Waking the Nation 2016 at the Abbey Theatre

Waking the Nation 2016 at the Abbey Theatre


Press Release

Three World Premieres to reflect Ireland today, new interpretations of some the best plays of the last 100 years, extensive Irish and International touring, a symposium on the challenges of commemoration and igniting a love of theatre in the next generation of theatregoers

Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre has today (Wednesday 28 October 2015) announced details of Waking the Nation, a dynamic programme for 2016 running from January to September 2016. He was joined on stage for the launch by An Tánaiste, Joan Burton TD, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State Aodhan O’Riordáin.

To commemorate and acknowledge the major historical events of 1916, the Abbey Theatre extended an invitation to artists and audiences to reflect on our past, the Ireland of today and of the future. We are proud to be part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme with Waking the Nation, a season featuring an exciting roll-call of new Irish voices alongside major revivals of the some of the great plays from the Abbey Theatre repertoire.

In April 1916 members of the Abbey acting company and staff left the theatre to join the Easter Rising. The Abbey Rebels included: Sean Connolly, Abbey actor, a member of the Irish Citizen Army, and the first rebel fatality; Máire nic Shiubhlaigh, Abbey actress and a member of Cumann na mBan; Helena Molony, Abbey actress and a trade union and a Citizen Army leader; Ellen Bushell, an usher; Barney Murphy, a stage hand and Irish Volunteer; Arthur Shields, an Irish Volunteer and later a Hollywood actor, and Peadar Kearney, prop-man and author of the Irish national anthem The Soldier’s Song. The Abbey Theatre will unveil a new and updated plaque to honour the Abbey Rebels during 2016 to incorporate others who should be acknowledged and remembered. Our Waking the Nation video celebrates the words of Helena Molony, Abbey Actress and Abbey Rebel.

Watch the video here – https://youtu.be/HL6_Bh2nQd0

Speaking at the launch of Waking the Nation, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre said:

‘The Abbey Theatre was a central part of the Irish Cultural Revival and as a theatre company, played a leading role in the cultural and political debate around our emerging understanding of our Irishness and our independence from Britain. The Abbey Rebels did not distinguish between the role of culture and independence, theatre and politics. Today we carry the legacy of these remarkable individuals as we embark, with our artists and audiences, on a year of reflection and conversation through theatre.

In Waking the Nation, our intention is to interrogate rather than celebrate the past. For over 110 years now the Abbey stage has been a platform for the reflection of Irish society through theatre. Plays have the power to ask questions that resonate for generations. I believe that we should listen to and reflect on what our playwrights have written, whether it’s Sean O’Casey, Tom Murphy or Frank McGuinness. Their extraordinary plays offer us signposts in our critical understanding of Irish history and what the future may hold. Their plays ask urgent questions about the safely guarded narrative of our nation. In a year of national introspection, these stories have the power to hold a mirror up to our society. In continuing the Abbey Theatre tradition we are proud to present our audiences and the nation with three World Premieres of new Irish plays by David Ireland, Sean P. Summers and Philip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. These fresh and provocative Irish voices will reflect on the legacy of the 1916 Rising.

Some of the greatest writers, directors, actors and theatre-makers in the world are coming together to contribute to Waking the Nation. In the spirit of artistic interrogation I have invited two directors from outside the Irish theatre tradition to direct two seminal plays, which challenge the narratives and context the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme. Sean Holmes, Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith returns to the Abbey Theatre to direct a challenging new production of The Plough and the Stars while Jeremy Herrin, Artistic Director of Headlong, returns to direct Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme in a co-production with Headlong, Citizens Theatre and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Theatres.

Speaking at our Theatre of Memory Symposium in 2014, President Michael D. Higgins said: ‘We need new myths that not only carry the burden of history but fly from it, making something new’. I hope that our programme of classic Irish plays revisited by fresh eyes and new Irish writing will help us do just that.

