Abbey Theatre opens its doors

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Abbey Theatre opens its doors

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Éamon de Valera on the Abbey Stage

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Éamon de Valera on the Abbey Stage

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Three sisters in a rare on stage moment

This moment will never be repeated

Three sisters in a rare on stage moment

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May Craig’s legacy

Moments that inspire

May Craig’s legacy

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A 1907 poster proudly promotes Irish Plays

This moment will never be repeated

A 1907 poster proudly promotes Irish Plays

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Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats versus the Censor

Moments that inspire

Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats versus the Censor

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The first tour to America

Moments that inspire

The first tour to America

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Abbey Theatre handkerchief sold on the 1913 American tour

This moment will never be repeated

Abbey Theatre handkerchief sold on the 1913 American tour

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A hand-drawn ground plan for Blight

Theatre exists in the moment

A hand-drawn ground plan for Blight

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Plays under consideration

Moments that inspire

Plays under consideration

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The Abbey Theatre’s 21st Birthday

Moments that connect

The Abbey Theatre’s 21st Birthday

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Riots at The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey

Moments that inspire

Riots at The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey

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The enduring appeal of She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

Moments that connect

The enduring appeal of She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

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The Peacock Theatre is born

Moments that connect

The Peacock Theatre is born

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‘Madam’ and the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet

Moments that inspire

‘Madam’ and the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet

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A student offer

Theatre exists in the moment

A student offer

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The first Shakespeare

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The first Shakespeare

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Israel in the Kitchen visits the Abbey Theatre

Theatre exists in the moment

Israel in the Kitchen visits the Abbey Theatre

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The Silver Tassie’s 1935 Abbey premiere

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The Silver Tassie’s 1935 Abbey premiere

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Casadh an tSúgáin by Douglas Hyde

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Casadh an tSúgáin by Douglas Hyde

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Purgatory, for the first time

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Purgatory, for the first time

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Tanya Moiseiwitch, designer extraordinaire

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Tanya Moiseiwitch, designer extraordinaire

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Harry Brogan, a comic star

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Harry Brogan, a comic star

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The Abbey Theatre gong

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The Abbey Theatre gong

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Dressing Room Allocation for Lover’s Meeting by Louis D’Alton

Theatre exists in the moment

Dressing Room Allocation for Lover’s Meeting by Louis D’Alton

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A scrap paper set-design

Theatre exists in the moment

A scrap paper set-design

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Notice for Abbey School of Acting classes

Notice for Abbey School of Acting classes

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After the Abbey fire

After the Abbey fire

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The Abbey Theatre Fire

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The Abbey Theatre Fire

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A cupboard of importance to Irish theatre history

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A cupboard of importance to Irish theatre history

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Peacock advertisement for The Queen’s

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Peacock advertisement for The Queen’s

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Derry Power’s debut moment

Theatre exists in the moment

Derry Power’s debut moment

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Kathleen Barrington’s debut

Moments that inspire

Kathleen Barrington’s debut

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Abbey Theatre Acting Company

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Abbey Theatre Acting Company

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Eugene O’Neill and the Abbey Theatre

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Eugene O’Neill and the Abbey Theatre

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Peadar Lamb in The Country Boy

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Peadar Lamb in The Country Boy

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Kathleen Watkins plays the harp in the Abbey Christmas Panto

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Kathleen Watkins plays the harp in the Abbey Christmas Panto

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Ernest Blythe at The Queen’s

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Ernest Blythe at The Queen’s

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Institutions and the church centre stage in the 1960s

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Institutions and the church centre stage in the 1960s

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Abbey Theatre Christmas Card

Moments that connect

Abbey Theatre Christmas Card

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Audience members enjoy a night at The Queen’s Theatre

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Audience members enjoy a night at The Queen’s Theatre

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The Men from Clare

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The Men from Clare

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The Abbey Theatre & the 1916 Rising

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The Abbey Theatre & the 1916 Rising

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The Irishwoman of the Year

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The Irishwoman of the Year

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Abbey Theatre visitors book

Moments that connect

Abbey Theatre visitors book

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Recall the years premeire

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Recall the years premeire

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The signatures of the stars

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The signatures of the stars

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Tarry Flynn on the new Abbey stage

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Tarry Flynn on the new Abbey stage

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Pat Laffan in Long Day’s Journey Into Night

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Pat Laffan in Long Day’s Journey Into Night

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Cyril Cusack and Hugh Hunt

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Cyril Cusack and Hugh Hunt

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Touring en famille

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Touring en famille

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Niall Toibin in Borstal Boy

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Niall Toibin in Borstal Boy

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Borstal Boy premiere

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Borstal Boy premiere

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Madame Knebel, the Russian director

Madame Knebel, the Russian director

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The Dandy Dolls are in town

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The Dandy Dolls are in town

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Peter O’Toole, Eamon Kelly and Donal Mc Cann in Waiting for Godot

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Peter O’Toole, Eamon Kelly and Donal Mc Cann in Waiting for Godot

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The Dubliners were on the Peacock stage

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The Dubliners were on the Peacock stage

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Thomas Kilroy’s The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche

Moments that inspire

Thomas Kilroy’s The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche

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Abbey Staff take to the stage

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Abbey Staff take to the stage

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Abbey staff on the roof

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Abbey staff on the roof

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The Sanctuary Lamp is lit

Moments that inspire

The Sanctuary Lamp is lit

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Poster for Jack Be Nimble

Poster for Jack Be Nimble

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Godfrey Quigley in Time Was

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Godfrey Quigley in Time Was

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Mothers, a one woman show

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Mothers, a one woman show

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Talbot’s Box by Thomas Kilroy performed on the Peacock stage

Moments that connect

Talbot’s Box by Thomas Kilroy performed on the Peacock stage

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Stephen D and the tree of life

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Stephen D and the tree of life

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The premiere of Aristocrats

Moments that inspire

The premiere of Aristocrats

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I do Not Like Thee, Dr. Fell

I do Not Like Thee, Dr. Fell

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Hugh Leonard’s A Life 

Theatre exists in the moment

Hugh Leonard’s A Life 

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Aristocrats in Belfast

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Aristocrats in Belfast

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Eamon Kelly centenary

Moments that inspire

Eamon Kelly centenary

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Donal Mc Cann as Francis Hardy

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Donal Mc Cann as Francis Hardy

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Premiere of Canaries by Bernard Farrell

Theatre exists in the moment

Premiere of Canaries by Bernard Farrell

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Mary Makebelieve, the musical

Moments that inspire

Mary Makebelieve, the musical

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The Gigli Concert premiere

Theatre exists in the moment

The Gigli Concert premiere

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Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

Moments that connect

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

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Mamet at the Abbey

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Mamet at the Abbey

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Family Connections

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Family Connections

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Lady G

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Lady G

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Bosco Hogan as W.B. Yeats

Moments that inspire

Bosco Hogan as W.B. Yeats

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A picture of 1990s Dublin

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A picture of 1990s Dublin

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Prayers of Sherkin by Sebastian Barry

Theatre exists in the moment

Prayers of Sherkin by Sebastian Barry

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The Mai by Marina Carr

Theatre exists in the moment

The Mai by Marina Carr

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Portia Coughlan premiere

Moments that inspire

Portia Coughlan premiere

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Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn is re-imagined

Moments that inspire

Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn is re-imagined

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Marina Carr’s Abbey stage premiere

Theatre exists in the moment

Marina Carr’s Abbey stage premiere

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Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel

Moments that inspire

Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel

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A non-stop Terminus tour

Theatre exists in the moment

A non-stop Terminus tour

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Happy Birthday Mr Yeats!

Moments that inspire

Happy Birthday Mr Yeats!

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No Escape

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No Escape

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Pygmalion Poster

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Pygmalion Poster

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Panti’s Noble Call

Now is the moment

Panti’s Noble Call

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A Belfast homecoming for Quietly

Now is the moment

A Belfast homecoming for Quietly

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President Higgins visits the Royal Shakespeare Company

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President Higgins visits the Royal Shakespeare Company

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The Mundy sisters dancing

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The Mundy sisters dancing

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Twelfth Night Rehearsal Room

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Twelfth Night Rehearsal Room

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Performing Ireland exhibition at NUI Galway

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Performing Ireland exhibition at NUI Galway

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The Passing Day by George Shiels

Theatre exists in the moment

The Passing Day by George Shiels

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Designers of the future

Now is the moment

Designers of the future

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Three Casimirs

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Three Casimirs

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The world of props

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The world of props

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Warming up for the satirical Heartbreak House

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Warming up for the satirical Heartbreak House

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A performance under the stars on Heir Island

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A performance under the stars on Heir Island

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From Russia with Love

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From Russia with Love

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A look at the one-man show

Moments that Connect

A look at the one-man show

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Creating a space for playwrights

Now is the moment

Creating a space for playwrights

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The Waste Ground Party in the rehearsal room

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The Waste Ground Party in the rehearsal room

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110 Anniversary video

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110 Anniversary video

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Abbey Theatre opens its doors

On 27 December 1904 the Abbey Theatre first opened its doors to the public. A triple bill was performed on the night starting with two new plays On Baile’s Strand by W.B. Yeats and Spreading the News by Lady Gregory. These were followed by Kathleen Ni Houlihan by Yeats.  The first words on stage were spoken by Frank Fay as Cuchullain dressed in costumes by the Abbey benefactor Miss Annie Horniman. Her largess had allowed for the purchase of the old Savings Bank on Marlborough Street and its conversion along with the old Mechanic’s Theatre, thus creating the Abbey Theatre.

Sara Allgood acted in all three production performed. Note the misspelling of her name!

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Éamon de Valera on the Abbey Stage

Éamon de Valera starred as Dr. Kelly in A Christmas Hamper. He was a member of Mr & Mrs. McHardy-Flint’s Dramatic Company. At the time he was a Maths teacher in Blackrock. He often boasted about appearing on the Abbey stage. Now here is the proof.

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Three sisters in a rare on stage moment

This is a rare picture of the three Allgood sisters on stage together.

Annie Allgood (left), the youngest of the sisters acted in just three plays at the Abbey Theatre. Her elder sisters Máire O’Neill (Molly Allgood, right), Sara Allgood (centre) were the major stars of the day.

