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Life and career
Marina Carr was born in 1964, in Dublin, Ireland, but spent the majority of her childhood in Pallas Lake, County Offaly. Carr grew up in a house filled with, writing, painting, and music. Her father, Hugh Carr, was a playwright and studied music under Frederick May. Her mother was the principal of the local school and wrote poetry in Irish, "there was a lot of literary rivalry". As a child, Marina and her siblings built a theatre in their shed, "we lay boards across the stacked turf, hung an old blue sheet for a curtain and tied a bicycle lamp to a rafter",. Carr recalls, "it was serious stuff, we even had a shop and invited all the local kids in; the plays were very violent!"
Carr attended University College Dublin, studying English and philosophy. She graduated in 1987, and subsequently received an honorary degree of Doctorate of Literature from her alma mater. She has held posts as writer-in-residence at the Abbey Theatre, and she has taught at Trinity College Dublin, Princeton University, and Villanova University. She currently lectures in the English department at Dublin City University. Marina Carr is considered one of Ireland’s most prominent playwrights and is a member of Aosdána. Her works have been translated into many languages, and have received much critical acclaim. Carr's work has received numerous awards; The Mai won the Dublin Theatre Festival Best New Irish Play award (1994-1995), and Portia Coughlan won the nineteenth Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (1996-1997). Other awards include The Irish Times Playwright award 1998, The EM Foster Prize form the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American/Ireland Fund Award, The Macaulay Fellowship and The Hennessy Award. Carr has been named a recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. The award, which includes a financial prize of $165,000 (or €155,000), will be formally presented in September 2017. She is the second Irish author to receive the prize, following playwright Abbie Spallen in 2016.
Anna Karenina (The Abbey Theatre) 2016. "Riveting... She lays her own mark upon the material, too, bringing a mordant wit to the characters bleak situations" ****The Irish Times
Mary Gordon (National Concert Hall) 2016. An Oratorio with music by Brian Irvine and Neil Martin.
Indigo Commissioned by the RSC. 2015.
Hecuba (RSC) 2015. Directed by Erica Whyman.
By The Bog of Cats (Abbey Theatre revival) 2015. Directed by Selina Cartmell.
Rigoletto (Opera Theatre Company, Irish National Tour) 2015. New contemporary translation of Verdi's opera. Directed by Selina Cartmell.
16 Possible Glimpses (The Abbey Theatre) 2011 Directed by Wayne Jordan.
Map of Argentina Commissioned by the Abbey Theatre.
Phaedra Backwards (McCarter Theatre, Princeton) 2011. Directed by Emily Mann.
The Giant Blue Hand (Ark Theatre Commission) 2010. Directed by Selina Cartmell.
Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Quartet (Traverse) 2010. Directed by Vicky Featherstone.
Marble (Abbey Theatre) 2009. Directed by Jeremy Herrin.
The Cordelia Dream (RSC at Wilton's Music Hall) 2008. Directed by Selina Cartmell
Woman and Scarecrow (Royal Court Theatre) 2006 Directed by Ramin Gray. Starring Fiona Shaw and Brid Brennan. Revival at the Abbey Theatre 2007.
By The Bog of Cats (Wyndham's Theatre) 2004. Directed by Dominic Cooke. Starring Holly Hunter. Transferred from the Abbey Theatre 1998.
Ariel (Abbey Theatre) 2002. Directed by Conal Morrison.
On Rafferty's Hill (Town Hall Theatre Galway; Royal Court Theatre Downstairs; Kennedy Center Washington DC) 2000. Commission from the Druid Theatre Company. Directed by Garry Hynes.
By The Bog of Cats Commission from the Abbey Theatre 1998. Directed by Patrick Mason.
Portia Coughlan Abbey Theatre 1996. Royal Court Theatre 1996. The Actor's Free Studio, New York 1998.
The Mai Peacock Theatre 1994, Abbey Theatre 1995, McCarter Theatre, Princeton 1996, Tricycle Theatre, London 1997.
Low In The Dark Projects Arts Studio, Dublin 1989.
Ullaloo Dublin Theatre Festival 1989. Abbey Theatre 1991.
This Love Thing (1991).
The Deer Surrender (1990).
- 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. Marble. Oldcastle, Co. Meath: Gallery Books, 2009
- 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 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. The play opened on October 7, 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 people, and Kevin Downey and Stephen Dempsey were assistant stage managers.
