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Category Archives: Abbey Theatre

A Closer Look – Drawing Dublin’s Theatres

When you walk past a theatre do you ever stop and take a moment and really look at the building? Is there a particular way a theatre should look? If there were no signage would you instantly know you are outside a theatre? It is an interesting question. Perhaps to truly get a sense of what the facades of Dublin’s theatres form and represent you have to create your own images of these buildings. That is exactly what Kate Brangan did.

“I am a graphic designer and illustrator from Dublin. The theatre drawings were undertaken for a self directed project I did last year. I have worked in the design industry in Dublin for three years and when my most recent job ended last year after the company I worked for went in to liquidation, I found myself looking for work. A three month freelance contact with the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival was advertised and the idea blossomed from there”. Abbey_pic“I was aware that the role was a coveted one I wanted to apply to the position with a unique CV, so I decided I would draw each of the theatres listed on their website (16 in total) and create a booklet that would also display the drawings. Motivated by the deadline that the Festival applications had to be in by, I took a rare sunny evening out last June and cycled a full circle of the city, visiting 13 of the 16 theatres. (I visited the remaining three at different times as they were in the suburbs.) I spent a bit of time at each theatre, taking photos from all angles before cycling on to the next.”

“The reason I mention this at all it that I really want to share what an amazing and enjoyable way it was to spend an evening in Dublin. I have lived here all my life but never before have a reason for such a diverse journey around the city in a concentrated amount of time and one which also forced me to take a proper look at this range of buildings in such a small space. Cycling down through Gardiner Street from The O’Reilly Theatre, to then find myself in the grounds of Trinity taking in the beautiful structure of the Samuel Beckett Theatre within the same 30 minutes was a really refreshing experience! It made me look at my city in a whole new light and this is in turn made me really enjoy and love doing the drawings all the more.”

Talking with Kate there is an obvious sense of an artistic quality and appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of these theatre buildings. Brangan openly admits she has not had a life-long relationship with theatre but explains how the experience opened up some of the spirit and atmosphere that is unique to each theatre space. “I just think it is quite funny how things work out because at the time I considered it (getting the advertised job) crucial and was devastated when I didn’t get it, but the process that got me there, doing the drawings, making the booklet etc. turned out to be much more beneficial in the end. I decided I enjoyed it so much and was pleased with the outcome that I decided I did not want to leave it there. In order to remove the association of the drawings from my failed attempt to get the job, I decided to add in two extra theatres, that were not on the original Festival list, which are in fact my two personal favourites, The Grand Canal Theatre and The Olympia Theatre and from there made up a batch of booklets which I brought down to the Winding Stair Bookshop on Ormond Quay and also to ‘Article’ in the Powerscourt Centre and the booklets of drawings sold out completely.”

“I did surprise myself by realising just how much I enjoyed taking in all the varied detail that the theatres possessed. It would excite me when I arrived at each theatre to find it was in complete contrast to the one I just left, the repetitive horizontal brick work of O’Reilly, the vertical slats of Samuel Beckett, the grand structure of Newman House compared to the humble townhouse on Pearse Street, also to then have so much brickwork involved in the city based theatres compared to the modern structures and angles of the suburban ones. It was just so interesting to be able to pack so much detail into such a small publication. Each theatre has their own unique history and story, and what I think I really love about them is that this is something that is almost unique to theatres. They are all included in the booklet under this umbrella term of theatres but each building is so unique and a stand-alone structure in itself.”

To view the images from Eighteen Theatres please visit Kate Brangan’s website by clicking here

Contact and order details for work by Kate Brangan can also be seen on her website http://katebrangan.com/index.php?/projects/theatres/

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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Abbey Theatre, Theatre

 

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Something Borrowed, Something Blue. . .New Voices at the Abbey Theatre

Aideen Howard, Bryan Delaney and the New Playwrights programme group

If the stage of the Abbey Theatre is seen as the heart of the National theatre, then its Literary Department is very much the pulse. Tucked away on the upper floors of the Abbey Street theatre, the Literary Department is very much a haven for new writers, for new stories and for new voices. Aideen Howard, Literary Director, talks to Barry Houlihan and Writing.ie about the work of the Literary Department, about supporting new plays and new playwrights and about finding that new voice in Irish theatre.

