Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Druid Theatre Archive nearing completion!

Cataloguing of the Druid Theatre Company archive is finally nearing completion! The past few months have seen the production of an itemised catalogue and finding aid for the records of Druid Theatre Company from 1975 to 2008.
Just to explain and expand on the outcomes of the archival listing: the collection has been divided up into series that are named 1) Production Files 2) Press Files 3) Season Programmes 4)Scripts 5) University College Galway Drama Society 6) Druid Theatre – Building 7) Druid Theatre – History 8)Druid – The First Ten Years 9)Handover of Druid Theatre Company Archive 10) Druid in Review 11) Other Photographs 12) Non-Druid Productions.

The production files include descriptions of material from production by Druid. The files include playbills, posters, photographs, invitations, flyers, scripts, tour handbooks and other related documents. The press files feature Irish and international reviews of Druid productions, interviews with cast members, directors and production crew members, feature articles and general coverage on Irish theatre, local amateur productions and Irish arts.
La Baladin du Monde Occidental, 1984
The files from the University College Galway Drama Society pre-date the formation of Druid theatre company and date as far back as the early 1970s and document the emerging careers of Garry Hynes, Marie Mullen and others. The collection of theatre posters includes one foreign gem, a poster of a production of “La Baladin di Monde Occidental” which is a version of The Playboy of the Western World by a French theatre company called Theatre du Perche. Produced in 1984 at the Jesuit Hall in Salthill in Galway, it’s a truly unique piece.
The collection features some thirty five boxes of material and is a truly unique research resource. The collection catalogue will be available in full in early February. Stay tuned to the NUI Galway Archives homepage and the NUI Galway archives Twitter account for updates!

Monday, January 24, 2011

John B. Keane

 In a week when Fine Gael is very much in the headlines, it’s perhaps a good time for a post on one of their most prominent supporters from the world of arts and literature, playwright John B. Keane. Keane was yet another of Mary O’Malley’s correspondents, writing to her in relation to the staging of his plays at the Lyric Theatre. He also sent her a copy of Man from Clare in 1963.

Keane, famous as a publican as well as a playwright, was born in Listowel, county Kerry in 1928. After being educated locally he worked in the UK for several years before returning home and establishing himself in the drinks trade. His eponymous pub is still in family hands to this day. It is of course though as a writer that he gained national and international recognition, writing such classics as The Field, Sive, and Many Young Men of Twenty. The Lyric produced The Field in 1966 and again in 1969, early recognition of a play which remains enduringly popular today. Brian Dennehy has recently received strong reviews for his portrayal of the lead character, the Bull McCabe, in the current Joe Dowling production of the play at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin.

As mentioned earlier, Keane was a lifelong supporter of the Fine Gael party. As well as dramatic works he also wrote essays and novels, and was a member of Aosdána. The presence of this correspondence in the archive demonstrates the Lyric’s seeking out and fostering of Irish talent, a tradition which continues to the present day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Famous Faces and the Lyric Theatre: Michéal MacLiammóir

The Lyric sought from its earliest days to foster relationships with other theatrical figures and institutions in Ireland. Some evidence of this has surfaced in the form of correspondence between Mary O’Malley and Michéal MacLiammóir, who along with his partner Hilton Edwards established the Gate Theatre in Dublin.
Like Mary, MacLiammóir was a devotee of W.B. Yeats and his own ideas on the theatre were heavily influenced by Yeats. As a youth in his native London, the then Alfred Willmore became fascinated with the Irish language and taught himself before changing his name to the much more Celtic ‘MacLiammóir’. He had acted since his childhood, and while on a tour of Ireland with Anew MacMaster in 1927 met Hilton Edwards. The pair would go on to form the Dublin Gate Theatre Studio the following year, with their earliest productions being staged at the Peacock Theatre. These productions parallel the Lyric’s early years in that they were both working with severely limited space, but not allowing this to curtail their ambitions.
Mary contacted MacLiammóir after he neglected to mention the Lyric when speaking on Irish theatre. She did this not out of pride, but out of a desire to create a more inclusive Irish theatrical community, regardless of borders and divisions. As can be seen in the letter  above(click through for an enlarged version), MacLiammóir was apologetic about his oversight of the Lyric’s work, ‘so nobly done’. Forgiveness was given and relations were obviously repaired, as this telegram shows (sent in 1978).