The lead roles were played by Siobhán Cullen (Josie Kilbride), Olwen Fouéré (Hester Swane), and Conor McDermottroe (Carthage Kilbride). Other characters such as Catwoman were played by Joan O’Hara, Carline Cassidy played by Flonnuala Murphy and Xavier Cassidy by Tom Hickey.
Irish writer Frank McGuinness wrote the Programme Note of the Abbey Production of By the Bog of Cats... in 1998. His description of the play analyses Carr's style of writing, which he likens to Greek writing:
|“||By the Bog of Cats... is a play about sorrow. Therefore it must be funny. A play about death, so a wedding shall be at the centre of it. A play about saying the things that need to be said, so there will be silence at the end of it. A play about hatred, so love is at its heart. A play whose philosophy is that Carthage must be destroyed, but what happens to the destroyers? This is what By the Bog of Cats... tells us.||”|
|— Frank McGuinness, By the Bog of Cats... Programme Note, 1998.|
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 is 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 the mental trap like how a bog is a physical one.
Woman and Scarecrow
Woman and Scarecrow centres on a dying womans last stretch of time on earth, reflecting on the life she has led. We are told very little of the setting, but presume she resides in a domestic space, as the stage directions in the first act indicate she is lying in bed 'gaunt and ill'. Apart from the bed, the only furniture indicated is a wardrobe, which has an ominoius presence in the play. The mysterious thing that lurks inside the wardrobe signifies death and its imminent approach. For a good duration of the play, the only other character present is Scarecrow. It is unclear what Scarecrow represents, perhaps the woman's subconscious. It is significant to note that all of the characters in the play 'are referred to by either pronouns or titles - Woman, Him, Scarecrow, Auntie Ah, placing a universal slant on who they are and what they represent.' Woman is largely defined as her role as mother and wife throughout the play. She is mother to eight children, with a ninth having passed away. As the play progresses, we learn that her husband has been unfaithful. Despite being aware of this, Woman at times is still dependant on Him, 'I've missed you in bed beside me'. On other occasions she redeems herself, asserting her independance by insisting she will not wear her wedding ring to the grave and places value on herself, 'save you were not worthy of my love'. Her independence is consolidated by the fact that she dies when he is absent from the room.
The play was notably staged at the Royal Court Jerwood Threatre in London in 2006, directed by Ramin Gray and starring Fiona Shaw and Bríd Brennan as Woman and Scarecrow, respectively. Lizzie Clachan designed the set for this production, alongside lighting designer, Mischa Twitchin, and sound designer, Emma Laxton. Later, it was produced in the Peacock Theatre, where it was directed by Selina Cartmell and starred Olwen Fouéré (Woman) and Barbara Brennan (Scarecrow).
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.
Carr is noted to have credited Greek mythology for its influence on her work, saying, 'The Greeks wrote fantastic women. I always say they were the first feminists. Huge, huge, and the complexity of them in a way that has pretty much been denied in a lot of literature, a lot of contemporary writing. Not that it has been denied, but it doesn’t get heard as much as the other stories. I think there is a hunger for that out there.' The intertextual nature of her work is perahps what adds to her sophistication as a writer.
- Marina Carr. Plays One. London: Faber &Faber, 1999
- "biographies". Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, adapted for stage by Marina Carr. London: Faber & Faber, 2016
- Doyle, Martin. "Irish playwright Marina Carr wins $165,000 literary prize". Irish Times. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
- "By the Bog of Cats". Irish Theatre Institute. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Marina Carr, Woman and Scarecrow, (Meath: Gallery Press, 2006), 11.
- Rhona Trench, Bloody Living: The Loss of Selfhood in the plays of Marina Carr, (Switzerland, : Peter Lang, 2010), p 77.
- Marina Carr, Woman and Scarecrow, (Meath: Gallery Press, 2006), p59.
- Marina Carr, Woman and Scarecrow, (Meath: Gallery Press, 2006), p 39.
- Rhona Trench, Bloody Living: The Loss of Selfhood in the Plays of Marina Carr, (Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2010), p77.
- Carr, Marina. Woman and Scarecrow. Gallery Press, Meath, 2006.
- Maleney, Ian. Marina Carr: ‘How wonderful to burn down the whole world’, The Irish Times, 2015.
- 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).
- Maleney, Ian. "Marina Carr: ‘How wonderful to burn down the whole world’", The Irish Times, August 22, 2015.