember, they were at that stage you’re at right now too, and they genuinely want to help you succeed and GET MONEY.

4. Enjoy doing the funding applications. I’m serious. They help you clarify and think about your research in ways you can’t imagine. You also need to be super specific in them too, especially when it comes to money and justifying your project’s financial needs. Go onto British Airways or Ryanair or Aer Lingus and see how much it would cost to attend the main conferences in your field. Include details of conference fees, bursaries (if they are awarded, that is — you don’t know if you’ll get them, but it will show that you have actually thought this through), living expenses, and accommodation. This also goes for research trips, but you need to make sure you’re thinking about them sensibly (I wanted to go to the Guthrie Theatre initially, in my first year. Ha ha, good one).

5. Further on from writing and reading and editing, use your supervisors, but ask friends, former tutors, and people whose opinions you actually trust to read over your drafts too. Listen to them. Sometimes you will agree with them, sometimes you won’t, but it is very valuable to discuss your ideas with other people who may offer different perspectives on your work. (If your supervisor is anything like mine, they will encourage this.) For example, my undergraduate Shakespeare tutor [who, in my mind, is equally as brilliant as Tiffany Stern] doesn’t work on performance, but his suggestion to be conscientious of plays with an Irish presence in the text was something I needed to be aware of. My best friend reads everything I send to her, and she is the queen of detecting clunky expressions and has the innate ability to make sentences sound beautiful and clear. And where your supervisors are concerned, they can help in making very valuable changes: suggesting a line of enquiry to take, or a place to go on a research trip to, or particular authors to include in your critical context section.

6. If the scholarship you are applying for requires an interview, bring a thesis outline and a plan for the duration of your studies. Draw on it during the interview (maybe bring another copy for yourself to keep), but leave it with your interviewers. Also, you might be asked to think about how your work so far has brought you to this stage, and how your work can make an impact beyond your immediate field. This is important: what are the wider implications of the work that you want to do? Again, what your assessors want to see is that you have actually made an effort, and that you have thought this through, and that you’re not flying by the seat of your pants (well, we all are flying by the seat of our pants, we all just need to learn how to hide it. I’m still learning myself. Also, isn’t ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ a FABULOUS expression?).

8. Acknowledge that your research is going to change and develop over this period, and that this is okay. In fact, it’s fun. As I’ve already said, funding applications are invaluable for helping you to clarify your research question, and to reshape it into something more exciting than you previously thought. If you don’t get funding, that doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of doing research, or that your idea isn’t great — research councils are unpredictable and often very fickle. Someone will get funding from one awarding body, and will be turned down by another. It’s very, very weird, and very saddening considering the amount of funding that is out there for the humanities (i.e., dwindling, dwindling quite fast). I wish you all the best of luck, and enjoy the ride.

On Schaubuehne Hamlet at the Dublin Theatre Festival and ‘real Shakespeare’

(Photo credit: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images)

Last night I attended the Schaubuehne Berlin’s production of Hamlet at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre (forever the Grand Canal!), as directed by its artistic director Thomas Ostermeier. As an exercise in curiosity, this afternoon I decided to look up a number of reviews of the production from its London debut in 2011, as well as its premiere here. The language used in many of them are similar: ‘not for purists’, ‘[a] Shakespearean play — but not as you know it’, ‘Hamlet was never meant to be funny’ (someone’s never read the play so), ‘Ostermeier makes sure nothing about the play is sacred’. Et cetera.

I find this interesting, and a little bit problematic. Of course, we say ‘It’s Shakespeare, but not as you know it’ about several productions that come along (when, in fact, yes you already have seen three productions of the same play using that very same idea). But really, what *is* ‘Shakespeare’? What is ‘real Shakespeare’? It’s an interesting question, and one that those of us working on Shakespearean afterlives think about and interrogate, a lot. Does it necessarily need to be Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen standing on the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and in which no one deviates from the script AT ALL to be considered as ‘real Shakespeare’?

By using such language about Ostermeier’s production, and other such adaptations, we run the risk of filing them under Not Real Shakespeare, But Different. As a departure from the norm. As an experiment, after which we go back to the RSC afterwards and talk about how Radical and Shocking and Different that was. Whatever ‘real Shakespeare’ is right now, we certainly need to be a bit more inclusive in our talking about it.

Ostermeier’s Hamlet is visceral, disgusting, dirty, hilarious, and defiant in its execution. Ostermeier writes in his programme note that ‘my hypothesis is that Hamlet can’t hide behind the mask of madness that he puts on at the beginning of the play, that, on the contrary, his madness takes possession of him.’ And so, Lars Eidinger’s Hamlet is so enveloped in his madness from beginning to end: whether it’s squawking at Polonius (Robert Beyer), interrupting his reunion with Rosencrantz (Franz Hartwig) and Guildenstern (Sebastian Schwarz) with a call and response with the audience (or ‘party people’ as he calls us), or switching between showing Ophelia (Jenny Konig, effectively shifting between this role and Gertrude) affection and shoving her on the ground and covering her with earth. This is a Hamlet who’s terrifying and unpredictable in his actions — yet also blisteringly funny, and quite unheroic too.