For the rest of this interview from writing.ie please click here

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Abbey Theatre, Theatre

 

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Translations: New Adventures in Language

Following the successful original 1980 production and subsequent tour of Translations by Field Day Theatre Company, Tom Paulin stated afterwards in 1983:

“The history of language is a story of possession and dispossession, territorial struggle and the establishment or imposition of a culture.”

Few plays and fewer playwrights have stirred the question of’ Irishness’ and nationhood as much as Translations by Brian Friel. Since it was staged all of thirty years ago, the first production of the fledgling Field Day Theatre Company, it has become synonymous with the Irish obsession with language, connection to home and to the landscape in which that home is situated.

Denis Conway and Aaran Monaghan. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Translations was written in the shadow and direct backdrop of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Friel, himself a Derry-born Catholic, experienced life on the front-line of this turbulent and bloody time. The political nature of Translations has perhaps taken on a life of its own outside of its intended level of intervention. Friel has often set on record that Translations is not a political play but is only about language. While Friel may have chosen to defuse the situation and down play the political and Nationalist fervour the play has come to be associated with, this is not so readily achievable.

It was unthinkable for many in 1980 to foresee an Ireland that would have later see a Downing Street Declaration, a Good Friday Agreement, a power-sharing executive. Now, thirty years since Translations was premiered by Field Day Theatre Company in the imposing Guild Hall in Derry, for so many it is unthinkable how very real the fear, violence and sectarianism was in the North. Today’sIreland is one more attuned to peace but still tragically not immune to violence. The murder of RIC Constable Ronan Kerr and British army soldiers at Mesereence Barracks have provoked an outpouring and committed resolve for peace in the face of those deluded few who insist on failed violent means.

Translations tackled the question of language like no other play in Irish theatre. Friel recognised that while land and connection to home, wherever that may be, can actually be superseded by a truer from of identity: how we express and communicate. While the threat of violence, eviction and also references to the Great Famine hung over the village of Ballybeg, the idea of knowing one’s identity and place through words rather than physical landscape is the true essence and beauty of this play. As Manus taunts his father Hugh following the ‘standardisation’ of the local place-names, he says: “Will you be able to find your way?”

Friel’s contribution to the identity question surrounding ‘Irishness’ on both sides of the border has been explored in depth in Translations but also in his other ‘language’ plays – Making History and Faith Healer. Friel’s use of the colloquial and local dialogue and speech creates entirely real worlds where his characters are reflections of the society and place that has shaped them. Many similarities along this point can be also be seen in the work of playwright Billy Roche, who has become as synonymous with finding a connection to the thoughts and language of the people of his native Wexford as Friel found with people in the North of Ireland.

If by Fintan O’Toole’s definition of a ‘Powerplay’ – a work being political, challenging and reflective of society and identity, then perhaps Translations is the ‘Powerplay’. It is also crucial to consider, is it just a powerplay of it’s own time? And can it still carry such an impact on today’s audiences as it did in 1980’s Derry? Translations does still have much to offer contemporary Ireland. Earlier this year, the visit by Queen Elizabeth II allowed for a mass re-evaluation of the colonial relationship between Ireland and Great Britain. Our own ability to recognise this visit as one head of state visiting a global equal as opposed to a colonial satellite was key to the mature and considered welcome Queen Elizabeth received. Recent revisions of works such as the Playboy of the Western World in a version by Roddy Doyle and Bisi Adigan put that classic story on a modern footing in contemporary Dublin and explored how immigration was shaping Ireland and the actions, thoughts and words of its people. Also works by The Company, including Who is Fergus Kilpatrick and As You Are Now So Once Were We, go to new levels in exploring questions of connection to place, city, country and the individual. The Company took this challenge to completely new territory, moving outside of the traditional literary text and engaged technologies, forms and ideas that turn the questions of place and language on its axis.

