I was told today that Stewart Parker was coming back into the public gaze.
I certainly hope so, as Parker is a much misunderstood and ignored Belfast playwright. His trilogy of plays for Ireland are the best I've ever attended or read. This was a guy who was influenced by a French playwright that wanted to put 'play' back into theatre, and saw it as a forerunner to Hollywood. Yet Parkers' trilogies are so different to his French influences, a bit like night and day. The trilogy plays are very verbal plays, not physical at all. One of his other plays, 'Lost belongings' was made by London weekend television.
The Irish Times described him in one of their editorials as interested in jazz. He wrote a column for them, but his interest wasn't merely in jazz but 'high pop'. 'High pop' is a term used for Parker because he tries to combine 'high culture with modern culture. He had a real interest in contemporary culture, the stuff that isn't taught in universities. He wasn't influenced by the Jonsonian idea that judgement of something as good is because it has lasted and stood the test of time. He saw this as critical cowardice, and believed we need to make judgements about what is happening in our own culture aa s it is happening around us in real time.
We had the emergence of pop culture in the 1960's, but many commentators and playwrights were of the old school, influenced by the Johnsonian notions and were wary of contemporary culture. Contemporary culture was left to its own devices, but for Parker, culture was culture. Particularly the culture of the cities, urban culture. Seamus Heaney was dismissive of the urban, he wrote of rural culture, but since the year 2000 most humans now live their lives in cities for the first time in human history. AS a dramatist he makes use of how people live in cities and Belfast in particular, he was obsessed with Belfast. He had a love hate relationship with it.
One of his plays deals with Henry Joy Mc Cracken. McCracken in the play imagines walking through Belfast.
There is of course another walk through the town, still to be taken. From Castle place to Corn market, and down to the Artillery barracks in Ann St. And from thence back up Cornmarket to the scaffold.
Mc Craken knows he is about to die, the fate of all Irish political martyrs. He wants his last words to be profound but can get no further than 'citizens of Belfast'.
He wrote that the city was a giant body,and the diagnosis was not good, circulation sluggish, and lungs congested with severe constipation, when there was a proposal to build roads through the city. He took a stand against the building of the roads, and in Pentecost his last play puts very profound words in to the mouth of one of his female characters. This play is based on the UWC strike, and a couple are divorcing, the wife needs to move out. She says of her house
'the only difference between this house and a stately house is that this home speaks for a far greater community experience'.
Parker thought that the national trust should take over some of these old Belfast homes and keep them in good order as a reminder of what Belfast was once like. The national trust do this now in some instances, though I am not sure if it is done with an old Belfast house, but the museum at Cultra is based on this idea.
Parker died young at the age of forty seven.