2015 Review

2015 Review

Fiach Mac Conghail looks back at a year of creative collaborations

Welcome to this review of 2015 at the Abbey Theatre. 2015 was a year of creative collaborations, with 54 events on the Abbey stage, Peacock stage and on tour in Ireland and the UK.

CREATIVE Collaborations

I’ve always wanted to collaborate with Gavin Quinn of Pan Pan Theatre because he is a director I greatly admire. I invited him to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, our annual Shakespeare play and the first play of 2015. It was a pleasure to welcome so many former members of the Abbey Company back into the fold.

Then to another creative collaboration, between Mark O’Rowe and Annabelle Comyn who presented a new interpretation of Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen for contemporary audiences. As was the inspiration behind John Gabriel Borkman in 2010, I want our audiences to be familiar with Ibsen’s great classic plays.

In June the scene changed to Wayne Jordan’s production of The Shadow of a Gunman by Sean O’Casey; a fruitful collaboration and co-production with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. The Abbey Theatre should always revisit O’Casey to re-interrogate his plays for a contemporary audience. His writing is woven into our Irish consciousness – a wry celebration of our temperament but with that epic quality of a deeper truth.

In August we presented By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr, a courageous and inspirational writer. Selina Cartmell directed, following her success with King Lear in 2013. It is hard to believe this was the first time we have produced this modern classic since its premiere on the Abbey stage in 1998. This production featured outstanding performances from a great cast, in particular Susan Lynch.


I presented The Theatre of War Symposium at the start of 2015, the second in a series of three annual symposia. This series marks our intellectual and artistic contribution to the challenge of how artists should (if at all) contribute to the decade of centenaries here in Ireland. We look forward to starting 2016 with our third and final symposium as it energises the stage for the months ahead.

After our 2014 symposium, Declan Kiberd, a former Board member of the Abbey Theatre and someone I greatly admire and respect, suggested to me that the Abbey Theatre should publish a handbook of texts from the Irish Cultural Revival which our theatre was born out of. In light of our mission to reflect Irish society, I went for the idea. In June 2015, under the imprint of Abbey Theatre Press, we published Handbook of the Irish Revival: An Anthology of Irish Cultural and Political Writings 1891 – 1922, edited by Declan Kiberd and P.J. Mathews. The Handbook went on to sell out in shops around Ireland in just six months and by the end of the year we were fundraising for a re-print. Our hope is that the book will inspire a new round of conversation in contemporary Irish life. Buy the book.

2015 saw another chapter of energetic activity in our reinvigorated Community and Education programme which is a vital strand of what we do as a national theatre for Ireland. We produced the second in our Priming the Canon Series, Me, Michael by Tara McKevitt and directed by Dan Colley. Priming the Canon is about taking peripheral characters from well-known Irish plays and telling their story to inspire school-children, the artists and audiences of the future. Me, Michael re-tells the story of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, and toured twice during the year, reaching over 2,900 students.

Our commitment to dance  dates  right back to Yeats’ time when he established the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet in the Peacock Theatre, and so I was particularly proud to co-commission and co-produce the wonderful Liz Roche, in partnership  with Kilkenny Arts Festival and Dublin Dance Festival, to create  Bastard Amber. This was the first contemporary dance work commissioned for the Abbey stage since the 1920s.

The Waking the Feminists movement came into being in response to the lack of women writers in the first part of the 2016 season. This harnessed an energy within the theatre community, and beyond, in Irish society. I am determined to programme  the work of women artists in the latter half of 2016. Our Board has established a sub-committee tasked with developing a policy for the Abbey Theatre on gender equality. The groups have embarked on a thorough stakeholder engagement process to inform a detailed action plan.


The Peacock stage was packed with activity in 2015; with three new plays and ten visiting companies both Irish and international.

