Abbey Theatre - Amharclann na Mainistreach

Annual Report 2016

Part 4

Director's Report & Financials

Scroll to read the 2016 Annual Report

Directors' Report



The Board of Directors submit their annual report and audited financial statements, for the year ended 31 December 2016.

Objectives and Activities

Abbey Theatre Amharclann na Mainistreach is governed by its Constitution under the Companies Act 2014 which sets out its objects as follows:

  1. i. To continue the Abbey Theatre’s tradition of the Abbey Theatre as the National Theatre of Ireland for the purpose of acting and producing plays in English and/or Irish, written by Irish authors or on Irish subjects, and such dramatic works of international authors as would tend to educate and interest the Irish public in the higher aspects of dramatic art.
  2. ii. To act as successor to National Theatre Society, Limited by receiving a transfer from National Theatre Society, Limited of its assets, rights, undertakings and liabilities.
  3. iii. To promote and encourage the staging, production and performance of dramatic art to the highest standards.
  4. iv. To stage, produce, co-produce, direct, hold and otherwise organise plays, rehearsals, shows, concerts, exhibitions and all other forms of performances of dramatic art.
  5. v. To commission plays, works and all other forms of performances of dramatic art.
  6. vi. To further and promote educational and public knowledge, awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of drama and similar arts.
  7. vii. To maintain, uphold, provide and run a prestigious national theatre for the purposes and main objects contained herein.
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Mission Statement of the Abbey Theatre

Inspired by the revolutionary ideals of its founders and its rich canon of Irish dramatic writing, the Abbey Theatre’s mission is:

To imaginatively engage with all of Irish society through the production of ambitious, courageous and new theatre in all its forms. The Abbey Theatre commits to lead in the telling of the whole story, in English and in Irish, and affirms that it is a theatre for the entire island of Ireland and for all its people.

The Abbey Theatre delivers its mission and objectives primarily through its two theatres the Abbey Theatre and the Peacock Theatre.


The longer term vision for the Abbey Theatre is to fulfil our remit as Ireland’s national theatre by:

  • Expanding the programme of new Irish writing
  • Nurturing artists to present plays from the national and international repertoire
  • Increasing audience numbers
  • Increasing revenues through box office income and fundraising
  • Planning a new building, fit for purpose for Ireland’s national theatre
  • Addressing gender equality at the Abbey Theatre

2016 was an important year in our continued progress towards that vision.

For us as a Board we were proud to deliver on two major developments of note during 2016:

Graham McLaren and Neil Murray commenced as Directors of the Abbey Theatre in October 2016. The Board’s appointment, in 2015, of two people with diverse yet complementary skill-sets to lead the Abbey Theatre into its next phase is indicative of our ambition for the Abbey Theatre’s future evolution and growth.

The establishment of eight Guiding Principles for gender equality by a sub-committee of the Board, established to focus on gender equality in light of the gender imbalance in the Waking the Nation Season (January to September 2016) which was launched in late 2015. The sub-committee was made up of Loretta Dignam, Deirdre Kinahan, Niamh Lunny and Mark Ryan. As a Board we are committed to playing a leadership role in assisting the wider arts community to address this issue and to achieving a much needed cultural shift in the years to come. Gender Equality at the Abbey Theatre will be reported on further in the accompanying Annual Report 2016.

Artistic and Business Priorities for the years 2014 - 2016

Our artistic and business priorities for the years 2014 – 2016 were:

  • Maintain the highest possible standard of productions on the Abbey stage including new Irish plays and a commitment to employ Irish theatre artists, within our reduced Arts Council investment
  • Achieve the box office targets for the period 2014 – 2016
  • Strengthen our Development strategy and grow our income from fundraising
  • Ensure new plays for our stages by continuing to commission Irish writers
  • Sustainable and continued writer development
  • Brand and communicate our artists’ development programmes better
  • Develop an artistic strategy to keep the Peacock stage open, including inviting independent theatre companies and artists to perform
  • Reach out to schools and communities through the work of our Community and Education Department
  • Seek funding for national and international touring
  • Develop and implement a Digital Strategy

