Acts and Reacts Festival and I Know My Own Heart, 1993

Glasshouse Productions was a theatre company set up specifically to redress the imbalance of women in Irish theatre. Established in 1990, the company focused on advancing female voices, both gay and straight, on the Irish stage. Over their six-year existence, the company produced 10 plays by female writers, including three new female playwrights. They also hosted two events, There are no Irish Women Playwrights 1 & 2, which consisted of staged readings from female playwrights, as well as hosted discussions on the state of women in theatre. The first event focused on new playwrights, while the second looked at works from 1920–1970 (Playography Ireland 2018). The second event formed part of the 1993 Acts and Reacts Festival, which took place in two venues, Project Arts Centre and The Irish Writers’ Centre. It launched on International Women’s Day on 8th March and ran for nearly two months, concluding with a 10-day run of Emma Donoghue’s first play, I Know My Own Heart (see poster designed by Margaret Lonergan). 


I Know My Own Heart, presented as a one-act lunchtime play during the Festival, was the first lesbian-themed play to be staged at Project since Gay Sweatshop’s Any Woman Can, performed 17 years previous. It was based on the diaries of Anne Lister, a Yorkshire heiress (1791–1884), who was known for her unconventionality: for wearing boots; keeping her hair short; travelling unchaperoned; and refusing to marry. It told the story of her three love affairs with Marianne, Tib, and Marianne’s sister, Nancy. Although Marianne was Lister’s true love, she was forced to marry a man for financial reasons, resulting in Anne having affairs with Tib and Nancy.


Later that year I Know My Own Heart went on to be produced as a full-length play at Andrew’s Lane Theatre. In her article Remained Secretly Proud of her ‘Oddity’, (GCN, issue 57, November 1993), Emma Donoghue draws an interesting conclusion between the societal attitude towards women in Regent times and that of women in 1993, suggesting that little had changed: ‘The financial, religious and social pressures on women to marry men; formulaic notions of “femininity”; the almost total invisibility of lesbians; the closet, with its real and imaginary bogeys of exposure and loss – these are as familiar to many of us today as they were to Anne Lister.’ 


(Text adapted from “Foul, Filthy, Stinking Muck”: The LGBT Theatre of Project Arts Centre, 1966 to 2000 by Hannah Tiernan, 2019)


This reading of selected scenes from the play was recorded as part of the ‘Foul, Filthy, Stinking Muck’ symposium at Project Arts Centre on 4th June 2019.

The role of Anne Lister is performed by Noelle Brown and Marianne is performed by Nicola Kavanagh. The performance was directed by Phillip McMahon.

Script permission is courtesy of Emma Donoghue.

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