There is an exciting, flourishing set of playwrights active in Northern Ireland today; each with something unique and urgent to say about the here and now of life in Belfast. In recent years we have commissioned writers from Northern Ireland who are quietly but definitely bearing witness to the post-conflict experience in Northern Ireland. As Ireland’s national stage, I believe it’s important to have some of those truths spill out for our audiences at this time. We have a responsibility to support and understand the fragile society slowly emerging in Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement. In 2015 we produced work by Owen McCafferty, Jimmy McAleavey and Stacey Gregg, three Northern Irish playwrights.

We were delighted to welcome Owen McCafferty back to the Abbey Theatre for the world premiere of his new play, Death of a Comedian directed by Steve Marmion, Artistic Director of Soho Theatre, with the accomplished Brian O’Doherty in the lead role. This was a co-production with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast and Soho Theatre, London.

We were proud to produce the world premiere of Jimmy McAleavey’s play Monsters, Dinosaurs, Ghosts which zooms in on the personal fall-out in the aftermath of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. I was particularly delighted to introduce director Caitríona McLaughlin to our audiences, too. This was an important play for us to produce in 2015. My intent was that this play, rich with political overtures and men lost at war, would speak to The Shadow of a Gunman on the Abbey stage. 

Then to Stacey Gregg, another Northern Irish voice and another world premiere. Stacey’s new play Shibboleth, a co-commission between the Abbey Theatre and the Goethe-Institut, was directed by Hamish Pirie from London’s Royal Court Theatre. It premiered in October on the Peacock stage, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. When Stacey participated in The Theatre of War Symposium in January 2015 she spoke passionately about the peace walls that still separate communities across Belfast. Shibboleth was an important play politically and culturally for the Abbey Theatre to do. It not only alerted us to the challenges of maintaining peace in Northern Ireland but also encouraged cross community integration. Sure enough, when the play was on our stages, the pages of The Guardian featured a high profile feature on the Peace Walls phenomenon.


I was delighted to present an eclectic programme of activity on the Peacock stage in 2015 as part of our strategy  to programme  more work in this space. We welcomed Dead Centre with Lippy, the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Lir Academy with Suor Angelica, the Rubberbandits with Continental  Fistfight, Storytellers of Ireland / Aos Scéal  Éireann with Remembering Eamon Kelly, Loco and Reckless  Productions Ltd with The Man in the Woman’s  Shoes, Improvised Music Company with STRUT at the Peacock and Tiger Dublin Fringe who presented It Folds by Brokentalkers / junk ensemble,  Susannah  With Strings Attached  by Susannah de Wrixon, Life Has Surface  Noise #3 by Young Hearts Run Free, You’re Not Alone by Kim Noble and Portraits in Motion by Volker Gerling in association with Aurora Nova.

We celebrated Amateur Drama when the Shoestring Theatre Company of Charleville presented Trad by Mark Doherty. Also, we were delighted to support the presentation of the world premiere of an Abbey Theatre commission for the National Association for Youth Drama, Salt Mountain by Carmel Winters, offsite at Project Arts Centre.

Also in 2015 we launched the Peacock Cafe as part of our strategy to energise the space, open it up as a space for artists and audiences alike; while diversifying our revenue streams by generating income for the theatre.


2015 was another strong year for touring and saw us travel to 13 counties in Ireland. As well as appearing in Belfast with The Shadow of a Gunman and in London with Death of a Comedian, we toured the wonderful Maeve’s House by Eamon Morrissey to 10 venues across Ireland, from Tallaght to Castlebar, and Me, Michael toured to 22 schools and arts venues across Ireland, from Clare to Wexford.

We are grateful to the Arts Council for their continued  support  and for funding additional touring during 2015, enabling us to reach more communities across Ireland and internationally. We are also grateful to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and to Culture Ireland for additional funding support during 2015.

As ever, without my wonderful, dedicated, talented staff, the special work of the Abbey Theatre would not happen; without our artists the moments of illumination would not happen; and without our audiences, theatre would not happen.  So thank you to them all, for making the Abbey Theatre the special place that it is.

Fiach Mac Conghail

Director / Stiúrthóir

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