Minister advised to close Dublin run of `The Rose Tattoo'

 

The minister for justice in 1957 was advised to close a play being performed in Dublin before he was called upon to do so by "the Archbishop [McQuaid] or somebody else". Papers from the Attorney General's office tend to be released some years after papers from other departments.

The owner of the Pike Theatre Club, Mr Alan Simpson, in which The Rose Tattoo, by Tennessee Williams, was being performed, was subsequently prosecuted.

Moves against the production come to light in a letter dated May 9th, 1957, to the director of public prosecutions from the attorney general's office, stating that the minister for justice had been approached by a member of the Dail "with reference to the intention . . . of the management of the Pike Theatre . . . to produce . . . The Rose Tattoo. The deputy stated that the play was unquestionably indecent and that its production had been prohibited in several American cities."

Later in the month Det Sgt K. Wedick of the Dublin Metropolitan Division was sent off for a night at the theatre. He took Garda Francis Martin along for the show around the end of May.

He said he was not going to describe the play at great length but "recount what I consider are matters which are lewd, vulgar and offensive".

Among these is a scene where the 15-year-old Rossa Delle Rose brings home a young American sailor and they dance. She keeps "close to her partner and sway[s] with his rhythm". There are further such scenes, and Det Sgt Wedick closes his report with the information that the "theatre was packed to capacity with a good class of audience".

His report was among items sent to the minister for justice by a senior official in the Department on May 21st, 1957.

"On the basis of the police reports, I think there is no doubt that the play is indecent and that, too, is the view of Mr O'Donoghue of the Attorney General's Office," wrote the civil servant.

"Before the play was put on, Mr Sean Brady TD called to the Department and stated that the play was indecent, that he was aware that His Grace the Archbishop had called for the script and that he [the archbishop] was aware of Mr Brady's representations to the Department."

If there was any delay in prosecuting the case, the official advised the minister, "you may be faced with a demand . . . from any one or more of several sources, including the archbishop, for action, and that you would then be put in a position of having either to take no action . . . or to give the impression to the public that you acted only at the dictation of the archbishop or of somebody else".

Following a warning that the play should be closed, a recommendation was made on June 6th, 1957, that charges be brought against six people involved in staging The Rose Tattoo.

However, on June 28th there was something of a reprieve, when the attorney general was advised by the DPP that "in view of the statements of the several officers who saw these performances I find it difficult to distinguish between the members of the cast if it decided to issue summonses against any of them".

Only Alan Simpson was charged and he appealed his case in 1958. Following his successful appeal an unsigned recommendation was made to the Department of Justice that "in view of the hardship and financial loss sustained by members of the Pike Theatre Club, Dublin, as a result of the legal action by the minister for justice . . . the minister should take steps to compensate them and to ensure that injudicious proceedings of this kind will not be instituted in the future".