Translations will rightly be a classic of it’s time and also any time. Its original staging in the Guild Hall in Derry will be remembered as being one the most powerful symbols of how theatre can reflect and present society as well as crossing boundaries that traditional communication cannot. It is a fantastic opportunity to see the powerplay once again on the national stage. It also affords us the opportunity to consider the next generation of powerplays and guess at where they will come from and what they will focus on. As Hugh says in the closing scenes of Translations; “We must never cease renewing those images; because when we do, we fossilise.”

Translations is on the Abbey Theatre Stage until Saturday 13th August. www.abbeytheatre.ie

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Abbey Theatre, Culture, Theatre

 

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The Fall-Out of Memories – Mercier’s ‘The Passing’ and ‘The East Pier’

“People around here just want to get on with their lives”, offers Steven, played by Andrew Connolly early in Paul Mercier’s new play The Passing, presented in reparatory on the Abbey theatre stage with his other new work The East Pier.  These two new ‘memory plays’ reflect on our contemporary Ireland, the unease and anxiety prevalent in its people and also ponders our connectedness to each other, or lack thereof.

Put simply, these are works for our time. However, they are not strictly of our time. The Passing and The East Pier share themes and ideas that are a continuation and extension of the themes Mercier has explored from the mid-1980s with his play Wasters, where he examined the disinterested youth of a generation of young Irish that were experiencing mass emigration. Here, Mercier presents a suburban middle-class, those who were cloistered in commuter-belt housing estates but today find themselves lost and very much alone socially, politically and economically.

To say these works are ‘recession plays’ or to label them as a direct comment on banking crises would do them a severe injustice. The dreaded words of recession, banks or bonds are never mentioned. That is not what Mercier is getting at here. He says himself “The Passing and The East Pier may be set in contemporary Dublin, amid the wreckage of a bust economy and a visionless future, but “events like the banking crisis, or whatever, happen every day. We’re either flush with [money] or we’re not. These events have been happening since I first began writing in the 1980s. The times then were challenging too. . . Yes. Ordinary life continues regardless of the economic circumstances.” (Mercier in conversation with Sara Keating, IT) Mercier is exploring the fallout of these crises and where they have been felt hardest and that is in the homes of Irish families.

The Passing is set in one such family house that has ceased to be a home.

The Passing. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

The Passing. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Catherine enters the home of her childhood and in the process sets off the alarm, she is like an intruder in her own home. We learn that this house has been vacant for some time and is about to be placed on the market. A series of meeting with her siblings ensue, each by chance, none arranged and none of the meetings are that of siblings on good terms. Anthony Lambe’s set is a through-section of the house, from ground floor to roof chimney and allows the audience a vantage point into the private lives of families, usually kept within the walls of their home. Liam, played by Peter Hanley, is the son who stayed at home and who watched his parents grow old and eventually die. He is the executor, a powerful position to hold in a society where the holder of property has previously been the winner.

This is also a key point which Mercier teases at: a house loses any sense of being a home when it is treated solely as ‘a property’. Negative equity should mean less to those who bought a home to live in, be at home in and not to sell or hold simply as a commodity.

Catherine is brilliantly played by Catherine Walsh, one of the best performances you will see this year.  The ‘passing’ implied in the play’s title is played on many levels: the death of father and previous head of this household, the breakdown of the family as members move away and the ‘passing’ of the house itself into the hands of strangers, which Catherine frantically and desperately tries to prevent.

Mercier really hits some excellent notes in this play. In one of the final scenes, where Catherine talks with the neighbour Steven, they discuss how ‘year after year homes give birth to extensions’, they battle with hedges, trees, fences, boxing each other in and moving neighbours further away from each other, retreating back into their ‘improved’ houses.

We never quite learn exactly why this house has such a powerful connection to Catherine given that she ‘abandoned’ it some long years back. This, aligned with the fact that we never fully know enough about the original reasons for Catherine leaving her home or for the lack of communication between her and her siblings do leave gaps in the story. It is still an intriguing piece and forces a revaluation of the current state of Irish community, family and social standings and sets about a point of reconciliation for a new Irish society.

