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Old Lady Says ‘No’


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Denis Johnston (1901—1984) playwright and broadcaster

Lady Augusta Gregory (1852—1932) playwright, folklorist, and literary patron

Abbey Theatre

Robert Emmet (1778—1803) Irish nationalist

 

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AT: Shadowdance A: Denis Johnston Pf: 1929, Dublin Pb: 1932 G: Drama in 2 parts with choral interludes; prose with some verse and songs S: Dublin, 1803, and 1920s C: 10m, 10fA Speaker representing Robert Emmet on the night of his failed rebellion of 1803 gives stirring speeches about Irish nationalism and delays his escape while he bids farewell to his fiancée. He is arrested by English soldiers, in the course of which the Speaker is wounded in the head. A doctor is called from the audience to attend to him. The Speaker begins to dream of mustering his men, who whisper jumbled phrases in rhythm. He then meets the 18th-century nationalist politician Henry Grattan, interspersed with scenes from 1920s Dublin: passers-by fussing over trivialities, Cathleen ni Houlihan reduced to selling flowers, a republican political meeting, a guided tour to the scene of Emmet's arrest. The second part opens in a drawing room, where a number of modern Irish notables are gathered. The Speaker/Emmet joins the party and is dismayed by their hypocrisy and materialism. After a dance by Shadows ‘coming to dance at a wake’, the Speaker/Emmet gives a final rousing speech and falls asleep as the Doctor covers him with a blanket.

AT: Shadowdance A: Denis Johnston Pf: 1929, Dublin Pb: 1932 G: Drama in 2 parts with choral interludes; prose with some verse and songs S: Dublin, 1803, and 1920s C: 10m, 10f

Influenced by Kaufman and Connelly's Beggar on Horseback (1924) and Josef Čapek's The Land of Many Names (1923), this was one of the earliest ventures by Irish theatre into Expressionism. This first play by Denis Johnston was considered stylistically too adventurous by Lady Gregory at the Abbey Theatre. This may explain the title, although it can equally be understood as disapproval of contemporary Ireland by the mythical figure of Cathleen ni Houlihan. With bold staging and some updating of its political references, the play need not be as dated as it may at first appear.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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