Marina Carr

Intro Irish playwright
Is Author Professor Educator Writer Playwright
From Ireland
Type Academia Film, Television, Stage and Radio Literature
Gender female
Birth 17 November 1964, County Offaly, Ireland
Star sign Scorpio
Residence County Offaly, Ireland

By The Bog of Cats at Wyndhams Theatre, London in 2005 Marina Carr (born November 17, 1964) is a prolific Irish playwright. She has written almost thirty plays, including By the Bog of Cats (1998) which was revived at the Abbey Theatre in 2014.

Early life and education

Carr was born in Dublin, Ireland but she spent the majority of her childhood in Pallas Lake, County Offaly, located adjacent to the town of Tullamore. Carr grew up in a house filled with writing, painting and music. Her father, Hugh Carr, was a playwright and studied music under Frederick May, while her mother, Maura Eibhlín Breathneach, was the principal of the local school and wrote poetry in Irish, and it was said that "there was a lot of literary rivalry." As a child, Carr and her siblings built a theatre in their shed, "we lay boards across the stacked turf, hung an old blue sheet for a curtain and tied a bicycle lamp to a rafter". Carr recalls, "it was serious stuff, we even had a shop and invited all the local kids in; the plays were very violent!" Carr attended University College Dublin, studying English and philosophy. She graduated in 1987, and subsequently received an honorary degree of Doctorate of Literature from her alma mater.


She has held posts as writer-in-residence at the Abbey Theatre, and she has taught at Trinity College Dublin, Princeton University, and Villanova University. She lectured in the English department at Dublin City University in 2016. Marina Carr is considered one of Ireland's most prominent playwrights and is a member of Aosdána. Her works have been translated into many languages, and have received much critical acclaim.


Carr's work has received numerous awards. The Mai won the Dublin Theatre Festival Best New Irish Play award (1994-1995) and Portia Coughlan won the nineteenth Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (1996-1997). Other awards include The Irish Times Playwright award 1998, the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American/Ireland Fund Award, the Macaulay Fellowship and the Hennessy Award. Carr has been named a recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. The award, which includes a financial prize of $165,000 (or €155,000), was formally presented in September 2017. She was the second Irish author to receive the prize, following playwright Abbie Spallen in 2016.

Theatrical works

Play Year Venue Director Other Notes
Portia Coughlan 2020 Young Vic Caroline Byrne Major revival of original starring Ruth Negga
The Boy 2020 Abbey Theatre Caitríona McLaughlin
Blood Wedding 2019 Young Vic Yaël Farber New Version based on the original play.
On Raftery's Hill 2017 Abbey Theatre Caitríona McLaughlin
Anna Karenina 2016 Abbey Theatre Wayne Jordan
Mary Gordon 2016 National Concert Hall Marina Carr
Indigo 2015 Royal Shakespeare Company Marina Carr
Hecuba 2015 Royal Shakespeare Company Erica Whyman
By the Bog of Cats 2015 Abbey Theatre revival Selina Cartmell
Rigoletto 2015 Opera Theatre Company Irish National Tour Selina Cartmell
The Map of Argentina 2015 Abbey Theatre Marina Carr
16 Possible Glimpses 2011 Abbey Theatre Wayne Jordan
Phaedra Backwards 2011 McCarter Theatre, Princeton Emily Mann
The Giant Blue Hand 2010 Ark Theatre, Dublin Selina Cartmell
Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Quartet 2010 Traverse Vicky Featherstone
Marble 2009 Abbey Theatre Jeremy Herrin
The Cordelia Dream 2008 Wilton's Music Hall Selina Cartmell
Woman and Scarecrow 2006 2007 Royal Court Theatre Abbey Theatre revival Ramin Gray
By the Bog of Cats 2004 Wyndham's Theatre West End Theatre Dominic Cooke
Ariel 2002 Abbey Theatre Conal Morrison
On Raftery's Hill 2000 Town Hall Theatre, Galway Royal Court Theatre Downstairs John F. Kennedy Center Garry Hynes
By the Bog of Cats 1998 Abbey Theatre premiere Patrick Mason
Portia Coughlan 1996 1998 Abbey Theatre Royal Court Theatre The Actor's Studio, New York Garry Hynes
The Mai 1994 1995 1996 1997 Peacock Theatre Abbey Theatre McCarter Theatre, Princeton University Tricycle Theatre Brian Brady
Low in the Dark 1989 Project Arts Centre Marina Carr
Ullaloo 1989 1991 Dublin Theatre Festival Abbey Theatre David Byrne
This Love Thing 1991 Old Museum Arts Centre Jim Culleton
The Deer Surrender 1990 Marina Carr


