The Abbey on the move
Even before ‘The Plough and the Stars’ tours, the Abbey has been forced to relocate. Cast and crew tell SARA KEATINGabout 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.
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.