Marina Carr (born 1964) is an Irish playwright.
Born in Tullamore, County Offaly, Carr grew up in a household filled with literature. Both of her parents were writers: her father was a novelist and a playwright and her mother was a poet and a teacher. As a child, she read children's versions of Greek myths. These myths turned out to be major influences in many of her later works. One of her favorite myths, Medea, was used as an inspiration for her play By the Bog of Cats. Carr's mother died when she was just 17, influencing her future works such as "By the Bog of Cats," where the main character, Hester, experienced a very similar tragedy.
Carr attended University College Dublin, studying English and philosophy. She graduated in 1987. She recently received a honorary degree of Doctorate of Literature from her alma mater. She has held posts as writer-in-residence at the Abbey Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, and Princeton University. She served as Heimbold Professor of Irish Studies at Villanova University in 2003 and a professor of Irish studies at Villanova University. She has written 16 plays since her career began, and is considered one of Ireland’s most prominent playwrights. Her award-winning plays—largely poetic tragedies of rural Irish domestic life—have been produced around the world. She currently lives in Kerry and is a member of Aosdána. Her works have been translated into French, German, and Norwegian.
Like the works of several other contemporary Irish playwrights, Carr's plays frequently include instances of black humor and severe physical brutality. She is distinguished, however, most notably by the fact that several of her plays are filled with classical Greek allusion or are loose retellings of classical Greek myths.
In Carr's early work, Carr experiments with style as she seeks to find her own. Low in the Dark (1989), her first play, is an absurdist piece in which gender roles and misconceptions are farcically addressed. The style reflects her early interest in fellow Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. Carr's next few experiments are The Deer Surrender (1990), This Love Thing (1991), and Ullaloo (1991). She won the 1997 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
Her following play, The Mai (1994), won Best New Play from the Dublin Theatre Festival and marked a shift in Carr's writing style. Though it is not an adaptation of a Greek play, it has distinct classical resonances, rising from questions of truth, legacy/heredity, and fate. The same can be said of her next play, Portia Coughlan (1996). Her other works include By the Bog of Cats… (1998), a retelling of Euripides' Medea; On Raftery's Hill (2000); Ariel (2002), a retelling of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis extended into the aftermath shown in Aeschylus' Oresteia; and Woman and Scarecrow (2006).
In correlation with Greek, supernatural, and mystical themes that frequently resonate in Marina Carr’s writing, her playwright, By the Bog of Cats, succeeds in creating a dramatic and twisted story in only a few pages. The drama is filled with several deceiving apparitions that contribute to the eccentricity of the storyline; including the Ghost Fancier and main character, Hester’s late brother. On the surface the common theme throughout Carr’s writing seems to be Greek myth. It began with her play, The Mai (1994) is not complete a retelling of a Greek myth, but has strong connections to the story of Electra, told by Sophocles and Euripides. Her following play, Portia Coughlan (1996) also has ties to Greek themes, although it is less directly related to one story. By the Bog of Cats (1998) was a direct retelling of the Medea Myth (Euripides), complete with a strong, but fatal female character and the tragedy which becomes her. The theme continued with Carr’s play Ariel (2002), an adaptation of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis. However if we take a deeper look the surpassing theme is powerful women. Carr regularly casts women from these famous tragedies as the protagonist in her own playwrights, but reviving the betrayal, desperation, and revenge in a more modern style focusing on the female aspect. Although Carr is not a feminist, her plays bolster femininity and defy previous thoughts of weak women into ones of strength.
Typically Greek myths contain female characters, however they are never the principal character and males are behaviorally more dominant. Though, in Carr’s By the Bog of Cats, a retelling of the famous Medea Myth, we see a complete flip side to this approach where Carr casts the main character is a fierce and empowered woman. Main character Hester Swane, an Irish Traveller, attempts to cope with her life of consistent abandonment by going to extreme lengths to regain the people who have already discarded her. Through many desperate attempts to reclaim her ex-fiancé and father of her seven-year-old daughter, Carthage Killbride, she succeeds in further turning the backs of her fellow citizens on her, making her appear as a mad and delusional woman. However, Hester does not succumb to the ruthlessness of her neighbors and proceeds in an extreme act of self-sacrifice for not only herself by her daughter, rejecting a path of further isolation and loneliness. By the Bog of Cats presents a riveting tale of richly entwined characters that turns a once uncompromising Greek myth into a page-turning, strangely relatable drama of greed and betrayal.