Additional priorities for 2016 were to:

  • Continue to develop a long-term plan for the Abbey Theatre building
  • Ensure a successful transition from Fiach Mac Conghail to Graham Mc Laren and Neil Murray
  • Develop a comprehensive gender equality policy and implementation plan.
Organisational Objectives for 2016

In 2016 our organisational objectives were to:

  • Maximise our artistic output across all of our stages and on tour
  • Increase and diversify our income streams
  • Utilise our resources as efficiently as possible through use of new and innovative methods of working
  • Invest in and nurture our staff and artists
  • Promote and present our work in a manner which clearly demonstrates its value
  • Agree and implement our Digital Strategy in all areas of our work
  • Maintain our infrastructure including our buildings, offices, rehearsal spaces and storage warehouse

These objectives should be seen in the context of our artistic and business priorities (stated above) for 2014 – 2016 as agreed with the Arts Council.

Activity and Output

2016 was a year of national introspection and marked a major milestone for the Abbey Theatre, given its role in Irish society and its direct involvement in the events of 1916.

As a Board, we were proud of the ambitious artistic programme we presented with over 1,000 performances of 24 plays on our stages and on tour worldwide in a year when the eyes of the world were on Ireland.

The Abbey Theatre’s activities spanned plays presented on the Abbey and the Peacock stages, in over 90 venues around Ireland and on tour in the US, Canada, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and France.

As part of the strategy to increase the level of activity on the Peacock stage, we presented the work of five independent theatre companies.

As a Board we must always have one eye to the future of the Abbey Theatre and we are proud of the appointment of two new Directors to lead the Abbey Theatre into its next chapter, from October 2016 onwards.

Beyond the inspirational plays experienced by people in Dublin and on tour, the work of our Community and Education programme encouraged artists, school-children and citizens to engage with the Abbey Theatre. Our Literary Department supported writers and artists through the commissioning process, workshops and reading and responding to scripts while the Abbey Archive went from strength to strength supporting artists and scholars alike to make new discoveries and connections.

To ensure a pipeline of plays for the future, 29 writers were under commission in 2016 and collaborated with and were supported by the Literary Department.

We are also proud of advancements achieved in fundraising and commercial ventures such as Costume Hire, Theatre Skills for Business and the Peacock Café.

The staff of the Abbey Theatre are the people who make the wonderful work of the national theatre happen. Behind the scenes we continued to utilise our resources efficiently, to explore new ways of working and to invest in and support our staff through a Performance Management System.

As part of this, we collaborated with Accenture Ireland who provided pro-bono expertise and assistance to the Abbey Theatre in partnering with us to devise and roll out the Abbey Gets Digital Project across the organisation. This ranged from an investment in digital advertising to the introduction of Office 365 and tools such as Yammer across the organisation to assist with connectivity and to enable artists to collaborate with us.

The Abbey Theatre’s output in 2016 included:

  • 9 plays on the Abbey stage
  • 15 plays on the Peacock stage
  • 6 world premieres
  • 297 actors, dancers and performers
  • 55 actors made their debut
  • 120,000 people visited the Abbey
  • 73,500 people saw us on tour in Ireland and across the world
  • 6 touring productions visited Ireland, USA, Canada, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and France
  • 286 performances of Me, Mollser at 65 venues in Ireland, Boston and Philadelphia as part of our Community & Education programme 
  • 16,700 people saw four new plays on the Peacock stage
  • 29 writers under commission
  • 290 unsolicited scripts received, read and reported on
  • 17 workshops with emerging writers
  • 9 audio described performances
  • 13 sign language interpreted performances
  • 12,000 people listened to the Abbey Talks Podcasts
  • 878, 185 visits to

These objectives should be seen in the context of our artistic and business priorities (stated above) for 2014 – 2016 as agreed with the Arts Council.

