The closed room: expressions of existentialism and absurdity in Gaelic drama

Michelle MacLeod* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper is an exploration of six Gaelic plays written in the 1960s and 1970s: in particular it seeks to contextualise them with European drama of a roughly contemporaneous period by the likes of Ionesco, Sartre, Beckett and to demonstrate the internationalism of this genre of Gaelic writing. In the period under consideration Gaelic drama was most commonly performed as a one-act competition piece by amateur companies, (Macleod 2011) and the plays considered here were all part of that genre. While the Scottish Community Drama Association and An Comunn Gaidhealach competitions might seem far removed from Parisian and London theatres, the influence of the latter over the content of some of the former is visible. The articles in this journal and Macleod (2011) show that Gaelic drama has made a major contribution to the development of cultural expression within the Gaelic community on account of the volume of plays produced in amateur companies across the country and the number of people engaging actively with the arts. This paper, though not an exhaustive study of the Gaelic drama of this era, is a demonstration of the importance and excellence of this genre. It teases out various themes from Absurdist and existential theatre in other languages and uses some of the extensive scholarship of that drama as a mechanism to consider a selection of plays by three playwrights Finlay MacLeod (Fionnlagh MacLeòid) (1937-), Donnie Maclean (Donaidh MacIlleathain) (1939-2003) and Iain Crichton Smith (Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn) (1928-1998), all from the Isle of Lewis. The first two of these writers revealed to me in personal correspondence and in interviews that they were indeed interested in international theatre of the type explored here and Smith’s non-dramatic work has previously been considered in this vein, with Cox suggesting that one can find in Smith’s stories the influence of existentialism and also Camus’ concept of the Absurd (1992: 195) (see also Macleod 2007, Bateman 2013).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89–112
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Gaelic drama


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