The Great Dublin Lock-out became temporarily locked-in last night when, on an occasion that was historic in more ways than one, the Abbey Theatre presented its latest production behind bars.
The Risen People, a musical adaptation of James Plunkett's play about the events of 1913, was transferred for an evening to Wheatfield Prison, where it was watched by 200 inmates, staff and invited guests.
It was the Abbey, but not quite as we know it. Nobody asked us to switch our mobile phones off (visitors had already handed them in at security) nor did anyone draw the audience’s attention to the exits.
The set was scaled down to fit the stage of the Wheatfield assembly hall, otherwise, this was the full Abbey experience, available in an Irish prison for the first time in its 110-year existence.
As theatre director Fiach Mac Conghail announced beforehand, to applause: “We are the National Theatre. If for whatever reason, you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you.”
Going "to the Abbey"
The Risen People includes a joke in which a 1913 employer, unworried by the impending lock-out, speaks of going "to the Abbey" that evening.
However an ironic effect of the Wheatfield performance was that patrons visiting the actual theatre last night, hoping to see the show, would have found the building closed and signs saying the production had left town for the evening.
As has happened through the current run, the latest performance concluded with a “noble call”,when a formal response is invited from the audience.
In Wheatfield, the response was from members of the prison's music and drama class, who attended workshops for 10 weeks to study Plunkett's work and write about it.
Entitled Stand Together, their song argued that little had changed since 1913:
Lock outs and bail outs,
The old and the new,
Our workforce is leaving,
It’s deja vu.
None of the singers had been on an Abbey stage before and only one or two had ever attended the theatre. One told reporters (who were asked not to identify them) that the music and drama classes were an attempt to “better ourselves, so we don’t go back to where we were”.
Another suggested that last night’s song was a way to express anger at political events outside. “Just because we’re prisoners doesn’t mean you don’t react to what’s happening,” he said, adding a little ruefully: “It’s about how you manage the emotions.”