Yeats Besotted – Bewley’s Café Theatre @ Powerscourt, Dublin
Writer: Cathal Quinn
Director: Cathal Quinn
“Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.”
William Butler Yeats is a man who in Ireland needs little introduction. Even decades after his death the slightest new titbit or revelation generates a buzz of media interest and his writing is taught to every Irish student. His place as one of Ireland’s literary greats assured. With this in mind how best for a playwright to get to the heart of the man? To navigate through the wealth of analysis and study to find the man behind it all?
Yeats Besotted attempts this by dramatising the turbulent relationship between the Nobel Laureate and his greatest love and muse, Maud Gonne. Religion, politics, the occult and the difficult birth of the Irish Free State are all touched upon in Yeats Besotted, however, the focus remains on the love affair between Yeats and Gonne. The pair first met in 1889 when she approached him to seek his support against tenant evictions. Yeats found himself instantly in love, besotted, and from this point onwards she acts as his poetic muse political inspiration. Throughout the play are poems in English and Irish that were written for or inspired by his love for Gonne.
When we are first introduced to Yeats, very capably played by Philip Judge, he is arguing for the legalisation of divorce in the Seanad. Here he is not just a poet but also a politician. There is a suggestion that runs throughout Yeats Besotted that Gonne was also the spark behind much of Yeats political ideas and beliefs. On a whistle-stop tour through their relationship from 1889 to 1928 Gonne is a constant in Yeats life, even as she goes on to marry another. In the rapidly changing Irish political landscape of the first decades of the 20th Century will there be room for an unconventional love story such as theirs? Or will their pasts and love prove too controversial for 1920s Ireland?
Yeats Besotted is a lovely short play that entertains and intrigues in equal measure. It is important to note that prior knowledge of the protagonists is not needed due to the capability of Quinn’s script and the universalism of the plays key themes. With luck, Yeats Besotted will in time become a longer production that can further investigate this unique relationship that had a profound effect on the work and reputations of two of Ireland’s greatest figures.