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Pulling down the Pulpit to make way for the Stage: An Exploration of Anna Chaimbeul and Roghainn Nan Daoine

Author:

Emma Dymock

University of Edinburgh
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Abstract

 

In her seminal article on the Gaelic plays of Tormod Calum Dòmhnallach (Norman Malcolm MacDonald), Michelle Macleod asserts that ‘drama became an art form based in the Gaelic community which encouraged participation and gave writers a guaranteed outlet for their work. In some respects the place that Gaelic drama held – and to a degree continues to hold – is similar to that traditionally held by ‘bàrdachd baile’ (‘village poetry’); it is an art form which grows and develops in the community.’ (Macleod 2008: 407) It is this emphasis on community, both in the process of creating Gaelic drama and in the subject matter of the drama itself, which is the focus of this article. Two Gaelic plays – Anna Chaimbeul (‘Anna Campbell’) by Tormod Calum Dòmhnallach and Roghainn nan Daoine (‘The People’s Choice’), a play developed by John Wright, Muriel Ann MacLeod and Toria Banks – will provide examples of ‘enacted’ community, while two important themes – folksong and religion – will be explored in the context of this ‘enacted’ community life. Michael Newton has stated that ‘Highland life was accompanied by the oral tradition, especially song, from the lullaby of the newborn to the lament of the deceased.’ (2009: 102) The fact that the Church also provides this comprehensive coverage of all aspects of life (and death) in its traditions and observances means that the secular activity of folksong and religious belief are ideally placed as community foci which significantly impact on community life, and, in relation to the plays, the lives of the characters and the narrative. Thus, they have been chosen as central issues to be explored in this essay because they permeate the overall pattern of both plays. While the two plays may at first appear to be markedly different in subject matter, stylistic approach and the time period in which they were composed, this article will explore the common threads which subtly link them together and will highlight these plays, taken both together, as being indicative of a progression and expansion in the genre of Gaelic drama from the 1970s to the present. Firstly, the definition of community in Gaelic culture will be briefly explored, in order to contextualise the standpoint from which these community-driven plays emerge. Because of the nature of Gaelic drama, which has been described as the ‘forgotten genre’ in Gaelic literature, (Macleod 2011) it is also necessary to introduce each play in some detail; with so few plays in print, Gaelic drama is perhaps not as well-known, at least in printed form, as it should be. Therefore, significantly, Gaelic drama could also be described as a community-based genre of literature for the simple reason that knowledge of these plays among Gaelic speakers often depends on the chance of seeing the plays performed, rather than having the option of reading the plays in published form. The remainder of the article will focus on the theme of community in both plays, comparing and contrasting the content and design of the plays in relation to characterisation, music/sound, staging and the theme of ‘testimony’ or ‘witness’.

How to Cite: Dymock, E., 2016. Pulling down the Pulpit to make way for the Stage: An Exploration of Anna Chaimbeul and Roghainn Nan Daoine. International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen, 9, pp.113–134.
Published on 01 Dec 2016.
Peer Reviewed

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