Hamlet (Lars Eidinger).
Hamlet (Lars Eidinger), resplendent in Hawaiian shirt and muddy face

Eidinger’s performance, and perhaps the production as a whole, also brought to mind a conversation that came up in my class on Irish drama just last week about how we, as audience members, are socially programmed to automatically listen to the most attractive person on stage, regardless if they’re the hero or not (this was a class on Oscar Wilde, naturally). Usually, with Hamlet, there’s a period during productions of the play where he wears Mad Clothes And Doesn’t Care If You Like It Or Not, but by the end of the closet scene he’s clean and wearing ‘acceptable’ clothes again, and towards the end of the play, he is suitably ‘ready’ to engage in the duel with Laertes. None of that here. I believe that this production turns that compulsion of ours on its head: Eidinger writhes in the mud, even eating it several times; strips down to his underwear and covers himself and others in red juice; wears a fat suit and a stringy fake beard; and by the latter end of the evening, he’s sat at the table on-stage, wearing a tacky and dirty Hawaiian shirt and unapologetically wiping his face with dirt. His madness is real, and it’s not pretty or glamorised. You don’t want to look at him, because he’s doing disgusting/unclean/unsavoury things, but here’s the thing — he’s Hamlet. You can’t not pay attention to Hamlet. It’s not just limited to him, though: our first introduction to Horatio (Schwarz) has him stuffing his face with food to the point where it spills all over his face, Ophelia drowns in plastic, and Claudius (Urs Jucker) and Polonius frequently throw cans of lager around the stage with abandon, their spray going everywhere. The mess gets everywhere, and contaminates everyone.

This production, for me, was Shakespearean, or adequately Shakespearean, or whatever you want to call it. Who knows what ‘real Shakespeare’ actually is — I’m not sure if I ever want to know. But Ostermeier captures the spirit of the play and poses questions about it in new and very imaginative ways. And so, surely such work should be the norm, and not the exception, in Shakespearean performance?

PhD? Oh yes, that is a thing now.

GREETINGS wordpress. I haven’t written much in the last several months (April doesn’t count). I thought it was time I’d log in and actually write an update of some sort. A real one.

I moved from Stratford back to Galway. You already knew that. I finished my master’s with Distinction overall (hoorah!) and graduated in December. The graduation ceremony was magnificent: they had this brilliant musical section who I was ALMOST SURE were going to start playing The Throne Room from A New Hope. Unfortunately, they did not, but I’m pretty sure they played Wagner instead which was pretty cool. After a year and three months of being called ‘Emm-er’ by people, my name was at long last pronounced correctly on the podium to my relief (I apologise for my cynicism regarding the University of Birmingham’s correct pronunciation form). I also didn’t trip up or cause the Great Hall to implode or cause great injury to my friends, fellow graduates, academics, and loved ones. I then spent the evening with friends eating pie and wandering around in Birmingham’s massive humungous German Christmas market (i.e., drinking mulled wine in a charming little shack on what appeared to be New Street). There was also really nice pie and soft furry animals and liking Disney even though they reinforce horrible gender norms.

Leaving your whole life behind for the sake of one guy you met that one time -- that is A Thing. And yet I still love this film.
Leaving your whole life behind for the sake of one guy you met that one time — that is A Thing. And yet I still love this film.

And a few weeks later I had to leave and it was all very sad. But then I moved to Galway so I was less sad.

But here’s another thing: I am now a PhD student. One that started just this month. I was awarded a postgraduate scholarship by the Irish Research Council [UK friends who are not in the know, this is basically the Irish equivalent of the AHRC], and as such, I’m researching Shakespeare in modern Irish theatre 1969-2016 at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, and assessing the impact of social, political, and cultural influences on performance in the country (taking into account the Northern Irish Troubles, Europeanisation, globalization and the Celtic Tiger, the economic crisis, the tercentenary of the Easter Rising, etc). It’s a big, exciting project, and I’m so delighted to get started. I’m grateful and thankful to actually have funding, knowing all too well how scarce it is from having to self-fund the master’s, as well as knowing many who are going/have gone through their PhDs in a similar fashion. Plus there are LOVELY AND USEFUL ARCHIVES on campus in which I’ll probably get lost in for the next four years. I mean, have you seen the Abbey Digital Archive? This is hardly a bad thing.

But seriously everyone, what am I doing?
but seriously everyone, what am I doing?

So, now I am almost four weeks into starting doctoral research. But it only took about a few days for the whole ‘what the hell am I doing?’ feelings to hit me. I’m not saying it’s all bad and awful: I really love my topic; I have a supervisor who is very supportive and encouraging; I’m in a department that’s inclusive and communal; I’m lucky to have friends, mentors, and colleagues who are there to say ‘don’t worry, it’s totally normal’, ‘that’s what it’s like here’, or ‘please, tidy up your desk’. (Said desk is like a crashed car at the moment. Sorry.) Friends ask me how the PhD is going, and my answer is half ‘I love it/I’m stumbling around in the dark’. Well, we all are to some extent — it’s a feeling that I’ve bonded with other new students over, at least. Maybe the amount of lists I make for myself in terms of TASKS and DON’T FORGET and PRIORITIES and which are STUCK TO MY WALL SO I REMEMBER THAT THEY’RE THERE AND THAT I HAVE TO DO THEM will make at least parts of it more regimented or something. Who knows.

