Playwright calls on Abbey Theatre to investigate complaints

Abbey believed to have received three letters of complaint by people formerly employed there

Playwright Jimmy Murphy has called on the Abbey to look into ‘allegations’ and ‘difficult working conditions’ at the theatre.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Playwright Jimmy Murphy has called on the Abbey to look into ‘allegations’ and ‘difficult working conditions’ at the theatre. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Playwright Jimmy Murphy has called on the Minister for Culture and the Arts Council to intervene and insist the Abbey Theatre appoint an independent investigator to look into “allegations” and “difficult working conditions” at the national theatre.

Murphy, who was a member of the Abbey Theatre’s former advisory council, made a public statement on the Liffey quays near the theatre this afternoon. The statement – made in a personal capacity by Murphy – came after a scheduled meeting between playwrights’ representatives and Abbey management, as part of an ongoing series of discussions, following a letter of concern from theatre professionals in January about the Abbey’s model of production.

Murphy’s statement, he said, “heralds the end of a journey that began back in January. And while the end of act 1 is finally in sight, a more dramatic and troubling act 2 than the one anticipated has presented itself in the wings”. It would be “negligent of the Irish theatre community if it were not urgently addressed”, he said.

Murphy said that following a media report this week, “as well as numerous accounts from colleagues in and outside the Abbey”, attention had been drawn to allegations.

“These allegations which are presently hanging over the National Theatre now risk damaging the great international name and reputation of the Abbey... The Minister and the Arts Council must intervene with immediate effect.”

The Abbey Theatre this month received three letters of complaint by people formerly employed at the theatre complaining about separate incidents, it is believed. Two of the letters are understood to be from former Abbey production or crew employees and the third from a performer.

The letters, sent to the Abbey board, are believed to have been sent through Equity, which is part of Siptu and represents actors, theatre directors, stage and set designers in Ireland.

When contacted, Equity would not comment on the issue, citing the confidentiality of complainants and the integrity of the procedure.

In response, the Abbey Theatre said it does not comment on individual HR matters.

Jimmy Murphy, whose plays include Brothers of the Brush and The Kings of the Kilburn High Road, was a member of the Abbey’s former Advisory Council. He was at the Abbey for a meeting not related to his call for investigation.

Murphy and fellow playwrights Joe O’Byrne and Elaine Murphy, and John Lynch of the Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild, met Abbey Theatre co-directors Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, producer Jen Coppinger, and the Abbey’s new dramaturg Louise Stephens, this morning, to discuss the relationship between the Abbey Theatre and playwrights.

It is the latest in a series of bilateral meetings following a letter on January 7th to the Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan, the Abbey Board and the Arts Council. In the letter, 312 (425 now support the letter) theatre professionals expressed concern about the impact of the national theatre’s new strategy and production model on employment, pay rates, the nurturing of talent and knock-on implications for Ireland’s theatre ecosystem. By late February the number of theatre workers supporting that letter had reached 422, and continues to grow.

Following the letter, representatives of the Abbey and the signatories met to start a process dealing with the myriad, interrelated issues at the theatre.