The Mai. London: Dufour Editions, 1995. By the Bog of Cats. The Abbey, Dublin, and Wyndham's Theater, London. 1998 Plays One. London: Faber and Faber, 1999. On Raftery's Hill. London: Faber and Faber, 2000. Ariel. Oldcastle, Co. Meath: Gallery Books, 2002. Woman and Scarecrow. London: Faber and Faber, 2006 Marble. Oldcastle, Co. Meath: Gallery Books, 2009 Plays Two. London: Faber and Faber, 2009 16 Possible Glimpses. The Abbey Theatre, 2011 Plays Three. London: Faber and Faber, 2015 1 in 5. Roe Valley Hospital, 2011

By the Bog of Cats…

The original production of By the Bog of Cats took place at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The play opened on October 7, 1998, and ran until November 14th, 1998. The production, totaling 45 performances, was directed by Patrick Mason and designed by Monica Frawley. Other members of the production team included Nick Chelton, lighting designer and Dave Nolan on sound. The lead roles were played by Siobhán Cullen (Josie Kilbride), Olwen Fouéré (Hester Swane), and Conor McDermottroe (Carthage Kilbride). Other characters such as Catwoman were played by Joan O’Hara, Carline Cassidy played by Flonnuala Murphy and Xavier Cassidy by Tom Hickey. Irish writer Frank McGuinness wrote the programme note of the Abbey production of By the Bog of Cats… in 1998. His description of the play analyses Carr's style of writing, which he likens to Greek writing:

By the Bog of Cats… is a play about sorrow. Therefore it must be funny. A play about death, so a wedding shall be at the centre of it. A play about saying the things that need to be said, so there will be silence at the end of it. A play about hatred, so love is at its heart. A play whose philosophy is that Carthage must be destroyed, but what happens to the destroyers? This is what By the Bog of Cats… tells us.
— Frank McGuinness, By the Bog of Cats… Programme Note, 1998.

Woman and Scarecrow

Woman and Scarecrow centers on a dying woman's last stretch of time on earth, reflecting on the life she has led. We are told very little of the setting, but presume she resides in a domestic space, as the stage directions in the first act indicate she is lying in bed 'gaunt and ill'. Apart from the bed, the only furniture indicated is a wardrobe, which has an ominous presence in the play. The mysterious thing that lurks inside the wardrobe signifies death and its imminent approach. For a good part of the play the only other character present is Scarecrow. It is unclear what Scarecrow represents, perhaps the woman's subconscious. It is significant to note that all of the characters in the play "are referred to by either pronouns or titles – Woman, Him, Scarecrow, Auntie Ah, placing a universal slant on who they are and what they represent." Woman is largely defined as her role as mother and wife throughout the play. She is mother to eight children, with a ninth having died. As the play progresses, we learn that her husband has been unfaithful. Despite being aware of this, Woman at times is still dependent on Him, 'I've missed you in bed beside me'. On other occasions she redeems herself, asserting her independence by insisting she will not wear her wedding ring to the grave and places value on herself, 'save you were not worthy of my love'. Her independence is consolidated by the fact that she dies when he is absent from the room. The play runs for approximately 2 hours 20 minutes. Woman and Scarecrow was staged for the first time at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre in London in 2006, directed by Ramin Gray and starring Fiona Shaw and Bríd Brennan as Woman and Scarecrow, respectively. Lizzie Clachan designed the set for this production, alongside lighting designer, Mischa Twitchin, and sound designer, Emma Laxton. Later, it was produced in the Peacock Theatre, where it was directed by Selina Cartmell and starred Olwen Fouéré (Woman) and Barbara Brennan (Scarecrow). The play opened at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York in May 2018. Directed by Ciarán O'Reilly, the cast included Stephanie Roth Haberle (the woman), Pamela Gray (Scarecrow), Aidan Redmond (the husband) and Dale Soules (the aunt).

