Performing Vulnerable Masculinity in Northern Ireland’s Post-Conflict Documentary Theatre

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Popular imagery of Northern Ireland is dominated by masculine figures: the soldier, the IRA rebel, the Loyalist paramilitary, mythologized figures like Cuchulainn or King Billy on his white horse, the hunger striker, the teenage rioter, the all-male Orange Order on parade. These images from film, television drama, documentary, community murals, archives and news reportage promote a binary, heteronormative model of gender that attributes historical, political and military agency to men, while women are largely absent or represented as icons of nations (Ulster or Ireland), mothers of dead heroes, or innocent sacrificial victims of state or paramilitary forces.
Positioned as the active agency in the political-sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland which erupted in the late 1960s and lasted until the Peace Agreement in 1998, masculinity is performed in relation to the protection of the community, by force if necessary. This protection extends explicitly to the women of the community, and also sometimes to women as a class: paramilitaries and state forces alike normally claim not to deliberately harm women. Thus, in this binary model of masculinity and femininity, men are expected to perform as in charge of themselves, their families, their public space; they are expected to be unafraid or to hide their fear, and they are constructed as invulnerable against the normative vulnerability of women and children who depend upon them for their security. Despite this, Caroline Magennis describes the ‘hegemonic Northern Irish masculine body’ as a ‘key battleground in the Troubles . . . their bodies torn asunder and rendered incapable and incontinent by the conflict’, arguing that the male body is a site of intersecting power struggles and ideological battles and is a complex signifier ‘as both victim and aggressor’.
This chapter focuses on the representation of masculinity in three theatrical
productions that draw from verbatim sources to create performances that bring
disparate groups in Northern Ireland together in dialogue: Green & Blue (2016),
scripted by Laurence McKeown for Kabosh Theatre Company; Don’t Shoot My
Wane, Shoot Me! (2019), devised by Greater Shantallow Community Arts; and First Response (2020), devised by Ailin Conant for the Theatre and Peacebuilding
Academy at the Derry Playhouse.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Methuen Drama Handbook of Gender and Theatre
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781350123182
ISBN (Print)9781350123175
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 25 Jan 2024


  • Gender
  • Performance
  • Theatre
  • Masculinity
  • Vulnerability


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