These two fascinating women created many of the iconic roles of Irish theatre. Máire O’Neill was the fiancé of J.M. Synge. He wrote the role of Pegeen Mike in The Playboy of the Western World especially for her. Sara Allgood created the role of Juno Boyle in Juno and the Paycock, Widow Quinn in The Playboy of the Western World. She acted in all three plays that opened the Abbey Theatre and was Lady Gregory’s favourite actress.

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May Craig’s legacy

May Craig first appeared as Mary Craig in 1907 as one of the village girls, Honor Blake, in The Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge. Her impressive career at the Abbey Theatre went on until 1968.

Actors Stephen Rea and Niall Buggy trace their acting influences back to the Fay Brothers and the influence of May Craig and other greats in Starting Out, a podcast as part of our Oral History Project.

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Theatre happens when people come together. Every line, laugh, kiss has been witnessed by you. Help us reel in the lived history of the Abbey Theatre. Share your moments and memories with us.

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A 1907 poster proudly promotes Irish Plays

They say in the early days all you needed was the name of the play to sell the show. But as you can see here there was actually a mine of information on the early Abbey Theatre posters and they can provide a window into the workings of the theatre at the time.

IRISH PLAYS is brandished proudly, displaying the founders’ emphasis on new work and setting the Abbey Theatre apart from other theatrical ventures of the day.

Three one act plays were being presented for three nights only – this showcases a busy and prolific producing and rental theatre. Lady Gregory, W.B. Yeats and Padraic Colm were on the billing.

Annie Horniman is acknowledged as the Leasee, the person holding the lease on the building at the time and William Fay is acknowledged as General Manager and Stage Director. The Casts of all three plays are displayed prominently as well as the roles they would play in each piece. Curiously set and costume designers were not acknowledged until some years later. Ticket prices also feature, the stalls being the most expensive seats priced at 3 shillings while the back pit seats were six pence.

All the early Abbey Theatre posters and programmes were printed by Dublin firm Corrigan and Wilson.

The typography used on today’s Abbey Theatre posters is inspired by this original typography and style.

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Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats versus the Censor

Lady Gregory visited Bernard Shaw in Hertfordshire in the summer of 1909. He gave her a copy his unpublished play ‘The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet’. The play is a court-room drama and prompted an off-stage drama too – one that would ultimately call into question, the future of the Abbey Theatre.

Shaw’s play was banned in England by Lord Chamberlain’s Office. Despite the Censor having no jurisdiction in Ireland, Dublin Castle tried to stop the production and withdraw the Patent (licence) because the play was deemed to be blasphemous.

Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats passionately fought with officials at Dublin Castle and resolved to ‘go on with the performance and let the Patent be forfeited, and if we must die, die gloriously.’

After much debate, the production went ahead during Horse Week. In Our Irish Theatre, Lady Gregory recalled that “the play was received in perfect silence. Perhaps the audience were waiting for the wicked bits to begin. Then, at the end, there was a tremendous burst of cheering, and we knew we had won. Some stranger outside asked what was going on in the Theatre. “They are defying Lord Lieutenant” was the answer; and when the crowd heard the cheering, they took it up and it went far out through the streets.”

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The first tour to America

The Abbey Theatre first toured to America in 1911. This programme records the Abbey Theatre’s first performances in New York, their eleventh stop on a 30 venue tour. Billed as the Irish Players they performed a triple bill of plays: Birthright by T.C. Murray and The Rising of the Moon and Spreading the News both by Lady Gregory, co-founder of the Abbey Theatre.

This was Lady Gregory’s first trip to America. Her presence on the tour was required initially to rehearse Eithne Magee in the role of Pegeen Mike. Prior to their departure Máire O’Neill, the original Pegeen had left the Abbey company, thus requiring a change in cast. In her account of the tour Lady Gregory noted “The interviewers saved me the trouble of writing letters these first days. I sent papers home instead”. Throughout the tour she embraced this new public persona conducting press interviews, delivering lectures and defending the company from those opposing the production of Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. In New York she recounts her stay at the Algonquin Hotel on Times Square, whilst at the theatre she was given a little room off stage, Maxine Elliott’s own room, where players and guests often had tea with her.

The touring American programmes differed from those produced at home at the Abbey Theatre. The American programmes were populated with numerous advertisements, on occasion obscuring the cast listings. Note the theatrical allusion for the cigarettes advertised.

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Abbey Theatre handkerchief sold on the 1913 American tour

When the Abbey Theatre toured America in the year 1913, they looked upon it as a marketing opportunity to raise the profile of the theatre but also to raise funds for a Municipal Gallery of Modern Art (the Hugh Lane Gallery). Why? Lady Gregory, (Hugh Lane’s aunt) and W.B. Yeats were major supporters of Lane’s quest to find a permanent home for his Municipal Gallery. They were dismayed at the lack of popular support for the Gallery. Yeats went on to address this and other political issues in his seminal poem September 1913.

The linen handkerchief reads:

“Sold by the Irish Players at $1.00 towards a building to save Sir Hugh Lane’s great gift of Pictures for Ireland, April 1913”.

The handkerchief also depicts sketches of the Abbey Theatre company by John Butler Yeats, carried out in New York.

The Abbey Theatre traditionally embraced the ensemble stance, treating all actors equally. However it seems they embraced the American star mentality on this occasion. The handkerchief features the major stars of the day including J.M. Kerrigan, Sara Allgood, Eithne Magee, Sydney J. Morgan, J. A. O’Rourke, Udolphus Wright and Fred O’Donovan.

This particular handkerchief survived the Abbey Theatre fires of 1951 but did not escape unscathed.

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A hand-drawn ground plan for Blight

Blight – The Tragedy of Dublin 1917 by Oliver St. John Gogarty as Gideon Ousley was a social commentary play in that it addressed the awful living conditions in the tenements at the time.

The ground plan for the play was mapped out headed paper from 1916 when J. Augustus Keogh, General Manager and Producer was at the helm and introduced a new logo to the Abbey Theatre.

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Plays under consideration

This page from the Abbey Theatre submission logbook provides a snap-shot of the numerous plays submitted for consideration. Submissions range from the nearby City Bakery on Store Street, Dublin to addresses in London, Manchester and Glasgow. As the ‘Result’ column reveals most authors were unsuccessful. There is one notable exception, namely the seventh entry which was Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars written at 422 North Circular Road, Dublin. In the case of Paul V. O’Carroll, his play was sent to Lady Gregory for consideration but we are unaware of any production of the play. It took a mere five years for his first Abbey production. The Watched Pot was presented on 17th November 1930 by the Abbey Theatre School of Acting.

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The Abbey Theatre’s 21st Birthday

On 27December 1925 the Abbey Theatre performed  The Hour Glass by W.B. Yeats, a morality in one act, In the Shadow of the Glen, a play in one act by J.M. Synge  and Hyacinth Halvey, a comedy in one act by Lady Grgeory. A special commemorative programme with images of all three playwrights.  The programme notes that a vote of thanks to the Abbey Players is to be proposed by Mr. Ernest Blythe, Minister for Finance, seconded by Mr. Gerald O’Lochlain (Gaelic Drama League). Mr. Thomas Johnson T.D. in the chair. Lady Gregory to reply on behalf of the Players.  A further note announces that the company would not play the following night instead would be performing plays in Irish for children by the Gaelic Drama League.

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Riots at The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey

The Plough and the Stars was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1926, less than ten years after the Easter Rising of 1916. On the night of the fourth performance, the Abbey Company was met by an unruly audience who protested against what they believed was a grotesque distortion of historical events slandering those who had died for Ireland. The riot featured a coordinated appearance by the widows and bereaved women of 1916.

During the disruption W.B. Yeats rose to praise the new play and addressed the audience saying, “You have disgraced yourselves again. Is this to be an ever recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?”

This inspirational play has been presented 56 times by the Abbey Theatre, most recently in 2012.

Image Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland, Holloway Collection

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The enduring appeal of She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

As we prepare for our latest production of Oliver Goldsmith’s enduring comedy, we recall the original production of She Stoops to Conquer at the Abbey Theatre. In 1905, the Garrick Amateur Dramatic Club hired the Abbey Theatre for a Thursday evening 8pm performance in aid of the All-Ireland Temperence Bazaar, South County Dublin Stall.  A programme from our archive confirms the prologue was by Mr. W. Alexander Craig, M.R.I.A. and spoken by Miss Mary O’Hea. Orchestral music was performed during the intervals by Mr. G. R. Hillis’s Concert Orchestra.

Later, in 1923, the Abbey Theatre mounted its first production which was directed by Lennox Robinson. All the major stars of the day performed in that production including Eileen Crowe, Maureen Delany, MJ Dolan, Christine Hayden, FJ McCormick and Arthur Shields.

Here we see the 1969 production, Pat Laffan (left) is Charles Marlow and Vincent Dowling (right) is Hastings. Interestingly both Pat and Vincent made the transition from actor to director. Pat Laffan went on to become Director of the Peacock, Vincent Dowling went on to become Artistic Director and Alan Simpson, the Director of this production was Artistic Director at this time.

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The Peacock Theatre is born

The Peacock Theatre opened on 27 November 1927. In-house it was originally referred to as the Little Theatre but was officially opened as the Peacock Theatre, so named because the walls were painted Peacock Blue.

The second of the Abbey Theatre’s two stages, from its inception it was seen as a space to house the Abbey Theatre School of Acting and a rental space to gain valuable income for the main Abbey Company.

The first performance was a play called From Morn to Midnight. A host of major Irish theatre talent were involved in that first production. Norah McGuinness was Designer, Denis Johnston was Director, Dorothy Travers Smith, who later worked as a Designer acted in this performance, as did Kitty Curling who was a student at the School of Ballet and went on to be an Abbey actress. So from day one, the Peacock was a breeding ground for Irish theatre.

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‘Madam’ and the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet

Dame Ninette de Valois founded the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet at the invitation of William Butler Yeats in 1928. She was Principal of the school, a dancer in productions and a choreographer. 

Her last performance at the Abbey Theatre was in The King of the Great Clock Tower by W.B. Yeats and when she left the School of Ballet was continued by her pupils. Its legacy endures to this day. Dancers at the school included Cepta Cullen, Kitty Curling (later an Abbey Actress) and Doreen Cuthbert. 

In this photo we have identified Jill Gregory, (middle row, far right); Geraldine Byrne, (front row, far left); Doreen Cuthbert, (front row, third from left); the two boys are Toni Repetto-Butler, (front row), and Arthur Hamilton, (back row).