The Mai

The Mai is about a woman in her late 30s, whose husband (and absentee father to their children) returns from having abandoned them, wanted to give their relationship another chance. The play is divided into two acts. The setting for act one is the summer of 1979 (Robert's return from a long time away) and the setting for act two is a year later, as we check in on the state of the precarious relationships established in the first half of the play. Throughout the play, the eponymous The Mai grapples with struggling to keep her marriage alive despite Robert's frequent cheating and conceding to the opinions of her family and leaving him. In the end, she confesses to her daughter Millie, who has served as the narrator of this piece, that she cannot imagine a life without Robert where she would be happy nor a life with him where they could co-exist peaceably together. The original production of The Mai took place at, and was produced by, the Abbey Theatre on October 5, 1994. It was directed by Brian Brady and designed by Kathy Strachan. The lead roles were played by Olwen Fouere (The Mai), Derbhle Crotty (Millie), Joan O'Hara (Grandma Fraochlan) Owen Roe (Robert), Brid Ni Neachtain (Beck), Stella McCusker (Julie) and Maire Hastings (Agnes) The Mai is thematically in keeping with the main themes of Carr's other work. These characters are all grappling with their roles as mothers and their roles as wives. It is clear that most of them prioritize their husbands over their children and if they didn't the end up regretting it like Beck, who after pouring herself into her marriage still had to watch it dissolve. Even Grandmother Froachlan, the matriarch of the family says that she would have gladly thrown all of her children into "the slopes of hell" to be reunited with the nine-fingered fisherman. Throughout the play Carr weaves these characters relationships in and out of each other to the rhythm of nearby ecology. Millie takes particular interests in the folklore of Owl Lake. In discussing the martial failures alongside the professional triumphs of these women, Carr uses them as vessels to discuss the role of marriage in capitalism and its discriminating patriarchal practices towards unmarried women and single mothers. The Mai is said to have built a sturdy home for her and her children in the years that Robert was gone. This kind of upward mobility is revered by most around her apart from Robert who dismissed her success as having come directly from his generosity. The Mai immediately corrects him reminding him that she was a cellist in the college orchestra and that after he left her to raise their kids alone she was also teaching full-time. Discourse on marriage and it's link to capital is apparent here as the characters talk about how when they lost their husbands they lost everything, referring to their current socio-economic status as spinsters.


Marble opened in Dublin in 2009 at The Abbey Theatre. The four characters are husband and wife Ben and Catherine and a second couple Anne and Art. The play runs for approximately 1 hour 40 minutes. Translated into Spanish as Mármol the play opened in Madrid in November 2016 at the Teatro Valle-Inclán, home to the National Drama Centre. It was directed by Antonio C. Guijosa and translated into Spanish by Antonio C. Guijosa and Marta I. Moreno. The cast included José Luis Alcobendas (Ben), Elena González (Catherine), Susana Hernández (Anne) and Pepe Viyuela (Art).

