Abbey Theatre in dramatically good health, says report


THE ABBEY Theatre, which this year will get €8.35 million in State investment, brings €40 million annually into the Irish economy, according to a report published yesterday.

The national theatre, which has benefited from major reorganisation and substantial State financial backing in the three years since its economic crisis, is expected to move to its new home in George’s Dock by 2016, Minister of State Martin Mansergh said yesterday.

The report was released before the opening of Tom Mac Intyres new play, Only An Apple, at the Peacock. The document reviewed the theatre’s performance in 2006-2008, a three-year period in which the Abbey received a record investment of €25.7 million from the Arts Council through the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

The report, which makes a strong case for reorganisation and State investment, points to the radical restructuring of the company under director Fiach Mac Conghail, an increase in attendance of 19 per cent between 2006 and 2008, and the redesign and improvement of its main auditorium in 2007. It also cites the theatre’s re-engagement and collaboration with Irish and international writers such as Marina Carr, Roddy Doyle, Brian Friel, Séamus Heaney, Conor McPherson, Paul Mercier, Tom Murphy, Mark O’Rowe and Sam Shepard.

The review includes a recent economic impact study commissioned by the Abbey, where Prof Dominic Shellard, of the University of Sheffield, and Derrick Elliss found the theatre generated €3.60 for every €1 of funding over the three years, contributing €118 million to the Irish economy.

Over the period, 32 productions were staged. They were seen by 375,000 people and employed 309 actors (and nearly 800 actors had work in productions, readings and workshops). Seven shows were world premieres and four were Irish premieres, including Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

Mr Mac Conghail said the theatre was in a healthy and successful position. “We promised our artists, audiences and the taxpayer that we would commit to change and provide great theatre to our citizens and I believe we have achieved this. I believe strongly there is a need for the Abbey to provide leadership and support to our writers, theatre makers and our audiences . . . and we are in a position to deliver on this promise.”

The report notes that the Abbey recorded a surplus of €3,361,868 at the end of the period, because of factors including prudent budgeting, tighter cost-control, later-than-expected rollout of some plans and an increase in box office income. The surplus will offset the 16.5 per cent reduction in the National Theatre’s Arts Council grant for 2009.

“The Abbey is hugely important and the support it gets from the State reflects that,” said Mr Mansergh. “Obviously we are facing into more constrained economic times, which is reflected in a somewhat-reduced subvention.”