The East Pier is the second new play by Mercier staged at the Abbey. The audience are brought to the lobby of a pier-side hotel in Dublin’s south coast. The decor of Anthony Lamb’s hotel is aged but clean, worn and now tacky and out-dated. It perfectly accentuates the passing of time from when the hotel was a hub of life and social meetings instead of present day when not even staff are present. These sea-side hotels were once booked-solid for summer getaways but this of course was before the norm of exotic foreign holidays.

Kevin, a plainly suited business-man enters, slightly nervous and waiting for someone. Jean, soon follows. She is also suited in the garb of the successful business woman. It quickly becomes evident these two have a connection and a story that goes far beyond a chance business meeting.

Idle chit-chat is exchanged, job titles, services, husbands, wives, children, the usual ‘elevator talk’ to pass a moment.

Don Wycherly. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Soon, Jean and Kevin are talking about past encounters that one or either remembers while the other can’t recollect. Mercier masterfully controls this outpouring of experience and memory. His direction keeps the dialogue flowing as one delves into their memories of school, youth, summers, debs, embraces, walks and ideas of elopement. While the other might not always remember the exact details, the place or people present, the key is Kevin or Jean have never forgotten each other. Blanks in memories give way to floods of emotions and remembered embraces. Were these deliberately forgotten however?  The fractured lives of this couple and their changed directions mean things seldom follow the path they envisage.

Don Wycherly has been one of the consistently brilliant actors anywhere in Ireland over the last number of years and this is to be no exception. He carries his devotion to his children, to his business and his clients with an innate vulnerability. Andrea Irvine also excels as she portrays Jean who is visibly hurt by Kevin in a former life. There is genuine connection between the two, albeit in the face of years spent apart and spent wondering.

Paul Mercier has done something extremely interesting here. By working with memory and recollection he has ironically created two pieces that deal with the present. He presents Ireland as it stands today, broken, lacking guidance, stung and struggling in the fallout from its memories of happier times.

See www.abbeytheatre.ie for further details.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2011 in Abbey Theatre, Culture, Theatre

 

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Moving toward a new ‘Theatre of Crisis’.

For the past few months world news has been dominated by sweeping revolution across the Arab world. It has been incredible to witness the youth of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and most recently Lybia take to the streets in protest and in a unified voice declaring change is both wanted and needed. With these events in mind, it is interesting to note how and where theatre and the arts are responding to these seminal moments of political and social upheaval.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa despotic regimes have been challenged and toppled by what has popularly become known as ‘Facebook Revolutions’. The disenfranchised and un-institutionalised youth took the stop forward to initiate change. Ideas and debates spread and were disseminated through social networks, beyond regional and national boundaries and it would be a natural reaction that revolution would be born. The key ingredient was information.  Now, in the instant wake of these events, it is the reactive agency of theatre that can assess and respond to these seismic social upheavals.

The power of theatre as a tool to astutely capture and represent social shifts is in its immediacy. It can capture the rawness, the tragic and the hope. The role of theatre as a conduit for independent thought and resulting change is not lost on the current crises the world has faced.

Seven Jewish Children by Caryl Churchill

Seven Jewish Children

Playwrights such as Caryl Churchill penned and saw produced her work Seven Jewish Children in the immediate wake of the 2008-2009 Israel military strike on Gaza. It was first performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre on 6th February 2009. This play was also staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin at a free performance in March 2009. The Abbey would again return to the barricades when it staged a season of works to reflect on the national crises of institutional abuse of Irish children. The Darkest Corner was a brave and also disturbing account of the torture these forgotten children endured. An interesting note is the play reflecting on the complex Gaza/Israel issue was staged almost immediately and in time with the conflict. The Darkest Corner would follow a full year after the publication of the report of “the Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse in Ireland”.

No Escape at the Peacock Theatre

No Escape, image courtesy of The Abbey Theatre

The question of timing such plays is tricky. Stage the work too soon and it can lose its focus and become overtly emotionally or politically aligned with a certain cause or side. Stage the work too late and the real immediacy and impact of a work will also be distorted. On the recent RTE documentary series From Stage to Street, Prof. Chris Morash made the point regarding the original staging of the Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre in February 1926: The Plough and the Stars was written and staged ten years after the 1916 Rising and still provoked near riots. It is the equivalent, Morash said, of a play being staged today depicting the firemen of New York in the aftermath of 9/11 acting in a drunken stupor and cavorting with prostitutes in brothels. This incredibly astute observation opens up debate on when indeed are we as a society and audience ready to engage with the fall out of such global events.

