Sunday, June 03, 2007

Loose Theatre: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Theatre Activist

by Margaretta D'Arcy (Trafford Publishing: Victoria BC, Canada; Crewe, Cheshire, London, 2005)

Margaretta D'Arcy is a well known Irish playwright, one of the few women ever to receive the Cnuas, a lifetime Arts Council income grant. She talks about her plays and about the award (and the politics of the award) in this book, but it is much more devoted to the theatre of activism in which she has long engaged. Causes to which she has lent this talent include, among others: labour rights, Irish nationalism, peace, ending the US Cruise Missile presence on Greenham Common in England, the Measuring and Counting of Women's Unwaged Work, international community radio, Wages for Housework, and the annual Women's Strike.

Having known and admired Margaretta for quite a few years, I was very interested in Part One of the book, which tells about her peculiar upbringing. She had an Irish Catholic former freedom-fighter for a father and a Russian Jewish doctor for a mother. As she was born in 1934, the social milieu of the time made emphasizing the Catholic angle less conspicuous, and she and her sisters were sent to Catholic boarding school. There, she discovered the impressive power of the church's theatricality, which created in her a fervent if temporary religiosity.

As a young woman, Margaretta became an actress and began to hang with theatrical types. She met and eventually married and had offspring with playwright John Arden, and has collaborated with him on many plays and radio dramas of a political nature. In this book, she writes of witnessing the emergence of a new, comparatively wild and flexible, sort of theatre, of which she and John were among the well known practitioners.

One of the largest sections of this book covers Margaretta's years of involvement with the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camps. These camps (which were named for the different-coloured gates of the base) had the aim of reclaiming commons land in England that had been confiscated for a US cruise missile base. While very committed and spending a lot of time there, Margaretta also retained her inbred outsider stance throughout, and this allows her to honestly portray the factionalism, moods, and snitty behaviours of Peace Camp participants and their allies, while at the same time crediting their courage, stubbornness in the face of intimidation (and even death), and their almost unbelievable final success. The book is composed partly of new writing but also greatly, especially in this section, of edited selections from diaries and letters and fliers, raw hunks of the mood from the actual days of D'Arcy's life.

Margaretta D'Arcy has written other books, including Tell Them Everything, Awkward Corners (with John Arden), and Galway's Pirate Women: a global trawl. You can find D'Arcy's books and videos as well as streaming audio from her station, Radio Pirate Woman, on her website

-- Frieda Werden

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