Aristocrats by Brian Friel first premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1979, in a production directed by Joe Dowling, former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre. On the occasion of the 2014 production of Aristocrats, Christopher Murray, Emeritus Professor of English and Drama at University College, Dublin and author of The Theatre of Brian Friel, looks at the importance of the year 1979 in Brian Friel’s journey as a playwright.
“Aristocrats shows Brian Friel making a major artistic breakthrough. All through the 1970s he had been searching for a dramatic form that would at once allow the exploration of ‘the way we live now’ and provide a thing of beauty, reconcile the social with the aesthetic. The Gentle Island at the start of the decade more or less indicated where he wanted to go, away from the playfulness of the later 1960s and the farce which in The Mundy Scheme constituted Ireland as a commercial graveyard. At that point the political situation in the North made importunate claims on Friel as writer. The Freedom of the City (1973) and Volunteers (1975) followed in quick succession, respectively angry and bitter public responses to terrible injustice and hypocrisy. Then Living Quarters (1977) marked a step forward, a concentration on a theme out of Euripides given a modern Irish setting and a dizzying theatricality. This transitional play, while a box-office failure at the Abbey, liberated Friel to create Faith Healer and Aristocrats, two of his finest works, which premiered in the same annus mirabilis, 1979.”