This also raises another question. What form, should this ‘Theatre of Protest’ take? Mary Raftery’s No Escape, produced as part of The Darkest Corner series, took the form of ‘verbatim’ or documentary theatre. This form is possibly the purest in content as it is the words, and solely the words, of a particular group or viewpoint, retold verbatim. It is a hugely powerful form of theatre and engages an audience with the primary source rather than news stories or political spin.

Staging works as world events are unfolding does allow a unique viewpoint. Theatres become agents of debate and information but perhaps this is inevitably to the detriment of artistic and dramatic thought and creativity. The normal processes of creativity involve the gestation of an idea, reaction to thought, a play is written, a theatre is found to stage it, an audience witnesses it and reaction begins. Creating a play in reaction to a particular crisis and watching it gel with its cast, see its form change and keep up with world events is a radical departure from the traditional.

Closer to home, can we pinpoint a specific new play or work staged professionally or otherwise in Ireland that adequately tackles the demise of Irish society in the crash of our economic sovereignty? There are few.  Fewer works look at the involvement of the Irish in international conflict situations, such as, international peace keeping missions for which they have been highly commended for decades. Works such as Colin Teevan’s How Many Miles to Basra and others that comprised the Bearing Witness series at the Abbey Theatre commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights in December 2008 are excellent and notable exceptions to the lack of debate, pushing the Abbey Theatre once more to the front of reaction to international conflict.

Love and  money at Project Arts Centre

Love and Money

Looking back on March 2008, The Project Arts Centre staged Dennis Kelly’s Love and Money which was a stylish and slick production that examined the high-capitalist, materialist classes emerging in London. At the very precipice of Irish and global financial crisis, the Project Arts Centre was critiquing and commenting on the very greed and fiscal incompetency that set forth to shatter our national sovereignty.

Internationally, works such as Black Watch by the Scottish National Theatre, produced at the 2008 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival and Tony Kushner’s Homebody read at the Abbey Theatre in March 2003 highlighted the impact and power these reactive works infused on their audiences. Conflict and immediate reaction to conflict has been relevant to the Irish stage and has been more than important and essential to understanding the global consequences of these actions.

Now, in North Africa and the Middle East, revolution has taken the form of Web 2.0.We have witnessed protests on stage. Is it now time for the crisis to be put on stage? This means engaging directly with the event and making a response relevant and which creates debate and understanding. If the highest role of theatre is citizenship then a new ‘Theatre of Crisis’ may be needed to match the experience of its audience. Theatre makers must keep up with the pace of this revolution. The thought, energy and emotions are palpable as the world looks on. If we keep looking without engaging, the real threat is that it can pass us by. The stakes are that high.

 

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The Abbey Theatre of 1904 brought back to life

A fascinating project was recently brought to my attention by @Marlalbur (who themselves have an excellent blog on Irish cultural history) An initiative by King’s College London historian, Hugh Denard, with Trinity College Dublin’s Long Room Hub & Irish digital graphics company, NOHO, The Abbey Theatre 1904 project is a project where the interior of the original Abbey Theatre, as used by the Irish National Theatre Society in 1904 is being digitally recreated in 3-D.

This painstakingly challenging and detailed task will for the first time bring to life the auditorium, the stage and more than just an impression of what was a birthing pool for theatre in Ireland. The Abbey was of course a National Theatre before there was even an Irish state. It was revolutionary for such a theatre to be state funded at the turn of the twentieth century. It was unheard of anywhere else in the world. Now, through the project website and blog, you can follow the progress as the Abbey of 1904 is recreated and visualised.