Achievements against Objectives

The Abbey Theatre’s three-year funding is subject to the agreement of targets with the Arts Council. 2016 was the third year of a three-year funding agreement for the years 2014 – 2016.

For 2016, it was agreed with the Arts Council that the Abbey Theatre was to produce five Abbey plays, one co-production and one visiting company play on the Abbey Stage and three Abbey plays, one co-production and two visiting company plays on the Peacock stage. These targets were met and exceeded.

Abbey Stage

On the Abbey stage we presented productions of The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey; Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme and Donegal by Frank McGuinness, Othello by William Shakespeare; The Wake by Tom Murphy; Anna Karenina, in a new version by Marina Carr. Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme was a co-production with Headlong, Citizens Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse. We also presented All That Fall by Pan Pan Theatre.

On tour

The Abbey Theatre had a record year of touring in 2016, with over 1,000 performances of six touring plays across two continents, five countries and over 90 venues during a seven month period.

The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey was seen by over 18,000 audience members in six cities across the USA and Canada (Washington D.C., Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Ohio). In Ireland, this play was seen by 14,000 people on a four venue tour and students at Tallaght Community School experienced a special performance at their school.

Me, Mollser, specially commissioned for children, toured to schools and communities throughout Ireland introducing children and teachers to Mollser from O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars. It was seen by over 18,000 people in 56 venues. It also toured in Boston and Philadelphia to libraries in partnership with Boston Public Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme went on an epic six month tour of ten venues across Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and France. It was seen by over 14,000 people on tour and included a special open air performance on the Somme battlefield.

Quietly played for three months in The Irish Repertory Theatre in New York in the Summer of 2016. It was seen by over 9,500 people.

Cyprus Avenue travelled to The Royal Court Theatre in London after its world premiere at the Abbey Theatre.

Of This Brave Time brought compelling accounts of the Easter Rising to life at the London Irish Centre and the Manchester Irish World Heritage Centre.

Peacock stage

As part of our strategy to present more work on the Peacock stage we invited independent theatre companies and artists to perform in the space, introducing them to the Abbey Theatre audience and extending the lifetime of their play.

We were proud of the performance of the four new plays on the Peacock stage in 2016. In total Cyprus Avenue, Tina’s Idea of Fun, Town is Dead and The Remains of Maisie Duggan were attended by 16,700 people.

Our work to increase the activity in the Peacock Theatre continued and we are pleased to report these four new plays saw us operate at 92% occupancy. Cyprus Avenue and Town is Dead went on to win two awards each at the Irish Times Theatre Awards in March 2017.

We also collaborated with Tiger Dublin Fringe, An Taibhdhearc, Dublin Youth Theatre, THEATREclub and Dundalk Theatre Workshop.


To increase and diversify our income streams, firstly, we continued to employ effective marketing, sales and communications activities to promote our 2016 programme. Over 190,000 people experienced over 1,000 performances of an Abbey Theatre play in Ireland and on tour.

We experienced our strongest attendance numbers since 2010 with over 120,000 people visiting the Abbey Theatre. In 2016 we experienced a 20% increase in attendance compared to 2015, issuing 126,215 tickets for all events at the Abbey Theatre. At Box Office, we earned €2,412,901 in 2016 which exceeded our original target of €2,387,553 set in January 2016.

Our productions to mark the 2016 centenary celebrations proved to be a major draw including a sell-out production of The Plough and the Stars and our co-production of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme.

Factors Influencing Achievement of Objectives

The Abbey Theatre’s annual funding has decreased from €10m in 2008 to €5.8m in 2016. It is set to increase slightly to €6.17m in 2017.

Our ambition was for a major programme to mark 2016. Therefore, as part of the Ireland 2016 Programme, we worked closely with the Arts Council, Culture Ireland and government to secure additional programme and touring funding. This made a significant difference to both the scope of the programme, our ability to premiere new plays, and the scale of our touring. At each international location we worked closely with Irish Embassies and Consulates to leverage and promote the work, and we would like to thank the Arts Council, Culture Ireland and the Departments of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Education; and Foreign Affairs and Trade for their support.

