Branding, riots and archives centre stage at Abbey

Limerick City of Culture controversy among issues tackled at ‘Theatre of Memory’ symposium

The second day of the Abbey Theatre symposium, entitled the Theatre of Memory, took place yesterday.

"Making History: Artists and the Past" was the title of one of the morning sessions, chaired by Kevin Whelan, director of the Keough-Naughton centre of the University of Notre Dame in Dublin. One of the three panellists was Eleanor Methven, actor and co-founder of Charabanc Theatre Company.

Methven used the opportunity to address the recent controversies involving Limerick City of Culture, particularly the role of artists and the discussion about "rebranding" the city.

“I welcome the lancing of the boil of Limerick,” she said, to loud applause. “In Charabanc, we learned to respect ourselves through respecting the privilege afforded us by our own community.”


She talked about the ordinary Northern Irish public during the Troubles, who allowed her theatre company to represent “their voice and their culture” on an international stage.

This was far from a “rebranding exercise”, Methven said.

“A brand imposes itself upon and cauterises the skin, but does not go deeper into the body politic. It has no meaningful long-term effect, apart from stamping ownership – traditionally on slaves or cattle.”

"There's no rioting in theatre anymore," fellow panellist and director Grace Dyas said, adding that "if people don't like something" they take to Twitter instead.

In one of the afternoon sessions on the subject of archives, Patrick Lonergan of NUI Galway drew gasps from the audience.

He was relating how many women playwrights had had new plays performed on the main Abbey stage since 1940.

The figure was just three, with five plays (three of which were by Marina Carr alone), although there have been some 500 productions in that time.

Mr Lonergan also spoke about the project NUIG is carrying out with the Abbey.

They are in the process of digitising all 1.5 million items in the Abbey archive, “which will make it the biggest theatre archive in the world when completed”.

Also yesterday, playwright Thomas Kilroy read from his memoirs, a work in progress; Irish Times journalist Carl O'Brien talked about direct provision; and cultural critic and philosopher Richard Kearney spoke about trauma in literature. "Famine is our wound," he told the audience.

The final day of the symposium takes place today.

Rosita Boland

Rosita Boland

Rosita Boland is Senior Features Writer with The Irish Times. She was named NewsBrands Ireland Journalist of the Year for 2018