Reference to themes and history

It has been said that, “Marina Carr's plays aren't a good advertisement for motherhood.” For example, one of Carr's first works, The Mai, is named after an Irish folklore character who slaughters her children. Portia, who is the protagonist of one of her more famous works, Portia Coughlan, is an equally terrible mother. She drinks brandy at all hours of the day, wishes that she could mutilate her own offspring, and ultimately commits suicide by drowning herself. As The Guardian states, “This wasn't perhaps what Dublin's National Maternity Hospital had in mind when it commissioned Carr to write a play to celebrate its centenary.” Then there is By the Bog of Cats, starring Holly Hunter as Hester Swane. She is a woman of ill repute and an often-forgetful mother whose ex-husband, Carthage Kilbride, is about to marry again. The play rewrites a savage version of the Medea for contemporary times. Carr states that By the Bog of Cats is a reminder that a certain type of person will "kill for things and die for things". Familial death and its circumstances are a thematic occurrence in Carr's written works. In Portia Coughlin, Marina Carr designs the protagonist, Portia to be a woman who loves to drink from the bottle, just as Hester in By the Bog of Cats. She is a fierce character who is also a wife and mother of three children. Portia, like Hester, also has a deceased brother who haunts her. The play opens on her 30th birthday as readers see the ghost of her brother who has been following her for the past fifteen years. The ghost begins to consume Portia's life and she no longer has time for her family. Her husband cares deeply for Portia, yet signs of neglect are not unforeseen as the play reaches its breaking point. As these two plays exemplify/, Marina Carr gives the audience compelling stories that speak of neglect of family and focus on the consequences of death that ultimately demonstrate the bond of family and the salient theme of love. Marina Carr's writing grappled with the notions of a continuance or discontinuance of family prevailing over death. In the play, By the Bog of Cats, we learn that the protagonist, Hester Swane killed her younger brother in her childhood days. His ghost continues to haunt her throughout the play as she tries to keep her daughter away from her ex-husband who has married another woman. Although Hester's drinking problem causes her to seem like a neglectful mother, she never truly forgets about her daughter. On the other hand, Josie doesn't want to break familial bond that has been cultivated her entire life. At the end of the play Hester becomes violent. In an attempt to leave Josie, just as Hester's mother had once left her, Josie pleads with Hester in an effort follow Hester wherever she may go. The ideas of fate, family, and death are compelling themes that are seen repeatedly in many of Carr's pieces. Irish history plays a significant role in the formation of Marina Carr's ideas and thoughts. The Northern Troubles is one. Carr's focus on the mistreatment of children could relate to her being 4 at the time of the 1969 Northern Ireland Riots, and to her being 7 at the time of Bloody Friday and Sunday. The hardships that Carr's characters experience often have some correlation to what Carr herself has experienced. For example, Hester Swane from By the Bog of Cats was abandoned by her mother when she was 7. When Marina Carr was 7, Bloody Friday and Bloody Sunday occurred. For 20 years, during and before Bloody Sunday, the Provisional Irish Republican army sought to participate in rebellious acts against the British. British rule is another example because the Irish were under direct rule for such a long time, Hester's shun of authority and active rebellion relate to the Irish rejecting British authority- realization of Irish culture like Things Fall Apart.This constant theme of rebellion is scene in Carr's writing and can be attested to her childhood. Landscape is seen in the plays. Written in a guttural Midlands dialect, Carr sets the plays beside the region's lakes, rivers, and bogs- demonstrates Irish pride. Marina Carr's dark humor is another example of her frequent use of grim themes and topics. She often draws inspiration from and reinterprets ancient and tragic myths, such as the Medea myth. The dark comedy and song lyrics that she employs have been linked to the grim tones of less recent works of Irish literature. However, Carr's tragic plays employ myths to address national violence on a domestic level. She avoids addressing any violence on the sectarian level, such as the British-Irish conflict that tore her childhood apart. Carr is noted to have credited Greek mythology for its influence on her work, saying, 'The Greeks wrote fantastic women. I always say they were the first feminists. Huge, huge, and the complexity of them in a way that has pretty much been denied in a lot of literature, a lot of contemporary writing. Not that it has been denied, but it doesn't get heard as much as the other stories. I think there is a hunger for that out there.' The intertextual nature of her work is perhaps what adds to her sophistication as a writer. Marina Carr's plays By the Bog of Cats and The Mai both illustrate the quest for love, and depict, the loss of love. Hester Swane, the main character in By the Bog of Cats, desires for the father of her child, Carthage Killbride, to love her again. She wants him to move back into the house built for them as he chooses to move on. Throughout the play, readers are blindsided with the desperate choices Hester makes, to win back the man she will always love. In The Mai, the main character, The Mai, builds a home for her husband, Robert, in hopes that he will someday return to her. Eventually, The Mai realizes their relationship is beyond repair, but she cannot bear to go on without him. Central themes, specific to love, are found in both plays and include arguments for and against domesticity, the process of unearthing repressed trauma, and the heartache caused by the dissolving bonds between a woman and her lover. Marina Carr's new play 16 Possible Glimpses pulls scenes from Anton Chekhov's life but begins with the familiar idea of death. As the Dark Monk arrives early – a testament to the Ghost Fancier in By the Bog of Cats, who arrives at sunrise instead of sunset to claim Hester Swane – Chekhov begs for five more years of life. Yet Death can only offer five minutes, allowing only 16 possible glimpses to be seen. At first glance, the comparisons of Chekhov and Carr seem unlikely. Chekhov is known for dramas of inaction and Carr is known for writing tragedies like By the Bog of Cats where Hester slices her daughters throat then takes her own life. According to The Irish Repertory Theatre, there is little of Carr's trademark surreal brilliance in the 16 Possible Glimpses. However the exchanges between Chekhov and the Dark Monk who comes to claim him, changes this. Through an episodic series of scenes we meet Chekhov in various forms. Readers see Chekhov as a loyal brother, Chekhov as a son and Chekhov the writer, which culminate to the depiction Chekhov as a man consumed by internal conflict, a theme, not only shown in 16 Possible Glimpses, but also in By the Bog of Cats and The Mai.

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