Following the success of the Theatre of Memory Symposium (2014) and the Theatre of War Symposium (2015), I look forward to continuing our conversation about the challenges of commemoration in our third and final symposium, the Theatre of Change Symposium which looks to the future and the challenges that will face Ireland in the next five years. Dublin was a centre of conflict in Easter 1916. We at the Abbey Theatre believe we should acknowledge conflicts taking place in the contemporary world today. In this regard we invited a company from the Golan to present their play New Middle East to Irish audiences. During the symposium we also welcome Jimmy Murphy to the Peacock stage with Of This Brave Time.

This staged reading features stories woven together based on eye witness accounts taken from Fearghal McGarry’s book Rebels: Voices from the Easter Rising.

With touring from Wexford to Washington, Ireland’s national theatre will travel far and wide in 2016 reaching 40 locations across Ireland, Britain and the US and 700 Irish schools with Me, Mollser. Our co-productions with the best and most innovative theatres in Britain represent exciting new partnerships between Ireland and Britain in 2016. I am looking forward to a stimulating year and to welcoming the artists and audiences who will answer our call by Waking the Nation through theatre.’

An Tánaiste Joan Burton added: ‘2016 will belong to everyone on this island and to our friends and families overseas – regardless of political background. The Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme launched in March made this very clear – 1916 and next year’s centenary year have to be inclusive and reflective of all narratives on this island. We, as citizens, owe it to the Republic that we live in today to allow political debate, discussion and analysis of all the threads which have led to the creation of our modern State. The Abbey Theatre aims to reflect this ambition through a wide ranging programme which will reflect all aspects of Irish life on the stage and will seek to explore the various narratives through the medium of theatre.’

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys T.D. said: ‘The Abbey Theatre was founded just 12 years before the Rising, and was central to the literary revival which informed the key protagonists involved in the events of 1916. Our National Theatre will play an essential role in the centenary commemorations for next year, with this extensive ‘Waking the Nation’ programme. By staging both new Irish plays and some of the best loved productions from the last 100 years, the Abbey Theatre is helping us to both reflect on our shared past and imagine our shared future. The arts are being given centre stage next year, and what better way to showcase the best of Irish culture at home and abroad than through the Abbey Theatre.’

Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD added: ‘It is for our artists and their talents that Ireland is known globally. Since its foundation, the Abbey Theatre has been touring internationally, enhancing Ireland’s reputation for creative excellence. I am particularly thrilled that so many international audiences will experience the Abbey Theatre on tour, both through new plays and new productions of Abbey classics, joining in the conversation inspired and instigated by the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.’


Waking the Nation is made possible through the on-going funding of The Arts Council. International touring of The Plough and the Stars and Cyprus Avenue is supported by Culture Ireland as part of the 2016 Centenary Programme. The Abbey Theatre also gratefully acknowledges a special grant from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, led by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, T.D., is a year-long programme of activity to commemorate the events of the 1916 Rising, to reflect on our achievements over the last 100 years and to look towards Ireland’s future.


Highlights of Waking the Nation include:


For 2016, we challenged playwrights to reflect on the legacy of the 1916 Rising and write plays about Ireland today.

David Ireland makes his Abbey Theatre debut with the World Premiere of Cyprus Avenue, an Abbey Theatre Commission. A major co-production with the Royal Court Theatre, this provocative new play is directed by Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre.

Eric Miller is a Belfast loyalist. He believes his five-week-old granddaughter is Gerry Adams. A black comedy, David Ireland’s play takes one man’s identity crisis to the limit as he explores the complexity of contemporary Ulster loyalism.

Cast includes Oscar-nominated actor Stephen Rea in the lead role. The production opens on the Peacock stage on 11 February – 19 March 2016 and then tours to the Royal Court 5 April – 7 May 2016. Supported by Culture Ireland as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.

Cyprus Avenue is the fifth in our series of plays by Northern Irish writers concerned with themes of identity and life in Northern Ireland today: Quietly by Owen McCafferty (2012), Drum Belly by Richard Dormer (2013), Monsters, Dinosaurs, Ghosts by Jimmy McAleavey (2015) and Shibboleth by Stacey Gregg (2015).

Sean P. Summers makes his Abbey Theatre debut with the World Premiere of Tina’s Idea of Fun, an Abbey Theatre Commission.