Fondly known as ‘Madam’, Ninette de Valois was a major figure in ballet world-wide. She also founded The Royal Ballet; the Birmingham Royal Ballet; the Royal Ballet School; danced professionally as a Soloist with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes; established the State Ballet in Turkey; studied with acclaimed teachers including Edouard Espinosa and mentored younger dancers, among them the iconic Alicia Markova who became a Prima Ballerina Assoluta.

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A student offer

This letter offering students visiting University College Dublin a 15% discount captures some canny marketing from the Abbey Theatre in the late 1920s. J.H. Perrins was the Secretary of the Abbey Theatre at the time. This is a ‘copy letter’; all letters sent by the Abbey Theatre were saved on file. Incidentally, this letter was recently discovered by a visiting student from Notre Dame University. 

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The first Shakespeare

In 1928 Dorothy Travers Smith designed the set and costumes for King Lear, the Abbey Theatre’s first Shakespeare production. Her designs, in this case for Lear’s Palace, embraced a modern aesthetic which set her work apart. The charred edges of her watercolour designs indicate their brush with the Abbey fire of 1951.

Dorothy not only worked at the Abbey Theatre as a set and costume designer, she also acted in the first play stage at the Peacock Theatre in 1927. Later she was better known as Dolly Robinson after her marriage to Lennox.

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Israel in the Kitchen visits the Abbey Theatre

From the outset the Abbey Theatre was a popular venue for visiting productions. The Abbey Company didn’t perform on Sunday nights, leaving the stage free for visiting companies. In this case the Dublin Dramatic Jewish Society, an active amateur drama group at the time, brought Israel in the Kitchen to the Abbey Theatre for one night only.

Gabriel Fallon, a well-known Abbey actor is credited here as the producer / director of the play. Fallon was a close friend of Seán O’Casey whose play Juno and the Paycock premiered just five years earlier but was by then already an established play in the Irish theatre canon.

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The Silver Tassie’s 1935 Abbey premiere

Famously rejected by Yeats in 1928, this play caused a split between the Abbey Theatre and Sean O’Casey. It went on to premiere in the Apollo Theatre in London and it was seven years later before it appeared at the Abbey Theatre. Barry Fitzgerald played Sylvester Heegan alongside a cast of leading Abbey actors in this production, directed by his brother, Arthur Shields. During the 1930s there was a focus on producing new plays outside of the canon. As well as a warning to ladies to remove their hats, the programme features an advertisement for an Abbey Theatre Play Competition. There was also an intention to re-imagine those plays in a new setting and to that end the leading artists of the day were invited to design the sets. Maurice Mc Gonigal, grandfather of Fiach Mac Conghail worked on this production.

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Casadh an tSúgáin by Douglas Hyde

The original production of Casadh an tSúgáin by Douglas Hyde took place in the Gaiety Theatre in 1901, the first professional production in Irish. This property list drawn up by stage management notes not only the props used on stage, but also a ground plan for the kitchen setting. This was one of two plays performed that night, the other play being The Playboy of the Western World by J. M. Synge. From a practical point of view, the props listed such as the loy, barrels, clay pipes and tables could be used in both plays.

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Purgatory, for the first time

Purgatory, Yeats 12th play at the Abbey Theatre was first performed in 1938. The most modernist of his plays, it is said to pre-figure Beckett. Seamus Heaney once said of the play “seeing Purgatory is like dreaming a dream that marks you for life”.

Purgatory was staged during the Abbey Theatre’s Festival of Irish Drama. This was a 12 day festival featuring 24 plays including The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey, Kathleen Ni Houlihan and On Baile’s Strand also by W.B. Yeats and Riders to the Sea and The Well of the Saints by J.M. Synge.

In just 34 years, the Abbey Theatre had built up a substantial repertoire and the tradition of presenting a new play in the context of that wider body of work, was well underway. That Abbey tradition continues to this day.

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Tanya Moiseiwitch, designer extraordinaire

Tanya Moiseiwitch with a model box for Casadh an tSugáin by Douglas Hyde for the World Fair in 1939. In 1935 the Abbey Board of Directors announced their intention to adapt a pioneering approach to theatre design. They actively sought out designs from leading figures in the art world including Harry Kernoff, Seán Keating and Maurice Mac Gonigal, grand-father of Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre today. 

With the appointment of Hugh Hunt as Play director, changes were afoot. He requested the appointment of Tanya Moiseiwitch. Their collaboration led to innovations in theatre design in Ireland. 

Tanya Moiseiwitsch, a pioneering figure in 20th century theatre design was the first full time designer at the Abbey from 1935 to 1939. One of her students Anne Yeats went on to become Resident Designer. This tradition continues to this day. 

She went on to work in England, the US and Canada and formed a strong collaborative relationship with Tyrone Guthrie and made a huge impact on interpretations of Shakespeare’s work.

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Harry Brogan, a comic star

Harry Brogan was famous for his comedic roles. He could get a laugh out of any audience and taught many of the actors who came along after him how to ‘milk a line’. He first appeared at the Abbey Theatre in 1939 as Maurteen Bruin in The Land of Heart’s Desire by W.B. Yeats.

To learn more about Harry Brogan visit Memories of Harry Brogan, as part of our Oral History Project where playwright Bernard Farrell recalls seeing Harry Brogan at The Queen’s Theatre on Pearse Street.

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The Abbey Theatre gong

The Abbey Theatre tradition was to strike the gong three times and curtain would rise on the third strike. On hearing the first gong the audience knew to take their seats in the stalls as the play was about to commence.

The Rugged Path by George Shiels was the first play in the Abbey Theatre’s history to be given a long continuous run. The Abbey tradition had been to play for one week, on occasion extended to two weeks. However The Rugged Path ran for an unheralded 12 weeks.  During the run an over enthusiastic stage manager struck the Abbey gong too vigorously and it broke in two, an event that made the national papers!

The original gong was replaced, for free, by the manufacturer.  This second gong was in the Abbey fire of 1951 and the current gong was last sounded for The Honey Spike by Bryan McMahon in 1993. The gong hung in the prompt corner until 2008 when it moved to the Abbey rehearsal room.

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Dressing Room Allocation for Lover’s Meeting by Louis D’Alton

In the old Abbey Theatre…

The stage management files for early productions include items such as props list, curtain cues, lighting plans and on occasion administrative records including dressing room allocations. In the old Abbey Theatre the majority of the dressing rooms were located to stage right. With a relatively small cast only one of the dressing rooms is shared allowing veterans of the Abbey Theatre company such as F.J. McCormick, Eileen Crowe, Maureen Delaney, Ria Mooney and M. J. Dolan their own personal space. The signature of the stage manager Udolphus Wright is missing on this occasion.

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A scrap paper set-design

Alicia Sweetman designed the set for Rossa by Roger Mc Hugh. It is obvious it is at the time of the Emergency in Ireland, during World War II, because Alicia Sweetman used scrap paper for her presentation drawing. The design is markedly progressive for the time in its use of Mediterranean colours. This is significant because the play itself was a historical look at the political life of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.

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Notice for Abbey School of Acting classes

This notice from Lennox Robinson, Principal of the Abbey School of Acting outlines the structure of the classes undertaken as part of the Abbey School. Classes are mainly concerned with acting but range from breathing and voice production to occasional lectures on Make-Up.

For many this was the route to the Abbey stage but for others their acting ability or knowledge of Irish qualified for an audition, ultimately leading them to the Abbey company. Hear how Ronnie Masterson was spotted by Ernest Blythe at a Feis and how others made their way to the Abbey in Starting Out, a podcast from the Abbey Theatre Oral History Project.

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After the Abbey fire

This image of the doors leading from the balcony of the old Abbey Theatre down to the vestibule shows the devastation wrought by the fire of 1951. Only a ribbon of fabric remains forlornly hanging from the rail on the left, the last remnant of the curtain used to keep out the draught coming up the stairs. The decoration above the doorway shows one of the many decorative features of the old Abbey Theatre. One of the few surviving decorative elements of the old theatre is a copper mirror crafted by the Youghal metal works. This mirror is proudly displayed present day in our foyer..

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The Abbey Theatre Fire

At first glance the damage resulting from the Abbey Theatre fire doesn’t look as dramatic as expected. However, the safety curtain served its purpose and for the most part protected the auditorium from serious damage. The stock of costumes, props, and scripts were stored backstage and were particularly vulnerable. The play in production was The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey. Ironically the play ends with the two English ‘Tommies’ singing “Keep the Home Fires Burning”. Staff and actors who took part in the immediate clean up operations recalled rescuing costumes and borrowing props from other theatres allowing them to transfer the play to the Peacock stage the next night.

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A cupboard of importance to Irish theatre history

Taken shortly after the fire was put out, this photograph depicts the havoc created backstage by the 1951 Abbey Theatre fire. This storeroom close to the Abbey stage was left totally exposed to the elements, having lost its roof. The photo clearly shows a fire hose abandoned in front of an empty cupboard. What is not obvious is the importance of that cupboard to Irish theatrical history. Here the scripts and prompt scripts of Abbey Theatre productions were stored at stage right, along with curtain, sound and lighting cues. Many of the items displayed on this website were rescued from this cupboard by dedicated Abbey staff members, and due to their actions are now preserved in the Abbey Theatre Archive thus allowing them to be examined by future generations.

Listen here to Homes of the Abbey a podcast from our Oral History Project.

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Peacock advertisement for The Queen’s

When the auditorium of the Abbey Theatre was damaged on 18 July 1951, the next night’s production transferred to the smaller Peacock stage on Lower Abbey Street. This image depicts the entrance to the old Peacock Theatre the following year displaying a poster for Walter Macken’s Home is the Hero, July 1952. While the main company moved operations to the Queen’s Theatre on Pearse Street, the portraits rescued from the fire remained on site in the old theatre for viewing. Some of the staff such as Seaghan Barlow, the long serving stage carpenter, also remained on site.

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Derry Power’s debut moment

Here is a young Derry Power, former Company actor who has a long association with the Abbey Theatre. He recently played Seán Dóta in our 2014 production of Sive which toured Ireland. Derry’s first role at the Abbey Theatre was as one of the neighbours in An Comisinéar.

To learn more about Derry’s early days at the Abbey Theatre visit Starting Out, a podcast from our Oral History Project.