There are several more links between the NUI Galway theatre archives and Michéal MacLiammóir. He was instrumental in the establishment of An Taibhdhearc, the Irish language theatre, in 1928. MacLiammóir mentions in the letter above that he has just returned from working with John Huston in Rome (on The Kremlin Letter). The archives of An Taibhdhearc are deposited in our archives, as are the John Huston papers. These collections are available to researchers on request.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jack Butler Yeats

Mary O'Malley's affinity for the work of W.B. Yeats led her to the little-known dramas of the poet's brother, Jack B. Yeats. The younger Yeats is of course known primarily as an artist. He is a figure that dominates twentieth century Irish art, and was the first to sell for over a million pounds (The Wild Ones, in 1999).

His forays into literature are no less significant even though they are undoubtedly more obscure than his paintings. He in fact wrote plays, novels, and even designed theatrical sets. Three of his plays were performed at the Abbey in Dublin, including the one the Lyric would eventually go on to produce, La La Noo. This play was first produced at the Abbey in May 1942, and ran for just one performance. The Lyric produced the play in 1956 as part of a double-bill with W.B. Yeats' The King's Threshold.

The Jack Yeats material in the Lyric Theatre archives at NUI Galway consists of correspondence between Yeats and Mary O'Malley. As well as this, there are copies of three more of his plays, sent personally by Yeats in response to a request by O'Malley in 1956. These include The Deathly Terrace and Harlequins Position, pictured below. This material, when fully catalogued, will be a rare opportunity for researchers to explore Jack Yeats' writing.

Yeats' own papers, deposited in the National Gallery of Ireland, are currently the subject of a major cataloguing project themselves. The archivist can be contacted through the page linked above.

The Deathly Terrace
Harlequins Position

Thursday, January 13, 2011

W.B. Yeats and the Lyric Theatre

Denis Smyth as Conchubar in On Baile's Strand, Lyric Theatre archives, NUI Galway
As mentioned in a previous post, Mary O’Malley was greatly influenced by the drama of W.B. Yeats, and indeed modelled the Lyric on Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Her interest was sparked from a young age, when she saw Yeats in the flesh at the Abbey, having been brought by her brother Gerald.

When she established regular productions from her home in the late 1950s, she took this as an opportunity to explore Yeats’ plays. The Lyric would go on to produce all of Yeats’ plays in the following years. These were often amongst their least popular productions – Yeats’ drama being not nearly as acclaimed as his poetry - but O’Malley steadfastly persevered in her vision.  In 1961 the Lyric Theatre was invited to perform several Yeats plays at the first international Yeats Summer School in Sligo, and returned there for several years afterward. The company also travelled to Dublin with these rarely performed dramas.

Mary O'Malley at Yeats' grave, Sligo (1961)
Mary O’Malley gained recognition as an interpreter of, and indeed expert on, Yeats’ dramatic work. The archives here in NUI Galway contain letters from Yeats devotees and students from as far afield as Zambia, seeking her advice and guidance on the topic.

These, along with costume and set designs, annotated scripts, and O'Malley's own production notes, will prove an invaluable resource for students of theatre and of W.B. Yeats.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The New Lyric Theatre - Opening May 2011

Building began on a new building for the Lyric Theatre in late 2009. The previous building, built in 1968, had long been unfit for the purposes of the ambitious company. Its construction is the result of some incredible fundraising work, by many people, over eight years. The development team hold the distinction of having secured the largest ever philanthropic gift made to an arts venue from Ireland. This incredibly generous donation of £1,000,000 was given by Martin and Carmel Naughton.

This new home for the Lyric is gaining more interest from the media as it approaches completion. An extensive piece appeared in the Irish Times this weekend, and this interest will only increase as the new theatre opens and its productions begin.

At such a momentous time for the Lyric, it is illuminating to look back through the archives here in NUI Galway and see the roots of this now flourishing institution. Here on the right you can see plans made by architect Neil Downes in 1957 for an extension which was built at the rear of the O'Malley residence on Derryvolgie Avenue, Belfast. The purpose of the extension was to provide a new entrance to the small auditorium (up until that point, audience members had to pass through the O'Malleys' home), to create some backstage facilities and a foyer. The extension was completed in September 1957 and it heralded the burgeoning recognition of the Lyric as a serious and potentially professional theatrical company.

