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Staging Trauma.

TO WRITE ON THE staging of trauma is to write on the staging of suffering--claims Miriam Haughton of her new book Staging Trauma: Bodies in Shadow, one of two recent publications on contemporary theatre in Ireland and Britain. Haughton's excellent study, along with Lisa Fitzpatrick's superb Rape on the Contemporary Stage, offer to shine a light on what Haughton calls "these shadowed spaces of performance, knowledge, memory, politics and experience" (1). Often "unknowable, unspeakable and unrepresentable" the medium of theatre offers the space to what Jean Francois Lyotard says to "bear witness" to the trauma (2018a, p1). These two books will be invaluable in both the classroom and research projects for theatre scholars working on contemporary performance practice. As both these timely publications illustrate, rape and trauma narratives are common tropes in contemporary Irish and British performance, and they warrant close reading for how they offer understanding of the current moment.

Reading these two books together is very helpful as they both speak to types of trauma, and the theoretical differences between the two is interesting. Fitzpatrick does not take a trauma approach, focusing more on the imagery, actual representation, and close readings with a theoretical approach dependant on work by Brown-miller, Wolfthal, and Bal. Haughton, on the other hand, examines specific performances as thematic case studies through a lens of trauma and feminist theory. The intersection here between rape and trauma features in Haughton's superb study, and both monographs work well in conversation.

Structurally and theoretically different, both build and expand the discussion of the representation and witness of sexual violence, trauma or rape on the stage. Together they start important conversations about contemporary drama, as well as about changing attitudes and discussions around violence against women. Fitzpatrick's study covers a wider range of genres offering much more texts for analysis on the specific topic of rape while Haughton's allows for real depth of investigation of the four productions in her focused structure. Through a thematic case study that focuses on one specific performance, Haughton can come to grips with a specific staging, while Fitzpatrick offers a range of texts and comparisons from the stage and often the screen.

Haughton describes her case studies as "viscerally affective encounters" (2) suggesting that theatre is where the unspeakable struggles "in its desire for articulation and acknowledgement" (2). Through her four in depth case studies on violation, loss containment and exile, she investigates how we stage and witness the unknowable, unspeakable and unrepresentable. The introduction is a dense and passionate articulation of her criteria and theoretical standpoint, where she outlines her performance choices and her timeframe. Haughton describes the contemporary as "the most recent phase of global neoliberal activity throughout the last five decades" and that traumas of her monograph are "specific to this culture while also part of a wider transnational climate" (4) Haughton uses Judith Herman's outline of the traumatic event in her book Trauma and Recovery--that traumatic events "overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life." They involve threats to life, or bodily integrity or a close personal encounter with violence and death, they confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror and evoke the responses of catastrophe (1992, 33). The case studies here forefront "patterns of trauma and abuse directed at the female body and female experience in public discourse and representation" (5) as highlighted by the arresting cover image of actress Sorcha Kenny in ANU Productions Laundry. While Haughton claims that she did not set out only to investigate women-centered trauma she was "confronted by and at times overwhelmed by, the magnitude of theatre and performance which tell of crimes against women" (14). As a result, Staging Trauma becomes a study of "female led productions that stage a traumatic event or encounter often centring on female embodied experiences of trauma" (24-25).

The four case studies are not, however, from the past five decades, but offer analysis of post 2000 performance. They are: Violation: On Raftery's Hill (2000) by Marina Carr; Loss: Colder than Here (2005) by Laura Wade; Containment: Laundry (2011), directed by Louise Lowe; and Exile: Sanctuary (2013), directed by Teya Speinuck. Haughton's analysis adds to the research that the home can be the most dangerous place for the woman as "within the home, politically, socially and culturally sanctioned forms of physical, sexual, emotional and psychological violence and abuse is privately ritualised and normalised, while publicly denied and dismissed" (27). She says we must speak to this silenced reality. She posits that theatrical performance has been an excellent space for denormalising and making strange these patterns because:
performances that depict rape, incest, unlawful imprisonment,
persecution and terminal illness not only suggest the abilities of
artists to engage with these traumatic narratives and in many cases,
histories, but the readiness of audiences to listen. Listening to the
stories of the dispossessed is a major act of personal engagement. In
this way, the arts offer spaces of engagement that cross the
historical, psychological, political and emotional, humanising the
Other. (29)

These bodies, Haughton asserts, centralized through the apparatuses of staging are more often than not shadowed in public discourse and cultural consciousness as a result of historical, political, social and cultural agendas (31); they initiate dialogue with the audience and are urgently relevant in the political movement.

Staging Trauma adds to a recent wave of research looking at and identifying how we represent pain, remember trauma and even commemorate the painful elements of our history in Ireland. Although this is a wider scope than just Irish theatre it fits nicely with recent publications from Emilie Pine The Politics of Irish Memory (2011) and The Body in Pain in Irish Culture, edited by Fionnuala Dillane, Naomi McAreavey and Emilie Pine (2016). In conjunction with Rape on the Contemporary Stage there are obvious links here for researchers and module co-ordinators.

Liza Fitzpatrick's book similarly deals with trauma on the stage, but she focuses specifically on sexual violence on the Western Anglophone stage, specifically works presented in Ireland and Britain, over the past three decades. Fitzpatrick works on the "understanding that there is dialogic and that it speaks to its own social moment" but opens with the example of Levite's concubine from the Book of Judges to illustrate the "common literary and dramatic representational strategies that use rape and sexual violence to communicate an idea or message that may have little to do with rape per se" (2). These issues include, similar to Haughton, the silencing of the victim's voice, the erasure of her subjectivity, the use of her body as a site for the enactment of conflict and the use of rape as metaphor (2).

