Vincent Dowling (83) dies after distinguished career in theatre

Distinguished Abbey director passes away in US

Vincent Dowling had a successful association with the Abbey Theatre in a career spanning five decades, serving as the national theatre’s artistic director between 1987 and 1989. Photograph: Tony Gavin

Vincent Dowling had a successful association with the Abbey Theatre in a career spanning five decades, serving as the national theatre’s artistic director between 1987 and 1989. Photograph: Tony Gavin

Mon, May 13, 2013, 01:00


The distinguished theatre director and actor Vincent Dowling (83) has died in the United States. Dowling had a successful association with the Abbey Theatre in a career spanning five decades, serving as the national theatre’s artistic director between 1987 and 1989.

He also led the company on its first tours to the former Soviet Union and Hong Kong.

His relationship with the Abbey Theatre dated back to 1953 when he first appeared as an actor in The Shadow of a Gunman by Sean O’Casey.

Over the years he acted in plays by Synge, Shaw and Oliver Goldsmith. He appeared in Frank McMahon’s adaptation of Brendan Behan’s autobiographical novel Borstal Boy in 1967.

He is, however, most associated with Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. In 1968, he played Christy Mahon. In 1990, he led a tour of the US with his critically acclaimed production of the Synge play.

He served as artistic and producing director of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, which later became the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1970s and 1980s. During his time there, he is credited with discovering award-winning actor Tom Hanks.

In 1990 he founded the Miniature Theatre of Chester in Chester, Massachusetts. He also received an Emmy for producing and directing a film version of The Playboy of the Western World.

He was married to Irish actor Brenda Doyle, who died in a car crash in 1981. He is survived by his second wife, Olwen O’Herlihy, and his children, including actor Bairbre Dowling and the Dún Laoghaire TD Richard Boyd Barrett.

Mr Boyd Barrett, in Germany to attend a conference of left-wing parties, said yesterday he was greatly saddened to learn of Dowling’s death.

Mr Boyd Barrett, who was adopted, said he learned Dowling was his father when he was reunited with his birth mother, actor Sinéad Cusack.

He said after the publicity surrounding his reunion with Ms Cusack, Dowling “had figured it out and called me”.

Abbey director Fiach Mac Conghail said Dowling was an “actor’s director. Having been an actor himself, he understood the craft of acting . . . In my memory he was brilliant with people. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends and colleagues in the theatre community across the world.”

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