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"At a Loss for Words": Theatre, Performance and the Northern Ireland Prison Protests

Lionel Pilkington


In plays as diverse as Brian Friel’s The Freedom of the City, Frank McGuinness’s Carthaginians and Vincent Woods’s At the Black Pig’s Dyke, there is evidence of an intemperate opposition to the idea of republicans performing protest against the state in Northern Ireland. Using Augusto Boal’s conception of theatre as a cultural weapon with a powerful emancipatory and utopian potential (“theatre as a rehearsal for revolution”) and drawing on Joseph Roach and Nicholas Argenti’s ideas of the kinesthetic imagination, this essay considers the republican prison protests that took place Ireland in the period 1978-81. “At a Loss for Words” argues that the cultural logic, not to mention the disconcerting effectiveness of these protests in mobilizing mass opposition to the state, is best understood in terms of theatrical performance.



prison protests, theatrical embodiment

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/1451