Fitzpatrick asks what the cultural representations of gender, sexuality, power and the body tell us about rape and if these representations reflect or challenge the dominant metanarratives. Describing rape narratives in entertainment as ubiquitous, Fitzpatrick points out that they "speak powerfully to gender roles and normative gender constructs" (5) with many TV programs opening with the trope of the body of a raped or murder woman.

Fitzgerald's history of feminist theories of rape from second-wave feminism is very helpful in building her theoretical framework, but it also providing readers with a brief but solid understanding of feminist debates on rape, pornography and sexuality from the 1960s to present day in the UK and Ireland. Her contextualization of the debate benefits from her straightforward, chronological approach and is an important starting point. The proliferation of contemporary work in this area is comprehensively discussed, and Fitzpatrick's discussion is enhanced with examples from popular culture, especially from the UK.

This is an ambitious introduction, and the breath of work that Fitzpatrick considers here is impressive. The introduction moves on to include a short historical survey of rape on the stage, where Fitzpatrick sets out to prove that rape narratives are not just a "feminist concern, or a product of post-1960's 'liberal attitudes' to sex" but also have been a thematic element of theatrical performance, especially since the seventeenth century (15). Interestingly, she includes a range of film references when she moves to her discussion to the twentieth century, indicating that film began to replace theatre as a form of "popular mass entertainment" (22). Fitzpatrick builds on this point by including brief reference and comparison to film throughout the study, and could easily be developed into a chapter to allow for detailed analysis of form, genre and medium through juxtaposition of specific text, or even a longer separate study in its own right. This has the potential to be developed further here.

Fitzpatrick, like Haughton, chooses specific plays as case studies, but rather than depending on just a specific performance, Fitzpatrick focuses more on a combination of published text, reception and video documentary. The structure here is much broader than Haughton's because of the variety of texts, genres and even time-frame and the book becomes more broader survey under her chapter headings: "Rape on the Naturalistic Stage"; "Women Playwrights"; "Body of a Woman as a Battlefield"; "Eroticism, Vulnerability and Affect"; and "Staging Rape in the 2010's."

Both Haughton and Fitzpatrick choose Marina Carr's On Raftery's Hill for analysis, and in fact it would be hard to avoid including this recently revived play. It is here you can also see where their different approaches interact for a really interesting and nuanced reading of the text and performance. Haughton chooses the Druid/Royal Court production for a detailed analysis of that production of the play. Her engaging writing style imbues her work with personality often challenging the reader to become active readers, to answer the questions she asks. This makes her work on such difficult topics very readable, and approachable. Difficult to achieve in such scholarly work, the book is ideal for final year students. Basing her chapter on Judith Herman's definition from Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (1992) that violation is a synonym for rape--as "rape, by its nature, is intentionally designed to produce psychological trauma," Haughton's chapter benefits from its single performance focus, allowing detailed analysis of the verbal and nonverbal signs of the production (42).

Fitzpatrick's study forms part of a longer chapter on how women playwrights subvert representational strategies. The section treating On Raftery's Hill is titled "Gothic Irish families," but the gothic elements, although obvious, are not really explored here. Fitzpatrick focuses more on the aesthetics of the text and builds on Eamonn Jordan's reading of the play as an assault in the conventions of the pastoral. It becomes an excellent close reading of the text embedded in theatre history. Again Fitzpatrick includes references to film contrasting the "performance" of rape with the scenes in Baise-Moi and Irreversible.

There is definitely an interesting contrast here, and films like Nymphomanic, or stage to screen (and vice versa) adaptations would add to an important discussion around how the act of violation is presented on both the stage and on screen with consideration to form and genre. Fitzpatrick's inclusion of these brief references highlight how this comparison is warranted. It asks questions about how these different mediums approach rape, and if the form impacts on the representation. Haughton's work, on witnessing, in particular, would feed directly to such a study. Fitzpatrick includes a number of interesting theatrical comparisons with On Raftery's Hill such as Five Kinds of Silence, The Love of a Nightingale and The Grace of Mary Traverse. Her theatrical knowledge is impressive and the breath of work here really illustrates her scholarship.

It would be interesting to see how both Haughton and Fitzpatrick would approach the somewhat disjointed recent Abbey production of Louise O'Neill's Asking for it (2018). Despite the rave reviews and sellout performances, the two-act play felt uneven in places. However, its staging of the rape and the subsequent consequences of the trauma make for an interesting critique on our current discussion about consent, witnessing and social media. It would be helpful to hear both scholars approach the performance from their theoretical standpoints.

Both scholars refer to the large numbers of plays and performances dealing with rape over the last number of decades, and it seems that there is work to be done to document these plays. While beyond the scope of the books under review, it would be interesting to know how many came from Ireland, Northern Ireland, or England, and if there were any contextual factors coinciding with the performances. It would offer additional information for researchers on not only the prevalence of writing, but those produced and where they are produced, both in a geographical sense and theatrical sense. Do the numbers increase or decrease at certain times? Who produces these plays? What is the gender breakdown of the narratives? And even thinking of the Waking the Feminists research here in Ireland, who is writing, producing and performing these narratives? In the wake of the #MeToo movement, and media coverage of events like the Belfast Rape Trial in 2018, or #Slanegirl (2013), these two offerings from Haughton and Fitzpatrick are vital additions to the discourses around sexual violence and trauma.

--University College Dublin


Miriam Haughton.


Lisa Fitzpatrick.

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Title Annotation:Staging Trauma: Bodies in Shadow, Rape on the Contemporary Stage
Author:Flynn, Deirdre
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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