Set against the backdrop of Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit to Ireland, Tina’s post-protest party brings out the worst in everyone. A love letter to contemporary Dublin and full of humanity and insight; this play asks what lengths will we go to make a connection?

The sterling cast includes Hilda Fay in the lead role alongside Andrew Connolly. This production opens on the Peacock stage on 14 April – 14 May 2016.

Another Abbey Theatre Commission and our third World Premiere for 2016, Town is Dead is a musical, written and directed by Phillip McMahon with music by Raymond Scannell.

Ellen thought she would end her life where it began – in a rundown flat in Dublin’s north inner city. Now her building is sold and she’s being moved into a box room in her snooty sister’s house in the suburbs.

From the writers of Alice in Funderland, Town is Dead is a living room musical and an exploration of how Ireland treats its people. Take a look at future of the city through the eyes of one older citizen. This production opens on the Peacock stage on 2 June – 9 July 2016.


For 2016, we have invited the best directors and artists of the moment to reinterpret the best plays of the last 100 years.

The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey is an essential part of our understanding of the 1916 Rising. First performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1926, just ten years after the Rising, this critical play caused riots amongst the audience.

Set amid the tumult of the Easter Rising, The Plough and the Stars is the story of ordinary lives ripped apart by the idealism of the time. The residents of a Dublin tenement shelter from the violence that rages around them. What kind of Ireland awaits them?

Oliver Award-winning director Sean Holmes (Drum Belly) will bring a new and challenging perspective to Sean O’Casey’s masterpiece. With performances from before St. Patrick’s Day through Easter Week, this promises to be a highlight of the year. Cast includes Ian-Lloyd Anderson, Kate Stanley Brennan, Liam Heslin, Ger Kelly, Ciarán O’Brien and Nyree Yergainharsian.

The Plough and the Stars will be performed on the Abbey stage, 9 March – 23 April 2016.
Following performances at the Abbey Theatre during Easter 2016, The Plough and the Stars will embark on a tour of Ireland and North America. In Ireland, the play will travel to Cork Opera House, The National Opera House, Wexford, Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick and Town Hall Theatre, Galway. The Abbey Theatre gratefully acknowledged a touring grant from the Arts Council/ An Chomhairle Ealaíon. In Ireland, The Plough and the Stars is supported by Irish Life and Northern Trust.

In May 2016, our production of The Plough and the Stars will be part of IRELAND 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture, a major festival highlighting Irish culture and its relationship to America, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.

In September 2016, The Plough and the Stars will tour to Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater (Massachusetts); the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (Philadelphia); Montclair State University’s Peak Performances, (New Jersey) and Southern Theatre, (Ohio), the latter presented by CAPA and The Ohio State University.

This tour is supported by Culture Ireland as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme. In North America, The Plough and the Stars is supported by Malin Corporation plc, Irish Life, McCann Fitzgerald and CRH. The North American tour of The Plough and the Stars is produced in association with Cusack Projects Limited.

The Abbey Theatre is delighted to announce that Loretta Brennan Glucksman will be the Honorary Chair of the North American tour of The Plough and the Stars.

On the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we are proud to present his State of the Nation play, Othello by William Shakespeare.

Internationally acclaimed director, Joe Dowling (The Dead) and former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre returns to direct this story of love, jealousy, betrayal and revenge. Irish audiences will recall this famous line: ‘I have done the State some service; they know’t. No more of that’.

Cast includes Peter Macon as Othello and Des Cave, Malcolm Douglas, Cormac McDonagh and Laurence O’Fuarain. Shakespeare at the Abbey Theatre from 5 May – 11 June 2016.

The Wake by Tom Murphy is the inspiration behind the Waking the Nation title. A wake for our dream of a State with the family at its heart, this long-awaited revival is an excoriating critique of the materialism of Irish life.

It’s the nineties. It’s small town Ireland. Vera’s back. The O’Toole family are at each other’s throats. Vera has inherited the family hotel. But what are her plans?

Award-winning director, Annabelle Comyn returns to direct another of Tom Murphy’s masterworks after the success of The House (2012). On the Abbey stage 22 June – 30 July 2016.

