Mason At The Abbey


Sir, - Victoria White's attempt (Arts, January 5th) to damn with faint praise Patrick Mason's tenure as artistic director of the Abbey Theatre deserves comment.

She complains of the "disappointing number of good new plays" brought to the Abbey stage during Mason's incumbency. Well, this raises the question what is "good" in drama. O'Casey says somewhere that a playwright does not set out to write great plays, only plays that are as well done as he or she can manage. That said, one must welcome what new talent is on view.

In the past two years alone I have seen at the Abbey and Peacock new plays by Michael Harding (Sour Grapes and Amazing Grace), Tom MacIntyre (The Chirpaun), Declan Hughes (Twenty Grand), Bernard Farrell (Kevin's Bed), Hugh Leonard (Love in the Title), Gary Mitchell (In a Little World of our Own and As the Beast Sleeps), Jimmy Murphy (A Picture of Paradise), Chris Lee (The Electrocution of Children and The Mapmaker's Sorrow), Donal O'Kelly (Judas of the Gallarus), Marina Carr (By the Bog of Cats), Tom Murphy (The Wake), Tom Kilroy (The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde), Brian Friel (Give Me Your Answer, Do!), and Frank McGuinness (Dolly West's Kitchen). There were others I missed, for example Melon Farmer by Alex Johnston and The Passion of Jerome by Dermot Bolger.

That doesn't seem to me a bad line-up. Much of the new work was experimental and highly interesting - exactly what a vibrant national theatre should be producing. It can hardly be expected to be uniformly "good" or to pack in audiences every time. But I can't for the life of me see how Chris Lee's work, to pick just one example singled out for negative comment by your critic, can be described as "half-baked". Although dark and uncompromising, Lee's two plays are beautifully written and tackle subjects not likely to be seen investigated either in the commercial theatre or, God bless the mark, on television. They received intelligent and committed performances in the Peacock and were sensitively directed by Brian Brady.

This is the quality of work which deserves encouragement rather than glib dismissal. Moreover, to use Conor McPherson as a stick to beat the Abbey is nonsense. This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison, cited by Ms White as a significant rejection by the Abbey, was staged at the Project @ the Mint in September, 1998: I found it juvenile beyond belief in content as well as seriously derivative in form. Perhaps Ms White should think again? - Yours, etc., Christopher Murray,

Department of English, UCD, Belfield, Dublin 4.