But that’s how things have been so far. I have a conference paper to give in November and a full semester to get through before Christmas. It’s a hodge-podge of flailing hand gestures, ‘wait and see’, and just getting used to things. I think.

So the main nub and thrust of this is: I’m still alive. I’ll try and update this a bit more (I saw so many interesting things over the summer, and meant to write about them but never did), and I’m looking forward to the years ahead. No idea yet as to what they’ll entail, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

April 23rd.

I’ve been maintaining some form of radio silence over the last few months on this blog. I just haven’t really felt like writing, to be honest. Also, additionally, a LOT of things have happened too. Namely the whole leaving-Stratford-and-going-back-to-Galway thing, which happened around the end of December and the beginning of January. I do miss Stratford, but feel quite fortunate to be back to Galway too (and close to home, to boot). The pangs for the Midlands lessen the longer I spend here, although I’ll be glad to visit the place once again during the summer.

Anyway, the one reason that motivated me to write again was seeing this notice in my notifications this morning… ‘You registered with WordPress three years ago!’

I had no idea my blog shared its birthday with Shakespeare! Well, relatively speaking. We don’t exactly know when he was born.

Whereas I don’t want to make any claims to greatness or anything, I just thought it was an unintentionally serendipitous touch, given that I’ve spent the last number of years watching/thinking about/reading/arguing about Shakespeare and early modern drama (can we PLEASE think of a way to construct that sentence that isn’t ‘Shakespeare and his contemporaries’. Maybe just ‘early modern drama’ will do. Maybe) for god knows how long. I could talk at length about what studying Shakespeare has granted me over the last year and a half, but frankly, that day is not today because I want to go home, eat chocolate, and watch Othello. I may not be there for the fireworks over the Royal Shakespeare Theatre tonight, but I’m having a pretty great Shakespeare’s birthday regardless — and I hope you are having a good one too.


Autistics Speaking Day 2013: This Is What Autism Looks Like

Today is Autistics Speaking Day. It’s a day intended to highlight awareness, to encourage acceptance, to allow autistic people to speak for themselves rather than a panel of allistic ‘experts’ creating a panic over ‘national epidemics’ and DOES MILK GIVE YOUR CHILDREN AUTISM, etc. It’s a day to make our voices heard. Inspired by the posts written by autisticook, Feminist Aspie, and at Musings of an Aspie to mark the occasion (and believe you me, they are excellent posts), I’m writing a blog post too on something that tends to be a running theme throughout related posts on this blog: what does it ‘look like’? And is it a question we should really ask? (Quick answer: No.)

Also, before I get any further on the subject, this has also been largely inspired by Kelly Martin Broderick’s work on We Are What Feminists Look Like. You can read about why Broderick started the website here. ‘Feminists are not a monolith’, she says. ‘We are diverse and unique. We don’t fit into every stereotype.’ This was perhaps crystallised for me when I went to visit NUIG’s Feminist Society table at Societies Day this year. They had placed a mirror on the stall, with the words ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’ on top of it. You can wear ‘girly’ (ewww, hate that word) dresses and be a feminist. You can wear nothing but hoodies 24/7 and be a feminist. You can watch WWE and classic Doctor Who and be a feminist. You can be a man and be a feminist. And so on and so forth. There is no one ‘model’.

I guess this isn’t really the same thing (intersectional feminism ftw), but it does lead me onto the nub and thrust of this post.

Here is a recent photo of me:

uh, hi
uh, hi

This photo was taken just this week, as I was going off to do some errands that morning. I had my headphones in because I was obsessively listening to the new Arcade Fire album (still am, it’s ever so good). I actually made an effort to put on some make-up, and I was wearing my lovely winter coat. I’ve also recently finished my masters (hurray!) and making plans for the future, which are pretty damn exciting if you ask me. But more about that at a later date.

Do I look normal? Or should I say, do I look normal… by your standards? What are your expectations of what autism looks like?

There is no one ‘model’ for an autistic person. We all have different experiences and different lives. We are a diverse community, and we have our own stories to tell. That’s not to say that we don’t have shared experiences (I can’t measure how grateful I am for the above blogs, they put into words the things that are so hard to express about being autistic). Additionally, someone might comment that I look ‘high-functioning’. When, in fact, they probably don’t know about the meltdowns, the frequent bouts of anxiety, those days when you feel so incapable of doing the smallest household thing, those days when the simplest of things seem so alien or complicated to you. The days when you just can’t do anything.

Those labels are useless. We can be both ‘high’ and ‘low’ functioning. (Again, autisticook is great on this: you can read her thoughts here.) It’s a spectrum, after all, with different degrees. There’s really no way to prescribe exactly how it works. And people really shouldn’t try to.

So, if there’s one thing you do today or this evening: listen to us. Listen to our stories. Give us a chance over those ‘experts’, for a change. We’re more than willing to talk. We just want to be heard. We are what autistic people look like.