The Plough and the Stars Blog

The Plough and the Stars Blog

The Plough and the Stars was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1926. It provoked riots amongst some members of the audience who believed it was at odds with the founding myths of the new Irish state.

This is the Abbey’s 56th production of this rich play which we believe every generation should see.

The Abbey on the move

The Irish Times – Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Even before The Plough and the Stars tours, the Abbey has been forced to relocate. Cast and crew tell SARA KEATING about taking a play out of its comfort zone

AFTER THE Abbey Theatre burnt down in 1951, it was forced to take up residence at the Queen’s Theatre for the next 15 years, as it waited for its new home to be built. Asbestos was discovered in the roof of the auditorium last January, so now the theatre has moved from its landmark base again. Performances will be staged at the nearby O’Reilly Theatre in Belvedere College for nine weeks before heading off on tour.

As coincidence has it, the production involved in both instances of the theatre’s exile was The Plough and the Stars: in 1951 Ria Mooney’s production with Maire Ní Dhomhnaill and Eileen Crowe; and in the current production Wayne Jordan’s Brechtian version of Seán O’Casey’s play.

Jordan’s award-winning production was first mounted in 2010, but its revival at the O’Reilly and its subsequent seven-venue tour, has presented a series of logistical and conceptual challenges for everyone involved. As director Jordan says, “It doesn’t really feel like we are doing a revival. It is more like we are producing a whole new version of something that we’ve done before.”

So what is actually involved when a production is remounted to go on tour? Some members of the company share their perspectives.



We have had a big cast change since the last production – almost 50 per cent – so in some ways this feels like something entirely new. When we did The Plough the first time, I felt like we were doing something almost site-specific, because it was in the Abbey, which has its own rich Republican history and is just down the road from the GPO, which burns to the ground over the days that the play is set.

But with the tour, I really don’t know what sort of meaning will be generated in each new theatre and in each new encounter with a different audience. For instance, the stage picture will change in each venue, depending on the frame the theatre offers.

Also the technical limitations of a touring production has really forced the issue of what we put up there every night. For example, in the first production we had flags flying in during key moments of the play, but now the actors have to hoist them up, which adds a whole new layer to the play’s politics.


Production Manager

Most of what I have had to deal with is the logistics of moving the production from place to place: making sure the measurements we have for each theatre are correct, that the set will fit and, of course, that it will arrive at each new venue on time.

The most important thing we have to think about – and this goes for productions at the Abbey too – is the relationship between the stage and the audience, because mounting a production is not just about putting things up on a stage. Because we’ll be at the O’Reilly for nine weeks, we put a lot of thought into how we could offer the audience a similar experience to what they would get at the Abbey. We have raised the seats of the first few rows to improve sightlines, as the O’Reilly stage is quite high, and have carpeted the surrounds, so it has a similar feel to the Abbey.

In terms of touring, we do the “get out” of one venue on a Saturday night and the “get in” in the next on a Monday morning. The set and all other technical elements are assembled and adjusted, and on Tuesday afternoon the cast arrive to familiarise themselves with the new theatre before the Tuesday evening show.


Set Designer

When we did the show before at the Abbey, we used the architecture of the theatre as the starting point for the design, so the challenge of moving to a new scenario – and touring – is that we haven’t got the theatre as a natural environment to bounce off.

For the [touring production] we had to create a new framework instead, but one that had the same feeling: of Dublin being built and destroyed. Because we are going on tour we had to deal with other challenges that would change from venue to venue, such as different sightlines and ceiling heights. We had to make the set adaptable to the different spaces, so we designed it like a kit of parts, with bits you could leave out if you needed to.

But theatre design works best when there are constraints, so what we have now doesn’t have the atmosphere of the original production, but it feels a bit more focused in terms of its presentation on stage.



I’ve been on tour for most of the last three to four years with Druid’s production of The Cripple of Inismaan. We went around Ireland, the UK, and the US, so I am well used to travelling. The main thing you have to worry about on tour [as an actor] is adjusting to the different houses – the intimacy of a small house or the depth of a big house where you need more reach – and also to the different audiences. Like when you are in a different country you might need more clarity to your speech.

With The Plough, when we are in London or Belfast, we’ll have to consider whether the audience will understand you if you’ve a thick Dublin accent. On the one hand you don’t want to slow down the pace, but on the other hand you need to make sure you’re understood.

Then there are the small things that you think about: like how big is your dressingroom going to be, or where you are going to stay. When you’re on tour, actors mostly prefer to stay in apartments, so you can cook your own food. It’s tough leaving your family behind, but you can stay in touch on Skype, and mostly it’s great craic. The other actors are the only company you’ve got, so you tend to do everything together and make your own little family.

The Plough and the Stars runs at the O’Reilly Theatre, Belvedere College, Great Denmark Street, Dublin 1 until September 15th. Then on tour to Grand Opera House, Belfast – An Grianán, Letterkenny – Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge – Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham – Theatre Royal, Bath – Siamsa Tire, Tralee – The Lime Tree, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.



Our fantastic publicity pictures for The Plough and the Stars were taken by Ros Kavanagh. They were shot on location at 13 North Great Georges Street in Dublin city centre, just around the corner from the OReilly Theatre.

For the shoot our props department were on hand with chairs, flags and washing lines. While our costume department and hair and make up department prepared Joe Hanley as Fluther, Kelly Campbell as Nora and Barry Ward as Jack.

Look out for the results around the city and at our touring venues.


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