Co-productions and the fate of the Abbey

 

Sir, – Regarding the recent articles on Abbey programming for 2020 (Deirdre Falvey, Home News, December 11th & 12th), I would like to note that I am a theatre professional who supports the new model of production.

Co-productions in my 20-year experience provide for increased opportunities for writers and artists, inspirational collaborations and great networking connections.

The biggest threat to the livelihood of Irish theatre professionals is not the new model at the Abbey but the chronic underfunding of the arts in Ireland. We remain at the bottom of EU expenditure tables. – Yours, etc,

DEIRDRE KINAHAN,

Playwright,

Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – Many of the objections to the current management of the Abbey Theatre relate to the increasing number of co-productions to replace an earlier policy of in-house productions.

The attractions of co-productions are obvious, especially at a time of reduced public funding. When the production moves on, there is an income stream to the theatre. A good example of this is the musical Home From Away which went straight from the Abbey into the Phoenix Theatre in London and continues to do good business. The Abbey will receive a producer’s royalty, which no doubt accounts for the good recent financial report.

However there are dangers involved with going down this route.

In the mid-1970s I worked for the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford which was at the time one of the most successful out-of-London theatres in Britain. It was described as a regional repertory theatre, but it was nothing of the sort. There was no permanent company as virtually every show was a co-production with a commercial management that would take it on tour and/or into the West End. The theatre received an income stream and was at the same time relieved of the work involved in finding plays, clearing rights and engaging casts.

As wages were low and costs were below those in London, staff found themselves being used to provide cheap labour to an outside organisation. The policy was so successful financially that the Arts Council ceased to fund the Yvonne Arnaud, which seemed not to need a subsidy.

By the end of the 1970s, things started to turn bad. The very elderly audience were, literally, dying off and there were no younger audiences coming along as no effort had been made to attract them by engaging with the local community.

There was no attempt to encourage new writing. The formula of reliable old war-horses by Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan, starring elderly actors from British films of the 1930s and 1940s, was no longer appealing and the theatre went into a decline. It ceased to be a producing management and is now a touring house. It does not offer plays throughout the year, being often used for films or hired out to amateur dramatic societies.

I hope this is not the fate in store for the Irish national theatre. – Yours, etc,

ROBERT WHELAN,

Richmond, England.