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Kathleen Barrington’s debut

Kathleen Barrington joined the Abbey Theatre Company in April 1958 playing one of ‘Na Daoine’ in Iosagan byPadraig Mac Piarais. Besides having a long and illustrious acting career at the Abbey theatre, Kathleen acted as the first actor representative on the Board of Directors from 1972 to 1974, indeed the next female on the Board after Lady Gregory. In her first production Kathleen Barrington was directed by Tomás Mac Anna.  She recalls how ‘very often the design sparked off the magic of the work’ in an interview as part of our Oral History Project. Visit Memories of Tomás Mac Anna for more.

Incidentally, Iosagan was performed on the same night as Cafflin’ Johnny by Louis D’Alton. It was noted in this programme that the children in the play were from Class V, Christian Brothers College, Monkstown Park, Co. Dublin. Tomás MacAnna directed productions at the school influencing others including Bernard Farrell and Des Cave who were pupils there.

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Abbey Theatre Acting Company

Here a detail from an Abbey Theatre programme gives an insight into the Acting company of the day. Images of seven company members are displayed along with details of their names for referencing in the cast list. At this time the majority of the acting company were credited in the programme by the Irish version of their names. However some of the older company members such as Eileen Crowe and Harry Brogan were so well known by the English version of their names that no change was necessary. Others like Micheál O hAonghusa and Peadar O Luain are known at this time by the Irish version of their name. For Kathleen Barrington, Derry Power and Bill Foley both versions are listed.

For more information on the Abbey Theatre Company listen to our podcast as part of the Abbey Theatre Oral History Project here.

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Eugene O’Neill and the Abbey Theatre

Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill starring as T.P. Mc Kenna James Tyrone, Jnr. and Vincent Dowling as Edmund Tyrone premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1959, just three years after it was published. 

There is a long-held association between the Abbey Theatre and Eugene O’Neill. Famously he attended the Abbey Players in New York. The Abbey plays, he later recalled, came as a revelation:

‘It was seeing the Irish players that gave me a glimpse of my opportunity. I went to see everything they did. I thought then and I still think that they demonstrate the possibilities of naturalistic acting better than any other company.’

Over the years the Abbey Theatre has produced In the Zone, Emperor Jones, Hughie, The Iceman Cometh, All My Sons, Desire under the Elms, Days Without End, Before Breakfast, Ah Wilderness! and A Moon for the Misbegotten on tour in America.

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Peadar Lamb in The Country Boy

His photograph depicts Peadar Lamb as Curly Maher in the Abbey Theatre production of The Country Boy. The play written by John Murphy was his only foray into playwriting. The scenes take place in the kitchen of the Maher home, a small farmhouse, located in Mayo. Curly is stuck at home living on the family farm, yearning to move on. His wants to get married to his sweetheart Eileen and find a life of his own but is obedient to his father’s wishes. His brother Eddie by contrast has moved to America, and on a visit home upsets Curly’s equilibrium by presenting alternative options to the life seemingly set out ahead of him. The dilemmas presented to Curly proved very popular with Abbey audiences at the Queen’s Theatre, so much so it had over 100 performances between 1959 and 1965.

Peadar Lamb’s first performances at the Abbey Theatre was in the Christmas Pantomime Sonia agus an Bodach in 1954. On 29 December of this year Peadar goes into rehearsal for our forth-coming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare.

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Kathleen Watkins plays the harp in the Abbey Christmas Panto

Kathleen Watkins, well-known harpist and wife of broadcaster Gay Byrne, played Bainrion an tSneachta in the Abbey Theatre’s 1959 Christmas Pantomime, Gráinne Na Long by Eoghan O Tuairisc.

In this pantomime, Don Juan, son of the King of Spain sets out to seek An Chuillionn, a Princess of the Lord of Snow. Christopher Columbus is not willing to make the voyage with him and he appeals to Gráinne Ní Mhaille the Irish woman-pirate who agrees to transport him to the Far North. Through treachery, Gráinne is captured by the English, confronts Queen Elizabeth and is imprisoned in the Tower of London whence she is rescued by Don Juan. Ultimately, of course, Don Juan, marries his Northern Princess.

Panto plot-lines were known to go on many tangents; during this panto Julius Caesar is seen arranging to impose the Roman type and Roman script on readers and writers of Irish.

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Ernest Blythe at The Queen’s

For many Ernest Blythe is synonymous with the promotion of Irish language plays at the Abbey Theatre. His involvement with the theatre is long-lived from his interventions to procure a state subsidy for the theatre in the 1920’s, his enthusiasm for the establishment of the Peacock theatre in 1927 and his long service as Managing Director from 1941 to 1967. Here he is depicted in the Queen’s Theatre during rehearsals.

To hear more on his time with the Abbey Theatre listen here to a podcast from our Oral History Project here.

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Institutions and the church centre stage in the 1960s

Child abuse, a major and painful issue in Irish life in recent years, was reflected on the Abbey stage back in the 1960s.

“On 30th January 1961 a play by Richard Johnson, The Evidence I Shall Give, was premiered at the Abbey Theatre. It ran for 42 performances, and then was restaged in July of that year when it ran for a further nine. It returned in August for 21 more, in September for nine, and finally in October for six. Such a run, with a total of 87 performances, was most unusual.”

–       An excerpt from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Part IV section 1.169 (5)), a play at the Abbey Theatre

Here are two newspaper reviews which gives an insight into how the play was received in 1960s Ireland.

“… although the author is obviously sincerely concerned with the fate of homeless children, the picture he paints of life in the Barrabeg institution has grounds for causing resentment among those who know what a splendid job dedicated religious communities are doing in this field.”

The Irish Independent, 31 January 1961

“I doubt if any thinking person who sees this play… will leave it without examining his own and the communal conscience on its main theme.”

“The Mother superior, who registers as an eminently reasonable woman on her first appearance, emerges, under cross examination, as the sinister figure of the tyrant-matriarch, as the tragedies and torments of all institutionalised children are quietly bared.”

The Irish Times, 31 January 1961

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Abbey Theatre Christmas Card

Abbey Christmas Card signed by Daisy and Cissie Sproule, long serving members of Box office staff. Uniquely Abbey in its make up the printed verse inside goes as follows…

Sean O’Casey’s Joxer might say

“A darlin’ New Year an’ a grand Christmas Day”,

The Playboy might whisper in Pegeen Mike’s ear,

“A wonder o’ Christmas, a joy o’ New Year”,

The wish of the Abbey is “Nollagi faoi shéan”

And blessings in plenty till Christmas again.

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Audience members enjoy a night at The Queen’s Theatre

After the 1951 fire that destroyed the Abbey Theatre we relocated to The Queen’s Theatre on near-by Pearse Street for a period of 15 years. The play that August was A Jew Called Sammy by John Mc Cann, a former Lord Mayor of Dublin and father of the great actor, Donal Mc Cann. Can you help us identify these audience members?

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The Men from Clare

This photograph is of the Cuas football team used in the 1963 Abbey Theatre production of The Men From Clare by John B Keane. In order to create the photograph the cast of the play is augmented by Abbey staff at the Queen’s Theatre. Actors Vincent Dowling, Pat Laffan and Clive Geraghty are to be found in the photograph which was taken behind the theatre on Pearse Street.

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The Abbey Theatre & the 1916 Rising

A small plaque unveiled in the foyer of the Abbey Theatre in 1966 commemorates the Abbey Theatre staff who took part in the Easter Rising of 1916. Many of those listed had a long association with the theatre.  They include actors Sean Connolly, the first rebel to be killed in the Rising, Máire Ní Shiubhlaigh, Helena Molony and Arthur Shields, usherette Ellen Bushell, prompter Barney Murphy and scenic artist and occasional stagehand Peadar Kearney. The quote ‘It is a hard service they take that help me’ is from Kathleen Ni Houlihan by W.B. Yeats.

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The Irishwoman of the Year

Here we see Kathleen Barrington as Esther Delaney in The Irishwoman of the Year by John Power delivering a speech to the audience. This was the last new play performed by the Abbey at the Queen’s Theatre before their return to Abbey Street.

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Abbey Theatre visitors book

When the New Abbey Theatre was formally opened on the 18th July 1966 by Eamon de Valera, he signed the visitors book on that occasion. Other notable invitees on the night included Ralphe J. Bunche, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Bryan Guinness (Lord Moyne). The Guinnes family had of course provided the Abbey Theatre with temporary refuge in the Rupert Guinness Hall before its move to the Queen’s Theatre in 1951.

Other dignitaries to visit that week included Sean Lemass, Kathleen Lemass and Eileen O’Casey, widow of Sean O’Casey.

The final signatures are that of Bing Crosby and his wife who attended an Abbey performance in September 1966.

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Recall the years premeire

After the fire of 1951, the Abbey Theatre had to relocate to The Queens on Pearse Street. The Abbey Theatre reopened 15 years later to the day, in a new building designed by Michael Scott and Associates. On the night the new Abbey Theatre reopened in 1966, Walter Macken’s Recall the Years was performed. It was billed as “a dramatic presentation of the history of the Abbey Theatre – of its plays, playwrights, poets and performers, riots and reactions, from its inception to its burning”.

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The signatures of the stars

A special programme designed to mark the occasion of the opening of the new Abbey Theatre after 15 years at The Queens features the autographs of Abbey Players down through the years obtained from both the Abbey archives and the Abbey Players of the day.  The President at the time, Éamon de Valera wrote a letter for the programme in which he celebrates the return of the Abbey Theatre to its original site “in a fine modern building”. Éamon de Valera himself had trod the boards of the Abbey Theatre years earlier.

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Tarry Flynn on the new Abbey stage

1966 saw the world premiere of P.J. O’Connor’s stage adaptation of Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn.  In this photograph Máire O’Neill as Mary, Geraldine Plunkett as Bridie, Donal McCann as Tarry, Bernadette McKenna as Aggie and Máire Ní Dhomhnaill as Mrs Flynn pose for a publicity ‘family portrait’.  The production directed by Tomás MacAnna utilised the stage of the new Abbey Theatre to give depth and vitality to the production, in a way that could not have been accommodated previously.

To learn more about the reaction of the Abbey Theatre company to the new Abbey stage listen to Homes of the Abbey Theatre, a podcast from our Oral History Project here.