In February 2009 Carr debuted two plays in Dublin - Marble at the Abbey Theatre (directed by Jeremy Herrin), and a children's play, The Giant Blue Hand, at Dublin's Cultural Centre for Children, The Ark.
- Carr, Marina. Mai. London: Dufour Editions, 1995.
- Carr, Marina. "By the Bog of Cats". The Abbey, Dublin, and Wyndham’s Theater, London. 1998
- Carr, Marina. Plays One. London: Faber and Faber, 1999.
- Carr, Marina. On Raftery's Hill. London: Faber and Faber, 2000.
- Carr, Marina. Ariel. Oldcastle, Co. Meath: Gallery Books, 2002.
- Carr, Marina. Woman and Scarecrow. London: Faber and Faber, 2006
- Carr, Marina. 16 Possible Glimpses. The Abbey Theatre, 2011
By the Bog of Cats
The original production of By the Bog of Cats took place in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. The play opened on October 7th, 1998 and ran until November 14th, 1998. The production, totaling 45 performances, was directed by Partrick Mason and designed by Monica Frawley, Other members of the production team included Nick Chelton, lighting designer, Dave Nolan, sound, Audrey Hession and Finola Eustace, stage directors, and Kevin Downey and Stephen Dempsey were assistant stage managers.
The lead roles were played by Slobhan Cullen (Josie Kilbride), Olwen Fouéré (Hester Swane), and Conor McDermottroe (Cathage Kilbride). Other characters such as Catwoman were played by Joan O’Hara, Carline Cassidy played by Flonnuala Murphy and Xavier Cassidy by Tom Hickey.
Bogs are infertile and deadly, filled with acidic soil and the remains of decaying matter like plants and trees. The decomposing plant material piles up and forms peat. Bogs are a rare type of land that are slowly disappearing and now mostly are in the far north containing strange groups of plants and animals. Bogs are the home to animals like the black or northland mudfish, geckos and a few types of birds. As for the plants, bogs contain plants that have adapted to their surroundings and are now able to take the acidic and dangerous soil they reside in. Bogs are sometimes a popular setting for plays that take place in northern parts of the world such as Ireland and Scotland, like in the play By the Bog of Cats by author Marina Carr. Being filled with old, dead, decaying matter, bogs provide an eerie, supernatural setting for any play. A whimsical place that leads the reader to believe almost anything is possible. Leading them into mental trap like how a bog is a physical one.
Reference to Themes and History
“Marina Carr's plays aren't a good advertisement for motherhood.” For example, one of Carr’s first works, The Mai, is named after an Irish folklore character who slaughters her children. Portia, who is the protagonist of one of her more famous works, Portia Coughlan, is an equally terrible mother. She drinks brandy at all hours of the day, wishes that she could mutilate her own offspring, and ultimately commits suicide by drowning herself. As The Guardian states, “This wasn't perhaps what Dublin's National Maternity Hospital had in mind when it commissioned Carr to write a play to celebrate its centenary.” Then there is By the Bog of Cats, starring Holly Hunter as Hester Swane. She is a woman of ill repute and an often-forgetful mother whose ex-husband, Carthage Kilbride, is about to marry again. The play rewrites a savage version of the Medea for contemporary times. Carr states that By the Bog of Cats is a reminder that a certain type of person will "kill for things and die for things". Carr’s focus on the mistreatment of children could relate to her being 4 at the time of the 1969 Northern Ireland Riots, and to her being 7 at the time of Bloody Friday and Sunday. The hardships that Carr’s characters experience often have some correlation to what Carr herself has experienced. For example, Hester Swane from By the Bog of Cats was abandoned by her mother when she was 7. When Marina Carr was 7, Bloody Friday and Bloody Sunday occurred.
Marina Carr’s dark humor is another example of her frequent use of grim themes and topics. She often draws inspiration from and reinterprets ancient and tragic myths, such as the Medea myth. The dark comedy and song lyrics that she employs have been linked to the grim tones of less recent works of Irish literature. However, Carr's tragic plays employ myths to address national violence on a domestic level. She avoids addressing any violence on the sectarian level, such as the British-Irish conflict that tore her childhood apart.
Written in a guttural Midlands dialect, Carr sets the plays beside the region's lakes, rivers, and bogs- demonstrates Irish pride. Because the Irish were under direct rule for such a long time, Hester’s shun of authority and active rebellion relate to the Irish rejecting British authority- realization of Irish culture like Things Fall Apart. What's at stake here is not just shaking loose tropes and motifs from earlier representations of Ireland, but interrogating the dark side of the Irish family within the remains of the late-twentieth-century Irish patriarchy, from which those images descended- relates to troubled times.