The steady reduction in core funding in recent years continues to have inherent risks for the Abbey Theatre in terms of its ability to deliver an ambitious artistic programme without exposing the organisation to financial or corporate risks such as those encountered in 2004.

We continue to work with the Arts Council on establishing what is possible for the Abbey Theatre to achieve for the good of audiences and artists and this level of funding. The Working Group, established after the Arts Council’s Independent Review by Bonnar Keenlyside in 2014, continues to work together in this context.

In recent years, against a backdrop of decreasing state funding we have invested reserves generated in earlier years in sustaining artistic output. Through a combination of investing reserves from earlier years, and receipts of a special 2016 centenary programme grant of €500,000 from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, we were able to produce a substantial artistic programme in 2016.

Other factors influencing our ability to deliver against our set targets include:


Our ambitious Development strategy saw income from fundraising to support our programme and activities grow in 2016, from €373,532 in 2015 to €815,253, with donors and sponsors supporting our work in Dublin and on tour in Ireland and internationally. In addition to development income raised to support our programme, we received a donation of €1,000,000 in 2016 towards the Abbey Theatre’s redevelopment project.

We would like to thank everyone who invested in the Abbey Theatre this year, and in particular Irish Life, Roma Downey, Robert and Cynthia McCann, Thomas F and Carol O’Neill, the Abbey Theatre Foundation, Malin plc, McCann FitzGerald, Northern Trust, the Ireland Funds of Great Britain and Canada, Villanova University, CRH, the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, RTÉ, and the British Council.

With Cyprus Avenue in London, Quietly in New York, The Plough and the Stars in Ireland, Canada and the USA, and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme in Ireland, Scotland, England and France there were many opportunities to work with these partners to share our work, to strengthen and grow relationships and to make new connections for the future. As a result, we are optimistic for our prospects at home and internationally.

The Building

Since the Abbey Theatre’s purchase of 15 – 17 Eden Quay in 2012, its stated ambition has been to remain at its existing location, in the heart of Dublin City. In addition to this site, adjacent to the current theatre and facing the River Liffey, the Abbey Theatre extended its footprint for redevelopment in 2016, purchasing 22 – 23 Eden Quay. These sites will form part of the footprint required for the future redevelopment of the theatre.

The current Abbey Theatre building opened in 1966. While we take great pride in our building, we experience considerable challenges when it comes to health and safety standards and access for people with different abilities.


Report Of The Comptroller And Auditor General

Image of the report from the Comptroller and Auditor General.

In Conclusion

Our commitment is to play our part as Ireland’s national theatre as the nation moves towards 2017 and the Abbey Theatre enters an exciting new chapter in its life-time.

The continued support of the Arts Council is crucial to our success and impact as Ireland’s national theatre. We continue to work closely with the Arts Council, and we are extremely grateful for their continued investment in the Abbey Theatre over the years despite cuts to their own funding levels.

We are also grateful to the government, and to the taxpayer, for the additional investment during 2016, which enabled such a full and wide reaching programme throughout Ireland and abroad.

We acknowledge with heartfelt thank our donors, sponsors, and members, and everyone who saw an Abbey Theatre show in 2016.

As a Board We would like to thank the artists and theatre makers who worked alongside the Abbey staff to make 2016 the success that it was. As a Board we would like to commend the staff of the Abbey Theatre who work so tirelessly and with such pride in their work.

The Board would like to express its deep thanks and appreciation to Fiach Mac Conghail for his leadership of the Abbey Theatre over his 12 year tenure as Director/CEO.

The Board would also like to thank all Abbey Theatre supporters.

Our commitment is to play our part as Ireland’s national theatre as the nation moves towards 2017 and the Abbey Theatre enters an exciting new chapter in its life-time.

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Complete Financial Statements


A complete set of accounts & financial statements for the year ending 31st December 2016 can be downloaded here:

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