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Pat Laffan in Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Pat Laffan is seen here as James Tyrone Jr. in Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill. T.P. McKenna had originally played the part in 1959 in the play’s Irish Premiere with Ria Mooney as Mary Cavan Tyrone. This was a rare acting role for Ria Mooney as by the 1950’s she was more commonly directing rather than acting in Abbey Theatre productions. Both productions were directed by Frank Dermody.

Listen here to Memories of Ernest Blythe, Ria Mooney and Frank Dermody, a podcast from our Oral History Project.

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Cyril Cusack and Hugh Hunt

This photograph shows Cyril Cusack and Hugh Hunt deep in discussion in the Abbey Theatre roof garden during rehearsals for The Shaughraun by Dion Boucicault.

Cyril and Hugh would have encountered one another in the 1930’s at the Abbey Theatre when Hugh Hunt was appointed as a play director from 1935 to 1938. On this occasion Cyril Cusack was playing as Conn The Shaughraun in a production that toured to London.

For more on Hugh Hunt listen to Memories of Hugh Hunt a podcast from our Oral History Project here.

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Touring en famille

Peadar Lamb and his wife Geraldine Plunkett and son Peter Lamb are pictured with Director Frank Bailey on Kilronan Peer, Inis Mór having just disembarked from the Naomh Eanna. They were touring with the Abbey Theatre production of An Cailín Bán by Dion Boucicault, translated by Liam O Briain.

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Niall Toibin in Borstal Boy

In 1967 the stars aligned to create a magical production. Frank McMahon’s adaptation of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy and Tomás MacAnna’s direction came together to create a powerful production to showcase the talents of the acting company. The cast is a veritable who’s who of Irish theatre and the production would go on to tour to Paris in 1969. Frank Grimes as the Young Behan and Niall Toibin as the Older Behan are seen here in rehearsal.

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Borstal Boy premiere

Frank Mac Mahon’s adaptation of Brendan Behan’s autobiographical Borstal Boy, directed by Tómas Mac Anna, was a major success in the late 1960s and later on Broadway where it won the Tony Award for best play. This cast was a veritable who’s who of Irish acting talent. Can you name the actors pictured?

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Madame Knebel, the Russian director

The 1968 Dublin Theatre Festival production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard has stood out for many as a defining moment in the Abbey’s history. Actors involved in the production hold fond memories of Madame Maria Knebel of the Mosow Art Theatre who directed the production at the Abbey Theatre and the inspiration she brought to the company. Here we see Máire Ní Ghráinne as Dooiashia and Harry Brogan as Feers.

Actors Niall Buggy, Kathleen Barrington and Máire Ní Ghráinne recount their memories of the production in The Cherry Orchard, a podcast from our Oral History Project: listen here 

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The Dandy Dolls are in town

The Dandy Dolls by George Fitzmaurice, one of Brian Friel’s favourite plays, premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1969.

Roger Carmody spends his days making Dandy Dolls (like a poppet or a corn dolly), much to his wife’s chagrin. When he isn’t making Dandy Dolls, he’s out stealing his neighbour’s poultry. Every time he completes a doll it is stolen by the hag’s son and he has to begin all over again. A visit from the mysterious Grey Man, who takes interest in the dolls, seems to herald a change in Roger’s fortunes.

Perennially avant-garde – like the plays of Mr. Yeats – George Fitzmaurice’s The Dandy Dolls was given a knockout production by Hugh Hunt at the Abbey in the sixties. Hunt had been asked by Liam Miller – always a staunch supporter of Fitzmaurice’s work – to review the collected plays which Miller had just issued under his imprint, The Dolmen Press. Fired by enthusiasm, Hunt soon after wonderfully staged The Dandy Dolls, in a magical setting by Alan Barlow. Spooky, exciting, unsettling (what is going on here?), the production was a huge success and travelled afterwards to London.’

–       Joan O’Hara, actor

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Peter O’Toole, Eamon Kelly and Donal Mc Cann in Waiting for Godot

Peter O’Toole starred in the Abbey Theatre’s first production of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett directed by Sean Cotter. During the run of this play, the theatre was also hired out on two Sunday nights for the E.S.B. Itinerant Settlement Week and for a Choral Concert presented by The Lindsay Singers. The Abbey Theatre was a hub for social events such as these.


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The Dubliners were on the Peacock stage

Did you know The Dubliners acted at the Abbey Theatre?

It was discovered in 1971 that at the time of Brendan Behan’s death that he had one unfinished play called Richard Cork’s Leg. Alan Simpson edited and completed the text and directed it at the Peacock Theatre as part of the Dublin Festival in 1972.

Set in a Dublin graveyard, Richard’s Cork Leg is best described as a comedy; it was described in the programme at the time as ‘an entertainment’. The Guardian described it is ‘a joyous celebration of life’ and a characteristic postscript to Behan’s earlier work.

The Dubliners were kept busy and played multiple roles including; Ronnie Drew as Blind Men, Barney Mc Kenna as A Coloured Gentleman and Undertakers, John Sheahan as Undertakers, Blue Shirts and others and Ciaran Bourke as A corpse, Blue Shirts and others and Undertakers men. They joined Abbey stalwarts such as Eileen Colgan (Bawd I) , Joan O’Hara (Bawd II), Angela Newman, Dearbhla Molloy and Terry Donnelly.

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Thomas Kilroy’s The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche

The Abbey Theatre rejected The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche by Thomas Kilroy in 1968. It went on to be produced at The Olympia in a production directed by Jim Fitzgerald. It became a hit of the Dublin Theatre Festival and went on to be revived twice at the Abbey, in 1973 and in 1989. In the Abbey’s 1973 production Peader Lamb played the medical student, Eamon Kelly (pictured on the table, was Mr. Roche) and Micheal O hAonghusa played Kelly.

The play will be remembered for painting an unsettling portrait of Irish masculinity in a state of utter stasis, and was unique in exploring homosexuality in a chauvinistic culture without a hint of exoticism or sensationalism.

This play is one of Brian Friel’s favourite plays, he selected it to be read for his 80th birthday celebration. He once said of the play – “I have such respect for this play; as perfectly shaped as a Brancusi; a sympathetic exploration of a spiritual journey from DEATH to RESURRECTION. A very cool play of whispered affections. Respect sounds grudging. Envy is closer.”

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Abbey Staff take to the stage

September 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Sean O’Casey’s death. It’s not an unusual occurrence for the Abbey Theatre to stage an O’Casey play. However on 21 December 1973 roles were reversed when the Abbey Theatre staff took to the stage in a performance of The Shadow of a Gunman. This is the programme for the evening signed by some of the cast.

This one off late night production on the Peacock stage had an invited audience of professional actors with special guest, Mrs Eileen O’Casey, widow of Sean. While the backroom boys and girls were centre stage, the Company actors were the programme sellers and ushers for the occasion before taking their seats for the performance. The cast includes General Manager, John Slemon, Lights men Leslie Scott, Tony Wakefield and Michael Doyle, Wardrobe Mistress, Lily Norton, Stage door man, Al Kohler, Stage Manager Ronan Woodcock and Sound Operator, Nuala Golden. The production was ably directed by Production Manager, Brian Collins.

The performance made a lasting impact; in An Irishman’s Diary from the following year, Quidnunc (Patrick Campbell’s pseudonym) noted that he’d personally like to see a revival of this production!

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Abbey staff on the roof

This photograph was taken in 1975 of the Abbey Theatre staff on the roof of the Abbey Theatre. Staff from all parts of the Theatre, from stage crew, accounts, stage management, graphic design, maintenance, costume, box office, scenic art, carpentry, front of house and management are depicted. Clearly the photographer Fergus Bourke had his hands full trying to capture this moment as some hilarity is ensuing. Former General Manager Martin Fahy is seen in the front row along with Michael Colgan on the extreme right.

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The Sanctuary Lamp is lit

Tom Murphy’s 8th play at the Abbey Theatre, The Sanctuary Lamp was controversial in 1975 when the notion of waifs and strays convening in a church was at odds with the principles of 1970s Catholic Ireland. Three lost souls, Harry, Francisco and Maudie, take refuge in a city church at night where they rage against God. Harry is tasked with keeping the sanctuary lamp alight for the spirit of Christ. The play went on to be performed again three times, in 1976, 1985 and 2001 proving the enduring resonance of Tom Murphy’s work. 

The Abbey Theatre posters chart a journey through Irish theatre and vary in style over the decades.  This is a poster from the second production.  The use of three colours is very effective and as is the case still today, the type-face and play title is strong and distinctive. 

The Abbey Theatre has a long association with Tom Murphy. His first play Famine premiered on the Peacock stage in 1968. A six play season celebrating Tom Murphy was presented at the Abbey Theatre in 2001.

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Poster for Jack Be Nimble

This poster for Jack Be Nimble highlights an early production by Patrick Mason in his Abbey career. Having previously worked at the Abbey as a Voice and Movement Coach this marks his directorial debut in 1976. It is also the beginning of his long collaboration with Tom MacIntyre. Their most famous collaboration The Great Hunger with actor Tom Hickey is recounted in The Great Hunger, a podcast from our Oral History Project.

Access the Oral History Project podcasts here.

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Godfrey Quigley in Time Was

Godfrey Quigley played in over 40 productions at the Abbey Theatre between 1976 and 1990. Here we see Godfrey as P.J. in Time Was by Hugh Leonard, playing with Dearbhla Molloy as Beatrice and Kate Flynn as Ellie. His indomitable spirit and unique way of learning his lines are recounted by Bernard Farrell and Tom Hickey in Memories of Godfrey Quigley a podcast from our Oral History Project.

List to the podcasts here.

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Mothers, a one woman show

Mothers, was a one woman show devised and performed by veteran Abbey Actress May Cluskey. It featured extracts from Yeats, O’Casey and Kavanagh. This poster for the show features a photo taken by Fergus Bourke who photographed Abbey Theatre productions from 1973 to 1991. He was well-known for his images of the West. This poster resonates with major themes in Irish theatre; rural life and the relationship between a mother and her children. 

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Talbot’s Box by Thomas Kilroy performed on the Peacock stage

Talbot’s Box was based on the life of Matt Talbot known as the workers’ saint who lived in Dublin from 1856-1925. John Molloy played Matt Talbot and Eileen Colgan played a priest figure (it would have been unusual at the time for a woman to play a priest!)

