Performing Gender, Performing Violence on the Northern Irish Stage: 'Spittin’ Blood in a Belfast Sink'

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This essay explores the representation of sexual and domestic violence in Northern Ireland, in the public forum of the theatre, during the years immediately preceding the 1994 Ceasefire and following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Drawing upon Richard Schechner's definition of performance as an inclusive term that incorporates a wide range of human activity from theatre to ritual and the performance of everyday life to sports, the arts, ceremonies and ‘performances of great magnitude’, this essay progresses from the assumption that these theatrical representations reflect aspects of the social world. Following an overview of the context of the works in relation to social attitudes towards sexual and domestic violence, the essay briefly explores the use of rape and gender violence as a metaphor for colonial and political violence, using the example of Carville's comedy 'Family Plot'. The essay then turns to an examination of more radical, or challenging works: Derry Frontline's Threshold, an overtly political, pre-Ceasefire, devised play, and works by Reid and Devlin that challenge the male-dominated narrative of the ‘Troubles’ by dramatizing the effects of the violence on ordinary women. Finally, the essay considers the post-Ceasefire period and the emergence of new, women-oriented initiatives like the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, drawing out a connection between the new emerging society, the persistence of traditional models of gendered behaviour, and contemporary work that dramatizes violence against women: Byrne's Don't Say a Word and Spallen's Pumpgirl.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)302-313
JournalContemporary Theatre Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished online - 25 Aug 2013


  • Theatre
  • Gender
  • Violence
  • Conflict
  • Northern Ireland


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