Last year in County Tipperary alone there were five productions of John B Keane plays. Tipperary playwright Paul Maher considers the enduring popularity of Ireland’s best loved writer 11 years after his death.
John B. had a genius for creating larger than life characters whose struggles we understand because they are our own struggles. And even if we never killed for land like the Bull McCabe in The Field, we can all understand the destructive power of greed and we can even sympathise with the sad plight of a man so tormented by his all consuming greed. And even if we never went so far as Big Maggie in being so cruel to our own children, we can yet understand the forces in a patriarchal society that would drive a woman and a mother to such desperate lengths.
And in Moll we don’t have to have been a Priest’s Housekeeper to understand that in a society where priests were all powerful, and where women were second class citizens, a woman who was not married had to be resourceful to attain a decent level of independence and security.
Indeed it is noteworthy that economic pressures are the driving force that shapes the characters and destinies of Moll, Big Maggie, The Bull McCabe; and of course Mena Gavin and The Matchmaker in Sive, who are so twisted by their own cruel experience of poverty that the child Sive is sacrificed for the sake of her own financial security.
As a man who had immense sympathy for the human condition, John B. Keane had an unfailing ability as a writer to always go to the heart of the matter; and his plays show his deep understanding that the two most powerful needs – the need to be loved and the need for security – are needs which if neglected, can lead people to desperate actions. And this makes for the compelling drama that makes John B. Keane’s plays so timeless and enduring.
And so we come back to his plays again and again and again; because we all need understanding and sympathy for our own human frailties and what writer gives more in that regard than the great John B. Keane.
Moll will be staged in Donohill on Saturday and Sunday, January 26 and 27 and in The Marian Hall, Tipperary on Saturday, February 2. Tickets €10; concessions €8; students €5; family (2+2) €22.