What a week I have had, dear readers. I am finally back to work with the brilliant Equinox Theatre Company and though the temperature checks, extra paperwork and the all the cleaning (So. Much. Cleaning.) are taking some time to get used to, I would be lying if I said I did anything other than dance my way into the rehearsal room. Now, I am positively exhausted from it all, there’s been a fair bit of dusting off of the cobwebs, (both literal and metaphorical) but it has given me a sense that all things theatre can happen and more to the point it feels as though a giant red ‘reset’ button has been pressed and I couldn’t be happier.
On the subject of theatre happenings, Druid are about to embark on their next venture for 2020: DruidGregory, a Galway 2020 Commission.
As I’m sure most of you will know Augusta Gregory was pivotal in the founding of The Abbey Theatre. Along with WB Yeats and Edward Martyn she established the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899 and though that folded in 1901 due to lack of funding, by 1904 the trio had become an octet (including such brilliance as JM Synge and Annie Horniman) who founded the Irish National Theatre Society. On December 27th 1904 they had their very first opening night in their new home on Lower Abbey Street featuring, of course, one of Gregory’s own plays, Spreading the News and our National Theatre was born.
Gregory remained an active director of The Abbey until ill-health forced her into retirement in 1928, and in this time she wrote more than 19 plays. Though she spent much of her time in hotels in Dublin, Coole Park remained always her home and served an idyllic background as the centre of the Irish Literary Revival. Figures such as George Bernard Shaw, JM Synge, Sean O’Casey and many more spent time there. Oh to be a fly on that wall! For those inclined to seek it out, there is an ‘autograph tree’ in the walled garden where you can still see the initials of these titans of the Irish word. What better place for Druid to launch their stunning tribute to one of the most important pillars of our national theatre?
There Hyde before he had beaten into proseCoole Park 1929, W.B. Yeats
That noble blade the Muses buckled on,
There one that ruffled in a manly pose
For all his timid heart, there that slow man,
That meditative man, John Synge, and those
Impetuous men, Shawe-Taylor and Hugh Lane,
Found pride established in humility,
A scene well Set and excellent company.
On September 15th, in the surrounds of Coole Park, 12 actors and musicians, under the direction of Artistic Director Garry Hynes, and the incomparable Marie Mullen as Lady Gregory herself, six of Gregory’s one act plays will be brought to life. This will be followed by a whopping 14 venue tour (yes, an actual tour!) around County Galway.
The tour will include unique one – off performances in some of Galway’s most historic sites such as Kylemore Abbey, Teach an Phiarsaigh and Ballyglunin Station, as well as Tuam, Cliffden, NUI Galway, Ballinasloe, Kinvara and everywhere in between. The performances will be outdoors (so prepare for the weather, it is Ireland and Galway for that matter) and, it goes without saying, fully Covid compliant.
As it is fully ‘covid compliant’ numbers are, unfortunately, restricted which of course means all performances are already sold out and no, I was not quick enough to get my mitts on a ticket. However, there is a waiting list in operation so I would highly recommend getting on that list to be in with a chance to see what is sure to be a magical evening. You can find everything you need to know HERE.
So you see, the ‘reset button’ has been pressed, and once again we are reminded that theatre can happen. It is happening amidst a ton of risk assessment, paperwork and oh so much cleaning, but it is happening.
As we continue the fight for survival, I can’t help but feel what an appropriate moment it is to celebrate someone who was so much a part of shaping our cultural identity as our country was reborn as a sovereign nation. In those formative years of our national theatre, our culture, our identity, was bound up entirely in our arts. They were a foundation on which our first leaders built our nation.
In 1941, having entrusted her home to the State, and despite the pleas of leading cultural figures at the time, the State demolished Coole Park. All the remains is the plinth on which it stood.
How very short-sighted of them.
“Here, traveller, scholar, poet, take your standCoole Park 1919, W.B Yeats
When all those rooms and passages are gone,
When nettles wave upon a shapeless mound
And saplings root among the broken stone,
And dedicate – eyes bent upon the ground,
Back turned upon the brightness of the sun
And all the sensuality of the shade –
A moment’s memory to that laurelled head.”