Irish history plays a significant role in the formation of Marina Carr’s ideas and thoughts, and how she represents Northern Irish life For 20 years, during and before Bloody Sunday, the Provisional Irish Republican army sought to participate in rebellious acts against the British. This constant theme of rebellion is scene in Carr’s writing and can be attested to her childhood.
Marina Carr's writing tends to be in keeping the notion of a continuance or discontinuance of family prevailing over death. In the play, By the Bog of Cats, we learn that the protagonist, Hester Swane killed her younger brother in her childhood days. His ghost continues to haunt her throughout the play as she tries to keep her daughter away from her ex-husband who has married another woman. Although Hester’s drinking problem causes her to seem like a neglectful mother, she never truly forgets about her daughter. On the other hand, Josie doesn't want to break familial bond that has been cultivated her entire life. At the end of the play Hester becomes violent. In an attempt to leave Josie, just as Hester's mother had once left her, Josie pleads with Hester in an effort follow Hester wherever she may go. The ideas of fate, family, and death are compelling themes that are seen repeatedly in many of Carr’s pieces.
The notion of family in association with death is a compelling interest in Carr's written works. In Portia Coughlin, Marina Carr designs the protagonist, Portia to be a woman who loves to drink from the bottle, just as Hester in By the Bog of Cats. She is a fierce character who is also a wife and mother of three children. Portia, like Hester, also has a deceased brother who haunts her. The play opens on her 30th birthday as readers see the ghost of her brother who has been following her for the past fifteen years. The ghost begins to consume Portia's life and she no longer has time for her family. Her husband cares deeply for Portia, yet signs of neglect are not unforeseen as the play reaches its breaking point. Through these two plays, Marina Carr touches her audience with compelling stories that speak of neglect of family and focus on the consequences of death that ultimately exemplify the bond of family and the salient theme of love.
Marina Carr’s plays, By the Bog of Cats and The Mai both exemplify the quest for love, and depict, the loss of love. Hester Swane, the main character in By the Bog of Cats desires for the father of her child, Carthage Killbride, to love her again. She wants him to move back into the house built for them as he chooses to move on. Throughout the play, readers are blindsided with the desperate choices Hester makes, to win back the man she will always love. In The Mai, the main character, The Mai, builds a home for her husband, Robert, in hopes that he will someday return to her. Eventually, The Mai realizes their relationship is beyond repair, but she cannot bear to go on without him. Central themes, specific to love, are found in both plays and include the desired life inside a home, the reconnection of forgotten feelings, and the heartache caused by the dissolving bonds between a woman and her lover.
Marina Carr’s new play 16 Possible Glimpses pulls scenes from Anton Chekhov’s life but begins with the familiar idea of death. As the Dark Monk arrives early – a testament to the Ghost Fancier in By the Bog of Cats, who arrives at sunrise instead of sunset to claim Hester Swane - Chekhov begs for five more years of life. Yet Death can only offer five minutes, allowing only 16 possible glimpses to be seen. At first glance, the comparisons of Chekhov and Carr seem unlikely. Chekhov is known for dramas of inaction and Carr is known intense tragedies, exemplified by, By the Bog of Cats, as Hester slices her daughters throat then takes her own life. According to The Irish Repertory Theatre, there is little of Carr’s trademark surreal brilliance in the 16 possible glimpses. However the exchanges between Chekhov and the Dark Monk who comes to claim him, changes this. Through an episodic series of scenes we meet Chekhov in various forms. Readers see Chekhov as a loyal brother, Chekhov as a son and Chekhov the writer, which culminate to the depiction Chekhov as a man consumed by internal conflict, a theme, not only exemplified in 16 Possible Glimpses, but also in By the Bog of Cats and The Mai.
- "By the Bog of Cats". Irish Theatre Institute. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Allen Randolph, Jody, 'Marina Carr' in Close to the Next Moment: Interviews from a Changing Ireland (Manchester: Carcanet, 2010).
- McMullan, Anna and Cathy Leeney, eds, The Theatre of Marina Carr: Before Rules Was Made (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2002).
- Trench, Rhona, Bloody Living: The Loss of Selfhood in the Plays of Marina Carr (Bern: Peter Lang, 2010).