The production attracted huge public interest, particularly among people in Dublin’s inner city. They came in their droves to see John Molloy play Matt Talbot with the conviction that they were really seeing Matt Talbot on stage. People brought scapulars and held them up in the auditorium during the performance.

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Stephen D and the tree of life

In this month of Bloomsday celebrations, we recall Stephen D by Hugh Leonard which was adapted from Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. The play is set in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. It traces Stephen’s development from childhood through to his inevitable exile from his homeland. It reflects a world where family loyalties, patriotism and religion are bonds which must be broken to allow the artist to stand alone.

Look at Bronwen Casson’s set for this 1978 production. The set is dominated by a tree which represents the tree of life. It sets the tone for the entire play. Barry Mc Govern played Stephen D who is really Joyce given its autobiographical nature. Emmet Bergin is pictured in this scene with Barry Mc Govern.

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The premiere of Aristocrats

Aristocrats by Brian Friel first premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1979, in a production directed by Joe Dowling, former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre. On the occasion of the 2014 production of Aristocrats, Christopher Murray, Emeritus Professor of English and Drama at University College, Dublin and author of The Theatre of Brian Friel, looks at the importance of the year 1979 in Brian Friel’s journey as a playwright. 

“Aristocrats shows Brian Friel making a major artistic breakthrough. All through the 1970s he had been searching for a dramatic form that would at once allow the exploration of ‘the way we live now’ and provide a thing of beauty, reconcile the social with the aesthetic. The Gentle Island at the start of the decade more or less indicated where he wanted to go, away from the playfulness of the later 1960s and the farce which in The Mundy Scheme constituted Ireland as a commercial graveyard. At that point the political situation in the North made importunate claims on Friel as writer. The Freedom of the City (1973) and Volunteers (1975) followed in quick succession, respectively angry and bitter public responses to terrible injustice and hypocrisy. Then Living Quarters (1977) marked a step forward, a concentration on a theme out of Euripides given a modern Irish setting and a dizzying theatricality. This transitional play, while a box-office failure at the Abbey, liberated Friel to create Faith Healer and Aristocrats, two of his finest works, which premiered in the same annus mirabilis, 1979.”

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I do Not Like Thee, Dr. Fell

While Bernard Farrell can recall early family ventures to the Abbey at the Queen’s Theatre in the 1960’s, this photograph from I do Not Like Thee, Dr. Fell marks his first foray into playwriting.

The production premiered at the Peacock Theatre, later transferring to the Abbey Stage. Bernard recounts how the Peacock Theatre was a nurturing space both for himself and others in The Peacock Theatre a podcast from the Abbey Theatre Oral History Project.

Listen to the Oral History Project podcasts here.

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Hugh Leonard’s A Life 

In Hugh Leonard’s memory play A Life, Drumm (Cyril Cusack) tries to take stock of his life. He visits two old friends, Lar and Mary Kearns but his mind drifts back to another evening, 40 years previously and to happier times. 

This image taken by Fergus Bourke features a scene from Drumm’s past on a bandstand in a local park. Stephen Brennan played Young Kearns and is pictured here with Derbhla Molloy, Garrett Keogh and Ingrid Craigie. Stephen Brennan’s mother Daphne Carroll played Dolly, Drumm’s wife in the play. Three generations of the Brennan family acting dynasty have appeared in many Abbey productions over the years. 

Drumm is actually a minor character in another of Leonard’s plays Da.

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Aristocrats in Belfast

Aristocrats premiered on the Abbey stage in 1979 and toured to Belfast later that year. 

This photograph was taken by Paul Moore, a technician for that touring production. It depicts the full creative team and the actors. Back row: Joe Dowling, director, far left, Paddy Rose, Carpenter, second from left, Brian Collins, Production Manager, third from left, Jim Colgan, Sound Design, fourth from left, John Kavanagh, Casimir, fifth from left, Kevin Mc Hugh, Tom Huffnung, second from right. We haven’t yet identified the man standing far right. 

Second row: Geoff Golden, Father, far right on steps, Rhona Woodcock, Stage Director, front right, Liam Neeson, Eamon, centre, Derbhla Molloy, Alice, fourth from left, Bill Foley, Uncle George,third from left, Ingrid Craigie, Claire, second from left, Leslie Scott, Lighting Designer.

Front row: Kate Flynn, Judith, far left, Wendy Shay, Set Designer, second from left. We haven’t yet identified the woman seated in the front beside Wendy.

Stephen Rea played Eamon in the original production but in the subsequent revival on tour Liam Neeson takes that part. This was his first role with the Abbey company; having previously been a member of a visiting production with the Belfast Lyric Players.

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Eamon Kelly centenary

2014 marked the centenary of the birth of Eamon Kelly. Eamon performed in many Abbey Theatre productions such as Borstal Boy, The Playboy of the Western World and A Crucial week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant.  His performance as the Tailor in The Tailor and Ansty was performed both at the Peacock Theatre and in practically every village hall in rural Ireland. This photograph depicts Eamon Kelly in the 1982 production of Stone Mad by Seamus Murphy adapted for stage by Fergus Linehan.  Ever the professional, for this production Eamon acquired stone masonry skills and whilst able to draw on his former life as a master carpenter many audience were amazed by the skills he displayed lending authenticity to the part. Eamon Morrissey recalls how for many years both he and Eamon Kelly performed in their own one man shows in the Peacock Theatre when the Abbey Theatre Company were on their summer holidays. Hear Eamon Morrissey recount this story in The  Peacock Theatre a podcast from our Oral History Project here.

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Donal Mc Cann as Francis Hardy

Faith Healer by Brian Friel starring Donal Mc Cann as Francis Hardy, John Kavanagh as his Manager, Teddy and Kate Flynn as his wife Grace was an absolute tour de force when it premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1980.

To an Irish audience the role of Francis Hardy is synonymous with Donal Mc Cann who gave what is considered to be one of the great performances of modern Irish theatre in the production directed by Joe Dowling.

Recalling the performance, The Guardian wrote:

“…The New York Times hailed him as an “astonishing Irish actor”. The comment echoed reviews for his performance in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer at the Abbey theatre, Dublin, in 1980, when, standing alone in the spotlight, interpreting Friel’s magic in that pain-filled cream-and-whiskey voice, he had audiences mesmerised. On the first night there was a silence of several seconds before the spell was broken and the applause erupted.”

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Premiere of Canaries by Bernard Farrell

“Before any new play opens, the playwright prays that, somehow, all the subtleties within his/her work with be recognised, understood and brilliantly presented to the audience on Opening Night. It is asking a lot but, in the premiere of Canaries under the direction of Patrick Mason, not a beat nor a subplot was missed – and I think that this poster by Brendan Foreman predicts that perfection. The vibrant colours and the island setting indicated a comedy – but the stylised, caged characters tell us that these people, in their apparent freedom, are not free. We may already know that this is a play about the Irish frolicking abroad and maybe it is also telling us that, although we can take the Irish out of Ireland, we cannot take Ireland out of the Irish, no matter where they go. The poster challenges us to discover why these people with all the trappings of escape, still stand imprisoned within themselves. Canaries – my second play and my first to open on the main Abbey stage – was a very popular success and this wonderful poster by Brendan Foreman more than played its part in achieving that.”

– Bernard Farrell

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Mary Makebelieve, the musical

In 1982, Mary Makebelieve a musical by Fergus and Rosaleen Linehan with original score by Jim Doherty premiered on the Peacock stage.  Mary Makebelieve based on James Stephens’ The Charwoman’s Daughter, later that year transferred to the Abbey stage and toured the following year. Here we see Bríd Ní Neachtain stepping out in style.

To learn more about Bríd’s early days at the Abbey Theatre visit Starting Out, a podcast from our Oral History Project.

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The Gigli Concert premiere

This beautiful photo captures the essence of theatre; the three actors Kate O’Flynn, Godfrey Quigley, Tom Hickey supported by writer, Tom Murphy and director, Patrick Mason.

The Gigli Concert is a momentous and iconic play that handles the exploration of human crisis in an altogether fascinating style.

In The Gigli Concert, J.P.W. King, dynamatologist is 46 years old, English and living in Dublin. Caught between the demands of Mona, his mistress, Helen, the unattainable love of his life and an insatiable taste for vodka, the question of how to get through the day is a major one. Then a man walks into his office one morning – a man who wants to sing like Gigli.

The Gigli Concert was a huge undertaking for the actors, as we glimpse in this description from Tom Hickey of his routine at the time –

– 6am Rise and learn lines

– 9.45am Travel to Abbey

– 10.30am Rehearsal

– 1pm Sandwiches and tea with Godfrey while going over the script

– 2pm Rehearsal

– 5.45pm Go home and eat main meal of the day

– 7.30pm Resume learning lines

– 11pm Go to bed and try to sleep

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Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

A scene from the 1994 production of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme by Frank McGuinness, directed by Patrick Mason. This play premiered on the Peacock stage on 18th February 1985. It went on to travel the world.

In a reflection on the power of theatre and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, Andy Pollak, former Director of The Centre for Cross Border Studies, Armagh said, “I believe that in the dark years of the 1980s during a period of deep mutual incomprehension between the nationalist South and the unionist North, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme did more to explain Northern Protestants to people in the Republic than any single political development I can think of  ”.

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Mamet at the Abbey

At a time when the housing boom is mooted in the newspapers again, we recall the first and only performance of Glengarry Glen Ross by great American playwright David Mamet. 

The play introduces four struggling salesmen at various stages of their careers, all employed by the same Chicago real-estate office. At a Chinese restaurant, Shelly Levene is pleading with middle management stooge John Williamson for a couple of hot sales leads. Levene is a desperate former hotshot, now aging and in the midst of a long losing streak. He is so desperate for a break that he’s no longer sure he’d know what to do with it if he got one. 

In this scene Garret Keogh plays Richard Roma, Clive Geraghty plays Shelly Levene, Peadar Lamb plays David Moss and John Kavanagh plays John Williamson. The production was directed by Louis Lenten. 

The Abbey Theatre has a long history of presenting the work of American playwrights from Eugene O’Neill to Mamet to Sam Shepard.

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Family Connections

The 1987 production of The Field by John B Keane featured members of the Olohan, Conway and Lawlor clans.

This Flanagan ‘family’ portrait by Fergus Bourke includes Darragh Kelly, John Olohan, Rúaidhrí Conroy, Tom Vaughan Lawlor, Neilí Conroy, Catherine Byrne and Aoife Conroy, Kerri-Ann Lawlor, Max Olohan and Jack Olohan.