The project’s designers say of their work so far: “The task of digitally visualising the Abbey Theatre as designed by Joseph Holloway poses many challenges. Holloway’s architectural plans and drawings fortunately survive in the National Library of Ireland, and we have several black-and-white photographs of the early Abbey. However, it is more difficult to obtain detailed information about textiles, colour-schemes, and fixtures and fittings originally employed, as well as the less photogenic but functionally important backstage areas” 

“Because there will inevitably be gaps and contradictions in the historical information available to us, it becomes crucial to open the doors to the interpretative process so that the decisions we are making can be freely observed.”

The blog excellently chronicles the extricate research necessary and the time taken to sort through and pin point resources at various archives and institutions such as the National Library of Ireland, the Irish Architectural archive, British Pathe Film archives and many more. Videos outline the 3-D visualisation processes and blog articles describe visits to the Abbey Theatre’s own archive.

This is definetly a project to bookmark and keep an eye on as it unfolds. It shows how theatre history and theatre archives can be embraced and revitalised with the right idea and right technical knowhow. As the Abbey has entered its second century and still continues to grow and evolve, its roots and origins will not be forgotten.

Follow the Abbey Theatre 1904 project blog here and on Twitter @OldAbbeyDigital

 
 

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As You Are Now So Once Were We

Do you feel like you know Dublin? Really know it? Do you walk the same route along the same streets every day? Is your morning routine so rigid that it almost feels like you are repeating it, on loop, day in day out? Get up at the same time, go to the bathroom, eat breakfast at the same table with the same people and then go out the same door, together.

The Company

Are you in a routine so much that it feels like you are less in a real world and more in a rehearsal? This award winning work (Best Production, Absolut Fringe 2010) by the Company takes this ideas of ‘a day in the life’ and also taking inspiration from James Joyce’s Ulysses tracks the journey of each of the four characters from waking in the morning to their journey through Dublin City to the Peacock theatre where they must stage their new work, whatever that may be.

The Company members Rob, Tanya, Nyree and Brian play heightened characterised versions of themselves. The Peacock stage has seldom looked so open as Dublin City and its buildings and ‘box towers’ are represented by sweetly choreographed large cardboard boxes. The opening sequence where the ‘set-up’ of the stage is played out before you like a manic session of lego building.

The audience are taken on a virtual walking tour of Dublin, where streets, sights, smells and places are all name-checked. The concept of associating certain foods and smells with certain places in the city is reminiscent of scenes from Joyce’s book. The idea of ‘rehearsal’ is examined throughout the work as pieces are replayed, altered and replayed again. The story of Paddy Dignam is one such case. If time can be slowed, stalled and replayed, the question of intervention crops up, where all of us are in a social media-led, isolated bubble which leaves less time for actual human contact as simple as a hug as we concentrate more on virtual ‘poking’. The irony is not lost that as crowds pulse through the city streets as we are hell bent on getting from A to B without knowing what is actually around us.

As You Are Now So Once Were We. Image courtesy of the Abbey Theatre

The work is extremely humorous, the in-jokes and deliberate over-reacting, I thought, gave a particular aspect which I believe can easily be lost in a work of this form and that is a connection with the audience and a commitment to entertain and engage. I imagine it to be the only work at the national theatre to refer to its Artistic Director Fiach McConghail as ‘The F-Bomb!”

The influence and direction by Jose Miguel Jimenez, who was seated in the audience, plays no small part in the production as he strives to keep the whole concept of time – the moment and our place in that moment – fluid and on track. With As You Are Now… Jimenez has justified the much hype about his ideas and abilities. He, along with the Company, really have set Irish theatre ablaze with a new, exciting and unique brand of work.

What grated me somewhat were not the themes of the play, or its perhaps piggybacking-use and reference to Ulysses but actually what I heard and read from numerous others who saw this work. Yes, the Company are brash, yes, they are riding a huge wave of success and have big ideas and are experimenting with new forms that are not everyone’s ‘thing’ or within their comfort zone of theatre with a straight narrative. The Company are good, and they know it. But is this really a bad thing? It still means they are good! And when they are good, they are very good.

As You Once Were Now So Once Were We runs on the Peacock stage at the Abbey until 5 February.

Meet the members of the Company in conversation with theatre critic Peter Crawley at the Abbey, post-show, Wednesday 2 February.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2011 in Abbey Theatre

 

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