Stewart Parker was born in East Belfast in 1941 and educated at Queen’s University Belfast.
His first play, Spokesong was a hit at the Dublin Theatre Festival, 1975 and then played the West End and Broadway winning an Evening Standard award in 1976. Catchpenny Twist, Nightshade, Pratt’s Fall and Heavenly Bodies followed with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast commissioning Northern Star in 1984. Stewart’s last stage play, Pentecost was commissioned by Field Day Theatre Company, Derry in 1987 and won the Harvey’s Irish Theatre Award.
Award winning work for television includes I’m a Dreamer, Montreal, and the series Lost Belongings, broadcast by ITV and Channel Four in 1987.
Stewart Parker died at the age of 47, on November 2nd 1988, and his work and inspiration has been commemorated by the Stewart Parker Trust, founded by John Fairleigh and working to promote emerging playwrights in Ireland, North and South. For Parker’s twentieth anniversary, 2008 the School of Drama, Queen’s University Belfast and the Stewart Parker Trust staged a week of events at the Belfast Festival to commemorate his life and work.
If Stewart Parker lived today his plays would guide us well into the twenty first century.
In the 70’s he was decades ahead of his time advocating a green life in opposition to urban renewal, the demolition of indigenous communities to make way for the Westlink road traffic system.
In Spokesong, Parker’s first play, the metaphor of the history of the bicycle serves as a reminder of tradition, of creativity and invention and of individual and communal opposition to bureaucracies which overrule lives.
In writing well educated young lives trying to make an ordinary living in a bicycle shop (Spokesong), or writing ballads for both sides of the Troubles’ divide in Catchpenny Twist, or just being a novice social worker in Iris in the Traffic Ruby in the Rain, Parker captures the impact of sectarian life threats and targeted or random violence which sent a young professional class from Belfast to Dublin and London.
His understated portrayals of Northern Ireland’s social dysfunction and political wrongdoings form an important historical commentary, one pertinent to the Troubles.
Parker’s introduction to his three last plays, Northern Star Heavenly Bodies and Pentecost summarises his informing culture:
‘The ancestral wraiths at my own elbow are (amongst other things) Scots-Irish, Northern English, immigrant Huguenot…in short the usual Belfast mongrel crew, who have contrived between them to entangle me in the whole Irish-British cat’s cradle and thus bequeath to me a subject for drama which is comprised of multiplying dualities: two Irelands, two Ulsters, two men fighting over a field’.
Parker captures the impact of sectarian life threats and targeted or random violence which sent a young professional class from Belfast to Dublin and London. His understated portrayals of Northern Ireland’s social dysfunction and political wrongdoings form an important historical commentary, one pertinent to the Troubles.
List of Works:
Stewart Parker: Television [Lost Belongings; Radio Pictures; Blue Money; Iris in the Traffic, Ruby in the Rain; Joyce in June; I’m a Dreamer Montreal], edited by Clare Wallace (Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2008
Stewart Parker High Pop, The Irish Times column 1970-1976 Ed. Gerald Dawe and Maria Johnston, Lagan Press Belfast 2008
Dramatis Personae and Other Writings Ed Gerald Dawe, Maria Johnston and Clare Wallace, Litteraria Pregensia Prague 2008
3 Plays for Ireland Pub; Oberon London 1989
Plays 1 Introduced by Lynne Parker, Methuen London 2001
Plays 2 Introduced by Stephen Rea, Methuen London 2002
Catchpenny Twist Abbey Theatre Peacock Dublin1977
Heavenly Bodies Birmingham Repertory Theatre 1986
Kingdom Come King’s Head London 1978
Nightshade Abbey Theatre Peacock Dublin 1980
Northern Star Lyric Theatre Belfast 1984
Pentecost Field Day Theatre Company Derry 1987
Pratt’s Fall Tron Theatre Glasgow 1983
Spokesong Dublin Theatre Festival 1975
Tall Girls Have Everything Actors Theatre of London 1980
The Actress and the Bishop King’s Head London 1976
Biography of Stewart Parker by Marilyn Richtarik will be published 2010
Papers from leading academics delivered to the Stewart Parker Conference, School of Drama, Queen’s University Belfast November 2008 from Dr Mark Phelan at QUB on www.culturenothernireland.com
Tom Maguire, Making Theatre in Northern Ireland; Through and Beyond the Troubles Pub; University of Exeter Press 2006
Anthony Roche, Contemporary Irish Drama from Beckett to McGuinness, Gill & Macmillan Dublin 1995
Christopher Murray, Twentieth Century Irish Theatre: Mirror Up to a Nation, Manchester University Press 1997
Thomas Kilroy, From Farquar to Parker, Marilyn Richtarik, Stewart Parker and Northern Star, Luke Gibbons, The Harp Re-Strung: The United Irishmen and Cultural Politics, Seamus Deane
Programme Northern Star, Tinderbox and Field Day Theatre Companies 1998
Glenn Patterson, The Parker Project, The Guardian 13 June 2008
Michael Foley, 3 Poems for Stewart, Autumn Beguiles the Fatalist, Blackstaff Press Belfast 2006