Rúaidhrí, Tom, Neilí, Aoife and Kerri-Ann performed as the children in the production. Max and Jack, children of John Olohan and Catherine Byrne, are ‘extras’ in what we believe was an improvised family photo!

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Lady G

This photograph depicts Máire O’Neill as the indominitible Lady Gregory in Lady G , a one woman show by Carolyn Swift. The play created a portrait of Lady Gregory as playwright and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. The production premiered in 1987 and was directed by veteran actor Barry Cassin.

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Bosco Hogan as W.B. Yeats

In this our 110th year we recall the inspirational founders of the Abbey Theatre. In this photograph from 1988 Bosco Hogan portrays W.B. Yeats in the one man show by Edward Callan I am of Ireland. First produced by the Abbey on the Peacock stage in 1988, it was directed by Kathleen Barrington.

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A picture of 1990s Dublin

Blinded by the Light featuring Donal O’Kelly and Frank Kelly (both pictured) is set in a bed-sit in Dublin’s flat-land. When Mick opens the door to Mormon missionaries after a feed of magic mushrooms events take a turn for the worse.  Visits from the Legion of Mary, the Association of Garda Sergeant Landlords and the entire Drogheda United Supporters’ Club (Dublin Branch) ensue. 

Dermot Bolger’s plays at the Abbey in the 1990s deal with societal issues such as heroin (One Last White Horse) and the lives of Dubliners and as such, provide a real snap-shot of the time. 

This scene is evocative of the 1990s, from the set dressing down to those distinctive jumpers! The set features a Dublin bus-stop. The poster on the wall reads: Healthy or Smoking – The choice is yours. 

Dermot Bolger was Writer in Association at the Abbey Theatre in 1997.

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Prayers of Sherkin by Sebastian Barry

Prayers of Sherkin was Sebastian Barry’s second play at the Abbey Theatre. A love story, it tells the story of Fanny, a young Quaker girl living in a dying religious community on Sherkin Island, West Cork in the 1890s.

An innocent girl, she is caught between starting a new life on the mainland and leaving her doomed community. On a rare shopping trip to the mainland town of Baltimore, she meets and befriends Patrick Kirwan a modest man. He has left his harrowing career printing drawings of murder victims for the Cork newspaper The Examiner.

This photo features Sebastian Barry’s mother Joan O’Hara (second from right), Alison Deegan, (far right), Alan Barry (centre), Dorian Hepburn (second from left) and Phelim Drew (far left). 

A portrait of Sebastian by Mick O’Dea was recently unveiled and hangs in the Abbey Theatre Bar.

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The Mai by Marina Carr

In Marina Carr’s second play at the Abbey Theatre, Olwen Fouere played The Mai, a 40 year old woman struggling to save her marriage. The play features four generations of women from the one family. Joan O’Hara played Grandmother Fraochlan, an opium-smoking woman who carts around a ten-foot oar at all times as a reminder of her dear husband.

Christopher Fitz-Simon noted “most of Marina Carr’s productions were at the Abbey. The sequence of The Mai (1994, directed by Brian Brady), Portia Coughlan (1996, directed by Garry Hynes) and By the Bog of Cats (1998, directed by Patrick Mason) is characterized by recklessly unhappy personal relationships in a newly evolved provincial society that is only one generation removed from peasant or itinerant culture; the language is scabrous, intensely local in idiom and syntax.”

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Portia Coughlan premiere

Portia Coughlan was Marina Carr’s fifth play at the Abbey Theatre. At once sinister and harrowingly moving, Portia Coughlan witnesses the struggle to reconcile all engulfing loss with life’s petty inconsequence.

“For me, watching Portia Coughlan was like crossing a rough sound, clinging to the prow of a small boat – I was exhilarated, laughing in fright, terrified, but energised. Reading it, I’m in awe of Carr’s daring, her ability to write what a person might actually say, but to make it amazing, her imaginative power. Reading it aloud with students, the language and the people come alive with physical energy. Portia Coughlan is a dynamo that makes light out of darkness.”

Cathy Leeney, Lecturer, Drama Studies Centre, UCD

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Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn is re-imagined

Tarry Flynn, the novel by Patrick Kavanagh has been described as the countryman’s Hamlet. Set in Cavan in the 1930s, it tells the story of Tarry, a farmer poet, and his quest for bog fields, young women and the meaning of life. His sensibility is torn between two impulses; the poetic and the libidinous. He has to decide between staying on, close to his beloved patchwork fields or striking out into the wider world.

The 1997 production adapted and directed by Conal Morrison will be remembered by audience members who witnessed the transformative power of the actors who morphed from people into chickens and other farm animals before their eyes in what was a visceral and vibrant production involving much choreography and dance. This was post Riverdance Ireland!

PJ O’Connor also adapted the novel for the Abbey stage back in 1966.

The image depicts James Kennedy as Tarry being held aloft by Eugene O’Brien and Vincent McCabe amongst others.

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Marina Carr’s Abbey stage premiere

Hester Swane is a woman scorned. Her husband Carthage has become a prosperous farmer and is leaving Hester to marry a respectable girl.

Marina Carr’s play is the story of Medea re-imagined and transported to the bogs of Midlands Ireland. The play is packed full of timeless characters such as a ghost fancier, a catwoman and neighbours who are not what they seem.

Here we see Hester Swane, played by Olwen Fouéré with Catwoman played by Joan O’Hara. This production was directed by Patrick Mason with set design by Monica Frawley.

This was a significant moment; in 1998 Marina Carr was the first woman playwright to premiere on the Abbey stage in some years. Her plays Ullaloo, The Mai and Portia Coughlan were previously produced on the Peacock stage.

The Abbey Theatre will revive By the Bog of Cats in 2015.

Photographer: Amelia Stein

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Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel

The Burial at Thebes, a translation of Sophocles’ Antigone by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney premiered on 5 April 2004. Recalling the experience of translating Antigone he wrote “Greek tragedy is as much musical score as it is dramatic script. I wanted to do a translation that actors could speak as plainly or intensely as the occasion demanded, but one that still kept faith with the ritual formality of the original. I was glad, therefore, to find corroboration for this effort in Yeats’s sonnet ‘At the Abbey Theatre’, where he expressed the conflicting demands placed upon his theatre as follows:

“When we are high and airy hundreds say

That if we hold that flight they’ll leave the place,

While those same hundreds mock another day

Because we have made our art of common things.”

Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel pictured at the Opening Night of the 2008 revival of The Burial at Thebes on the Peacock stage.

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A non-stop Terminus tour

Dubliner Mark O’Rowe won the George Devine Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and an Irish Times/ESB Irish Theatre Award for Best New Play for Howie the Rookie in 1999.

The Abbey Theatre’s 2007 production of his play Terminus toured to New York’s Under the Radar Festival and to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2008 where it won an Edinburgh Fringe First.

Catherine Walker is pictured here in the 2009 production when we toured the play Australia to present it at the renowned Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Mark’s work was first produced at the Abbey Theatre in 2001 with Made in China and he was appointed joint writer-in-association for the Abbey’s centenary year.

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Happy Birthday Mr Yeats!

We recall the world premiere of An Appointment with Mr. Yeats in 2010. Since setting The Stolen Child to music on their classic Fisherman’s Blues album, Waterboys’ singer Mike Scott had been quietly crafting a rich collection of songs utilising Yeats’ poems as lyrics. A few were performed solo by Scott during the Yeats International Festival at the Abbey Theatre in the 1990s, but most remained unheard, waiting for the moment when, in Scott’s words, “I had enough songs to create a full programme and present it in a potent, radical fashion, worthy of the Abbey Theatre which Yeats himself founded.”

An Appointment with Mr. Yeats was performed by a unique extended line-up of The Waterboys featuring Mike Scott and Irish fiddler extraordinaire Steve Wickham. Audience member Patricia Reid shared this experience on the Abbey Theatre website at the time.

“When we heard that Mike Scott and The Waterboys were putting music to 20 poems by Mr. Yeats, we rushed to get tickets and flights over to Dublin from Winnipeg. We were so fortunate and a real honour to be there for opening night at The Abbey! It was an inspired and inspiring experience and we’re grateful to have been there to share such a spirited and wonderful interpretation of the poems. Bravo, Mr. Scott & the brilliant musicians in the Waterboys. Thank you, Mr. Yeats, for enriching our world.” 

Patricia Reid Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
23 Mar 2010, 22:48

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No Escape

The report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse or the Ryan Report was published in May 2009. Almost a year later the Abbey Theatre presented The Darkest Corner Series featuring No Escape, compiled and edited by Mary Raftery, a reading of Richard Johnson’s The Evidence I Shall Give which premiered in 1961 at the Abbey Theatre and James X by Gerard Mannix Flynn. 

The Abbey Theatre considered commissioning a play, reading the entire report aloud from beginning to end or doing a series of Talks. It resolved to invite Mary Raftery, the journalist whose rigorous and committed investigation of child abuse led to the establishment of the Commission, to create the script. This was the first time the Abbey Theatre commissioned a piece of documentary theatre.

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Pygmalion Poster

 

Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw was performed for the first time at the Abbey Theatre in 2011. Charlie Murphy starred in the role of Eliza Doolittle, an impoverished flower-girl who is taken in hand by linguistics professor Henry Higgins and turned into a lady.

The poster features a red rose emerging from Eliza Dolittle’s mouth to highlight the play’s themes of language and speech, class structure and self determination.

The Abbey’s signature typeface Abbey Sans is inspired by the early posters at the Abbey Theatre, in the days when only the play title and the date and time were required to promote a show.

More recent Abbey posters can be seen at www.abbeyposters.zero-g.ie

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Panti’s Noble Call

Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss makes a post-show oration at the Abbey Theatre. 

Panti's Noble Call

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A Belfast homecoming for Quietly

The Abbey Theatre’s first performance of Owen McCafferty’s Quietly in the writer’s home town of Belfast was a momentous occasion. This extraordinary human play, about life in the aftermath of the Peace Process, was given a wonderful warm reception on its opening night at the Lyric Theatre. You could hear a pin drop throughout the performance but by the end of the play the audience were on their feet in rapturous applause. This was a memorable night for writer Owen McCafferty and the Abbey Theatre.

