Ireland boasts more than its fair share of Nobel winning writers, and the city is famed for its theatres, as well as acclaimed for its actors. Theatre in Dublin has a rich and fascinating history, and the Dublin Theatre Festival and Fringe Festivals are a magical time, when all the city truly is a stage.
As a proud supporter of the Dublin Fringe Festival, the atmospheric Cellar Bar at The Merrion is the place to go during the Fringe, whether for a pre-dinner bite, or post-show refreshments.
With internationally acclaimed tours and awards galore, Irish Theatre is having a stellar moment. Theatres, such as The Abbey, The Gate, Gaiety, Olympia, Smock Alley, Project and O’Reilly are magnets for Irish and international audiences, but did you know that once upon a time, Dublin had a 3,700-seater theatre?
The Theatre Royal, which went through three incarnations, not only had that many seats, it could also accommodate another 300 standing. When Judy Garland came to perform in 1951, she sold out a series of shows on the Hawkins Street site. Legend has it that she stayed on, drinking with the stage hands, and even serenaded early morning passers-by the next day from the building’s upper windows.
One version of the Theatre Royal burned down, but when the third was finally demolished, the magnificent marble staircase was transferred to the Brown Thomas Department Store. Later, Brown Thomas moved across the road, but you can still ascend the staircase, and feel like a diva, in what is now Marks and Spencer’s on Grafton Street. The Hawkins Street site since housed the Department of Health, which is now moving, and it is up for redevelopment soon, so who knows what might be to come?
Back in the day, theatre was a national pastime, and when the theatre wasn’t in use for drama, it might double up for other events. The original Theatre Royal, then on Smock Alley in Temple Bar, used to hold pony races on an oval runway around the auditorium. The sound of thunder would be produced by rolling wooden balls down metal guttering. Today the Smock Alley Theatre, the oldest theatre in Dublin, is a smaller affair, but a wonderfully atmospheric home to some truly memorable dramas.
Founded in 1904 by one of our Nobel Laureates, William Butler Yeats; alongside Lady Gregory, The Abbey was the first state-subsidised theatre in the English-speaking world, testament to the love the new Irish State had for its artists and writers. The new Free State government began to support the theatre back in 1925. Yeats and Lady Gregory established The Abbey with the manifesto “to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland”.
September is when Dublin gears up for its annual month-long theatrical extravaganza. “Deeper emotions” of all manner pour forth, as the Fringe Festival and Dublin Theatre Festival go back to back, and draw creative types, and those who love them, to the city for one whole marvellous month.
First up is the Fringe (September 8th to 23rd), where an eclectic and experimental programme includes comedy, drama, spoken word, dance and more from around the world. Many stars have cut their theatrical teeth in the Fringe, and the hundreds of events can take you from theatres to warehouses, to the streets of the inner city. Some shows are not for the faint hearted, but all are guaranteed to get you thinking. With tickets from just €10.00 it’s time to experiment. This year why not check out The Money? Players (the audience) have to agree on how to spend a pot of cash, in order to get to keep it. Or for true Irish humour, beloved trio Foil, Arms & Hog will be, quite literally, Craicling.
Hot on the heels of the Fringe, comes Europe’s oldest theatre festival, the Dublin Theatre Festival. Established in 1957, it runs from September 27th to October 14th. 2018 Highlights include Oscar-nominated Irish actress Ruth Negga starring in the title role of Hamlet at the Gate Theatre; Druid Shakespeare’s Richard III at The Abbey; Rough Magic’s adaptation of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at the Pavilion; and the Irish National Opera’s Bluebeard’s Castle at the Gaiety, where Jamie Vartan’s set will transport the audience into a very dangerous world.
Always a proud supporter of the arts, and home to Ireland’s largest private art collection, The Merrion looks forward to welcoming artists, performers and audiences alike for a wonderfully dramatic month in Dublin.