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The Arts Council Playography Na Gaeilge


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The Old Lady Says No!

A romantic play with choral interludes, in two parts, by E.W. Tocher


  • Playwright

    Denis Johnston 

  • Setting

    The action of the play opens in the garden of 'The Priory', the home of John Philpot Curran, close to Rathfarnham on the night of the 25th August, 1803.

  • Notes

    Johnston's play was first entitled 'Shadowdance' and submitted to the Abbey. Yeats sent it back to him with 'The Old Lady Says 'No!'' (referring to Lady Gregory) scrawled on it, so the author re-titled it and sent it to the Gate.

  • Synopsis

    Denis Johnston's first play takes place in the mind of an actor who is playing Robert Emmet in a traditional patriotic drama. The actor is knocked unconscious by accident and in his reverie he imagines he is Emmet walking the streets of present-day Dublin, confronting the jarring contrast between the myth of Ireland and modern day reality, the hypocrisy of contemporary politics and the petty materialism of the populace at large. On the way he encounters latter-day rebels, empty-headed youth, the self-satisfied middle classes, and the statue of the parliamentarian Henry Grattan come to life. Yeats's heroine Cathleen ni Houlihan, the symbol of Ireland, is transformed into a foul-mouthed hag of a flower seller. Emmet finds himself fighting the very people he would redeem. The play parodies the sentimental martyrdoms in Irish literature, and brings in the voices of the great Irish writers who have bequeathed so much to the world's knowledge of itself. Despite its satirical tone the play in the end eloquently presents the revolutionary's cry, "I will take this earth in both my hands and batter it into the semblance of my heart's desire."

  • Play Type

    Plays General

    Number Of Acts


  • Cast Size Male


  • Cast Size Female


Original Production

Original Cast  
Major Sirr Hilton Edwards
The Other Ones Ida Moore
1st Redcoat Johann Manning
The Other Ones Michael Scott (1)
2nd Redcoat Mitchel Cogley
The Other Ones Henry Benedict
The Other Ones Dom Bowe
The Other Ones Pauline Besson
The Other Ones Susan Hunt
The Other Ones Hazel Ellis
The Other Ones Kay Scannell
The Speaker (Robert Emmet) Micheál Mac Liammóir
The Other Ones Coralie Carmichael
The Other Ones Fred Johnson
The Other Ones Florence Lynch
The Other Ones Art O'Murnaghan
The Other Ones Gearoid O'Lochlann
The Other Ones Dorothy Casey
Sarah Curran Meriel Moore
The Other Ones Sheila Carey
Production Team  
Settings by Micheál Mac Liammóir
Lighting Hilton Edwards
Costume Designer Micheál Mac Liammóir
Produced by Hilton Edwards
Costume Construction Bougwaine Wilson

Published Scripts

  • Title

    Selected Plays Denis Johnston introduced by Joseph Ronsley

  • Year


  • Published By

    Colin Smythe Ltd.

  • Address

    P.O. Box 6
    Gerrards Cross
    Buckinghamshire SL9 8XA

  • Phone

    + 44 1753 886000

  • Email


  • Website


  • ISBN


Rights Information

  • Territory

    All Territories

  • Rights Type

    All Rights

  • Contact

    Micheal Johnston

  • Address

    20 Burdett Avenue, Sandycove
    Co. Dublin
    Republic of Ireland

Source Of Information

The information for this entry was taken from the original production programme.