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme by Frank McGuinness shook our collective sense of memory and history when it premiered on the Peacock stage in 1985.

On 1 July 1916, the 36th (Ulster) Division took part in one of the bloodiest battles in human history: the Battle of the Somme. 100 years later the Abbey Theatre presents this modern classic in a major co-production with Headlong, Citizens Theatre, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatre. Jeremy Herrin, Artistic Director of Headlong directs this iconic war play. On the Abbey stage 6 August – 24 September 2016.

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme will tour in Britain and Northern Ireland before arriving at the Abbey Theatre. It will be staged at Citizens Theatre and Liverpool Playhouse. Tour dates in Northern Ireland are co-presented with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. The tour will open on the Danske Bank stage at the Lyric Theatre, before travelling to venues across Northern Ireland. Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme is supported by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.


For 2016, we invite artists and audiences to join us on a year of reflection and conversation through theatre.

Our third and final symposium, The Theatre of Change Symposium looks at the challenges of commemoration. We look to the future this time and at the changes facing Ireland in the next five years. Speakers include: Prof. Richard Kearney, Sheila Gallagher, Stacey Gregg, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Andrew O’Hagan, Mark O’Halloran, Mark O’Rowe, Dr. Emer O’Toole and Gideon Levy.

Since 2014, Abbey Director, Fiach MacConghail has been facilitating and encouraging artists and opinion makers to discuss the challenges of commemorating the past. In 2014, we presented the Theatre of Memory Symposiumand in 2015, we presented The Theatre of War Symposium. Both symposia featured rehearsed readings and performances and placed artists centre-stage inviting them to express their opinions on the challenges of commemorating the past.

Alongside the Theatre of Change Symposium, we will present a staged reading of an Abbey Theatre Commission, Of This Brave Time by Jimmy Murphy, directed by Conall Morrison.

Based on eye witness testimonies taking from historian, Fearghal McGarry’s book Rebels: Voices from the Easter Rising, this play answers the questions you would ask if you could speak to someone who experienced the Easter Rising first-hand. On the Peacock stage 20 – 23 January 2016.

For Easter Week, the Abbey Theatre is proud to present New Middle East by Mutaz Abu Saleh and directed by Bashar Murkus by Oyoun Theatre from Golan Heights and Khashabi Theatre from Haifa.

A masked soldier stands beside an open pit. He is burying a woman alive. Who is he? Who is she? What has she done?

New Middle East received the prize for Best Theatre Project at the Akka Festival for Alternative Theatre in 2013. 30 March – 2 April 2016 on the Peacock stage.


As part of our Community & Education programme we will ignite a love of theatre in school-children around Ireland.

In a co-production with Baboró International Arts Festival for Children, the Abbey Theatre will reach approximately 700 primary schools nationwide with a specially commissioned monologue for children, Me, Mollser by Ali White.

Part of our Priming the Canon Series which introduces classic Irish plays to a younger audience, this performance will retell the story of The Plough and the Stars through the eyes of Mollser, its youngest character. Curious and enthusiastic Mollser guides us through her overcrowded Dublin tenement during the 1916 Rising.

Part of our Community & Education Programme, accompanied by curriculum based resources and workshops. Me, Mollser will be on tour nationwide, January – March 2016.
The Abbey Theatre is proud to present the All Island Schools Drama Competition, in collaboration with RTÉ and the Department of Education and Skills. We are inviting Irish school children to make their unique contribution to the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme by writing their own drama based on the events of 1916. The winning entry will be performed on the Abbey stage in Spring 2016.

Tickets go on sale to Members on Wednesday 28 October 2015. Tickets go on General Sale on Wednesday 11 November 2015. www.abbeytheatre.ie, Tel: (01) 87 87 222.

The Abbey Theatre gratefully acknowledges the support of The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.

Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook for updates on Waking the Nation.
Talk to us: #wakingthenation

For further press information and media interview requests, please contact:
Sinead O’Doherty or Gerry Lundberg at Gerry Lundberg PR, Tel: 01 670 6938.

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