Neil Downes went on to become instrumental in the design for the first purpose-built home for the Lyric, which was on the same site in Ridgeway Street as the new theatre. We will take a closer look at that project, driven of course by Mary and Pearse O'Malley, in a future blog post. Below is a video in which architect John Tuomey outlines his concept and vision for the new Lyric Theatre building.                        

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Many Lives of Albert Nobbs

The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs is a story worth hearing and a life worth knowing. So much so in fact, it is being filmed in Ireland for a new film starring Glenn Close in the title role. The original story, written by George Moore, has long been adored on the international stage and also on the Irish stage.
Premiering on Broadway in June 1982, the stage version of the story, devised by Simone Benmussa, tells the story of a young woman in the male-dominated Dublin society of the 1860’s and who disguises herself as a man in order to get ahead in the city. Described in review from the New York Times, the production “[was] an oddly haunting piece of theatrical chamber music, at times so low-key as to be dim wattage, but one that holds our attention like a tale told at the fireside”. The 1982 review can be read in full here. The standout performance of this production was by none other than actress Glenn Close, described as follows: “Miss Close, so lovely in ''Barnum'' and as Elena in ''Uncle Vanya'' at the Yale Repertory Theatre, is almost unrecognizable as Albert. It is not simply a matter of her boyish hairdo -darkened and cut short - but of her manner, movement and sensibility. She is a timid youth who is efficient at work but without grace, eager to please but afraid to be expressive. The play is a curio, but the performance is transforming”
This story was given the Druid theatre treatment is a production in 1996 and also designed and directed by the renowned Simone Benmussa who brought Albert Nobbs to the Broadway stage in 1982. Jane Brennan starred in the title role alongside an ensemble cast of Clara Simpson, Jayne Snow, Dawn Bradfield, Aoife Kavannagh, Melanie McHugh, Natalie Stringer, Allen McLelland, Dermot Crowley and Kevin Moore. The Druid Theatre archive in NUI Galway holds the production files for this production. The files include the scripts used by Druid Theatre, press releases, playbill, flyers, invitations as well as a file of photographs taken during rehearsal and production of Albert Nobbs.
Glenn Close as 'Albert Nobbs'

Adding even more to this story of the recurring presence of life of Albert Nobbs, Glen Close will reprise her role of some 30 years ago as filming is currently underway, with Close back in the title role. It will be directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the son of the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and co-written by Man Booker Prize winner John Banville. Read more about this coup for Irish film here.
The Druid files for The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs will be available soon in 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

'Threshold' Contributors: Lord Longford

One of the slightly more unusual yet well-known contributors to Threshold that I’ve come across is Frank Pakenham, otherwise known as the 7th Earl of Longford and British Labour politician. He was approached by Mary O’Malley in 1959 to write an article especially for the magazine, which he did not have time to do. However he did send his notes for a debate which had been held at Queen’s University, Belfast, on the topic ‘That Religion is Necessary to Morality’, for publication.

It is no surprise that he was invited to speak on this particular topic. Longford famously converted to Catholicism after a nervous breakdown while in the army during the Second World War. His beliefs went on to inform his politics when he took his seat in the House of Lords, and he became notorious for his position on gay rights, strongly opposing the decriminalisation of homosexuality. He also famously, and controversially, condemned the continued imprisonment of convicted murderer Myra Hindley, dubbing her a ‘political prisoner’. His belief in her rehabilitation was staunch, and he campaigned for her release for many years.

It is with the knowledge of his career as a writer though that his involvement with Threshold can be understood. Longford had a great interest in Irish history, with Éamon de Valera being a particular hero of his. He in fact was chosen to co-author de Valera’s official biography in 1970. He also would have come to Mary O’Malley’s attention for his longstanding efforts to have the Hugh Lane bequest paintings returned to Dublin from London, which resulted in a sharing agreement being reached in 1959. With Mary O’Malley’s own political persuasions also lying with the Labour party, it is obvious that there were multiple reasons behind her decision to approach Lord Longford to contribute an article to Threshold.

Lord Longford died in 2001, survived by his eight children, amongst them the writers Thomas Pakenham, Rachel Billingham and perhaps most famously, Lady Antonia Fraser, widow of the playwright Harold Pinter.