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President Higgins visits the Royal Shakespeare Company

President Higgins and Mrs. Higgins visited the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire on the final day of their State visit to the U.K. Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre joined them along with Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. They were given a backstage tour before being treated to a short performance from the RSC’s production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. President Higgins was presented with The Complete Works of Shakespeare, signed by the acting company. The President gifted the RSC a copy of The Book of Kells. They later visited the nearby 16th century birthplace of Shakespeare.

In his speech at the Royal Shakespeare Company, President Higgins spoke about the evolutionary nature of Ireland’s relationship with the English language:

“Today I want to acknowledge a great truth: the English language that we share, if it was once the enforced language of conquest, it is today the very language in which we have now come to delight in one another, to share our different and complementary understandings of what it means to be human together in this world, transacting in the currency of words.”

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The Mundy sisters dancing

A much loved scene from Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa sees the Mundy Sisters give themselves over to the music and dancing wildly about the kitchen. Lughnasa is harvest time and is named after Lugh, the pagan God who provides rich crops.

In this image are Bríd Brennan, Catherine Byrne, Bríd Ní Neachtain and Frances Tomelty. This play was directed by Patrick Mason and went on to tour to Broadway in 1992 winning the Tony Award for Best Play.

In the programme for this production, Michael Etherton author of Contemporary Irish Dramatists wrote about the power of theatre,

“Friel is not only communicating new ways of thinking, he is also trying to show the audience how theatre does it – i.e. how the integration of writer, technicians, actors and above all the audience, creates that sudden moment of heightened awareness. The audience re-make the writer’s play in their own imaginations. They make it their own understanding.”

That opening night coincided with the opening of the new portico on the front of the building.

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Twelfth Night Rehearsal Room

Some of Ireland’s most exciting theatre artists will bring a fresh and modern perspective to Shakespeare’s renowned comedy Twelfth Night directed by Wayne Jordan. This moment captures the energy of the rehearsal room in preparation for opening on the Abbey stage. 450 years after Shakespeare’s birth his plays still fascinate and challenge directors and actors today.

Photo by Ros Kavanagh

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Performing Ireland exhibition at NUI Galway

Saileóg O’Halloran and Niamh Lunny from the Abbey Theatre’s costume department put the final touches to costumes in preparation for the launch of Performing Ireland 1904 to 2014 at NUI Galway.The exhibition includes the first digitised items from the NUI Galway & Abbey Theatre Digital Archive project.

Launched as part of our 110th anniversary celebrations this year, Performing Ireland 1904 to 2014 tells the story of the Abbey Theatre from its foundation by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904 through to its work today.  It offers a unique insight into Irish life on and off stage over the past 110 years. This exhibition also showcases digitised artefacts from the initial phase of the NUI Galway & Abbey Theatre Digital Archive project, a landmark moment in the digitisation process.

The Abbey Theatre Archive contains over one million items including master programmes, press cuttings, video recordings, scripts, posters, production handbills, photographs, music scores, audio files, minute books, costume and set designs and administrative records.  It is the largest digitised theatre archive in the world.  It will take three years to digitise the full archive which is estimated to be completed in September 2015.

Minister Ruairí Quinn, Minister for Education launched Performing Ireland 1904 to 2014 on Thursday on 1 May 2014. It is housed in NUI Galway’s new Hardiman Research Building for humanities and social sciences and can be viewed until October next.

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The Passing Day by George Shiels

George Shiels was a major playwright at the Abbey Theatre from 1921 to 1947. He had 23 plays premiered at the Abbey Theatre and yet he only saw one of them because he was confined to a wheel-chair following an accident while working on the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913.

The Passing Day is a subtle and humorous study of greed. Ray Mc Anally and Pat Leavy appeared in this 1981 production, mounted to mark the centenary of the playwright’s birth. In the play, John Fibbs, is a workaholic, a skinflint and tight-fisted shopkeeper who has foregone all relaxation and pleasure in his life in order to fulfill one secret dream to go on a long cruise, “a thousand miles up the Amazon”. As he lies dying in hospital attended on by his wife (who is not exactly heartbroken at his impending demise), the detailed events of his last day in business are revealed with sardonic irony and detachment.

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Designers of the future

The Yeats Design Residency is an innovative partnership between the Abbey Theatre and IT Sligo to help nurture the talents of young theatre designers in Ireland.  Students were asked to create a model set for A Cry from Heaven by Vincent Woods and The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh.  Similar to professional set designers, they worked within a design brief, budget and timeline as part of the project.  Sonia Norris from Fivemilebourne, County Leitrim was one of seven finalists shortlisted for this year’s Yeats Design Residency. 

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Three Casimirs

Our 2014 production of Aristocrats directed by Patrick Mason, former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre is in rehearsal at present. Actors Tom Hickey and John Kavanagh have played the role of Casimir in the past. Here they are pictured with Tadhg Murphy who plays Casimir in this production. 

Photo by Ros Kavanagh

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The world of props

Props play an integral role in any theatre production. They dress a set and bring to life the world the playwright imagined. Props inhabit the space the characters find themselves in and can help create an important narrative for a particular scene.

In the Abbey Theatre, props are reused and recycled to fit the needs of a given production. One such piece used in Aristocrats is the oak desk in the library. American academic Tom Hoffnung works at this desk while chronicling the stories and memories of the O’Donnell family. This desk has been part of the Abbey Theatre props department for over 25 years. 

Every other prop on stage has been used in some capacity in previous productions including the footstool, which appeared in Brian Friel’s adaptation of Three Sisters in 2008.

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Warming up for the satirical Heartbreak House

Actors Lisa Dwyer Hogg (playing the character of Ellie Dunn) and Nick Dunning (playing the character of Hector Hushabye) will star in the Abbey’s first ever production of Hearbreak House by Bernard Shaw. Our summer production gets underway on 14 August 2014.

Written and set immediately prior to the First World War, Heartbreak House is a dark comedy about a society on the edge of a precipice.

Shaw was a major supporter of the Abbey Theatre and was closely involved with the Abbey Theatre through Yeats and Gregory right from 1904 through the late 1920s. He was president of the Irish Academy of Letters during the 1930s.

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A performance under the stars on Heir Island

This moment captures a special outdoor performance of Maeve’s House on Heir Island as part of the West Cork Fit-Up Festival, the first time ever an event like such took place. On arriving at the venue to perform Maeve’s House on Tuesday 29 July 2014, the decision was made to move the performance outside owing to the beautiful evening and setting the island provided. What followed was a wonderful experience for the 100 audience members with Eamon Morrissey performing as the sun set on the island. Maeve’s House is an Abbey Theatre commission and tells the story of a curious connection between actor and writer Eamon Morrissey and one of Ireland’s best loved short-story writers Maeve Brennan.

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From Russia with Love

Did you know the Abbey Theatre toured to Leningrad and Moscow in the 1980s? When officials from Russia visited Dublin, they chose ‘The Field’ by John B. Keane and ‘The Great Hunger’ by Tom Mac Intyre as the two plays that would resonate in Russia.

A full convoy of people including the actors and staff involved in the productions, Abbey photographer Fergus Bourke and journalists travelled to Russia on an Aer Lingus flight. The Company soaked up Russian life and visited the Bolshoi Ballet, (Mikhail Gorbachev was in attendance on the same night). The actors commented on how clean the streets were and the fact that advertising around the streets was to promote cultural events only.

On the flight back applause broke out after Aeroflot, the Russian airline made an announcement congratulating the actors, staff and management of the Abbey Theatre on their tour saying they hoped to see the Abbey Theatre back in the USSR soon.

The cast of ‘The Field‘ Brendan Conroy (Tadhg McCabe), Donal Farmer (The Bird) and Niall Toibin (The Bull Mc Cabe) are photographed here in Red Square, Moscow.

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A look at the one-man show

The Abbey Theatre has had a long history of producing one-man shows and actor Eamon Morrissey has been an integral part of this history. Writers Flann O’Brien, Jonathan Swift, James Joyce and Maeve Brennan have inspired Eamon to create fascinating stories for stage.

His first one-man show The Brother had its world premiere at the Abbey Theatre in 1974. This was followed by Patrick Gulliver in 1978 and Joycemen in 1980.

This poster shows Mr. Gulliver’s Bags, Eamon’s fourth one-man show on the Peacock stage. This show opened on Monday 20 August 1984 and was based on the life and works of Jonathan Swift.

It is fitting that 30 years since the first performance of Mr.Gulliver’s Bags, Eamon Morrissey is back again with another hugely successful one-man show Maeve’s House on the Peacock stage.

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Creating a space for playwrights

Here is Rebekka Duffy, our Yeats Design Assistant who re-designed the Peacock Bar to cater for 50 aspiring writers who took part in a writers salon with special guest playwrights including Owen Mc Cafferty, Eugene O’ Brien, Gary Keegan and Feidlim Cannon. Everyone buckled down for a few hours work and then discussed the craft of playwriting afterwards. Owen Mc Cafferty advised playwrights; “don’t be afraid to use your red pen. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. “While Eugene O’Brien talked about story-telling; “you can have great characters and great dialogue, but do you know what your play is actually about?’”

In the afternoons, the Literary team met with 39 emerging writers for a Q&A session about the work of the Literary team who read and respond to up to 450 scripts a year, play reading groups and master-classes with playwrights Marina Carr, Arthur Riordan, Philip McMahon and Michael West.

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The Waste Ground Party in the rehearsal room

Rehearsals are underway for The Waste Ground Party, a new play by Shaun Dunne. Here are the cast pictured on day one of rehearsals. The cast include: Louise Lewis (far left, front), Lloyd Cooney (second from left, second row), Jasmine Russell (third from left, front row), Gerry Stembridge, director (centre, back row), Shaun Dunne, playwright (centre, back row), Ger Ryan, (centre, front row), Alan Mahon (right).

From Dublin, Shaun is a graduate of the Abbey’s New Playwrights Programme, an 18 month intensive development programme. The Waste Ground Party was written on the programme. This play is the 25th new play the Abbey Theatre will produce in the last five years.

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Theatre happens when people come together. Every line, laugh, kiss has been witnessed by you. Help us reel in the lived history of the Abbey Theatre. Share your moments and memories with us.

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Share your moment with us

Theatre happens when people come together. Every line, laugh, kiss has been witnessed by you. Help us reel in the lived history of the Abbey Theatre. Share your moments and memories with us.

Share your moment