Showing posts with label The Lyric Theatre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Lyric Theatre. Show all posts

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Brian Friel: Looking back to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, of 1964

To mark the 85th birthday of the great playwright Brian Friel, we have dipped into the archives and are looking at how, 50 years ago in 1964, Friel was busy at work staging works in Dublin and Belfast. 

These letters and documents are from the Lyric Theatre/O'Malley Archive. The documents relate to the October 1964 production of The Blind Mice written by Brian Friel. This was the first and only production of the play at the Lyric Theatre and the play has since remained unpublished. The Blind Mice had received its Irish premiere in 1963 at the Eblana Theatre and produced by Orion Productions, which were founded by the late Phyllis Ryan. 

This extensive collection of papers relate to the foundation by Mary O'Malley of the Lyric Players Theatre in Belfast in the early 1950's and charts its growth from a theatre based in O'Malley's own house to becoming one of the most important cultural venues in Northern Ireland.

With specific reference to this 1964 production of The Blind Mice, the records of the Lyric Theatre archive contain the original and annotated scripts for the Belfast production, with scripts present marked "Stage Management",  "Lighting" and general copy with marked-up text of the play.

Also pictured here is a manuscript letter by Brian Friel written to Mary O'Malley written just weeks after the Belfast production of the Blind Mice and referring to the September 1964 and original production of Philadelphia Here I Come!  saying "The Dublin play went very well. It was one of those scripts that could have fallen flat on its face – and happily did not". Friel continues to outline his beliefs on writing a good satire and states where he falls somewhat short of his own expectations on this.

In the final paragraph of the letter, Friel wishes O'Malley continued good wishes for the Lyric Players Theatre: "Good luck with the new theatre – it could be great – and that is entirely up to you."

The Lyric theatre archive hold the following records for The Blind Mice:

T4/88 - Material relating to the production of The Blind Mice by Brian Friel at Derryvolgie Avenue. Includes two programmes and three copies of the script: a copy annotated with general production notes, a copy annotated with lighting directions, and a copy marked as being for the use of 'Stage Management'. This copy also has numerous notes and annotations. Also includes a portrait photograph of Sam Macready in costume as Father Chris Carroll.

The catalogue of the full Lyric Theatre/O'Malley archive is accessible here

Friday, April 8, 2011

Kilroy Making Theatre History

Thomas Kilroy's first play to reach the public was in fact a radio play, The Door, which won a BBC radio play competition and was broadcast in 1967 with Cyril Cusack in the main role. However, his first work for the stage, submitted to the Abbey in 1964, was The O'Neill (The Abbey, 1969). It cast into dramatic form a few episodes in the Ulster chief's fortunes, round about the Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), and it was the first of Thomas Kilroy's "history plays" (seven of his original plays could be called that). He sought opinions about the draft play from the Abbey Theatre, from Hilton Edwards, Mary O'Malley, and Cyril Cusack, and got some interesting replies.

Cyril Cusack in Genet's
The Balcony,
Cyril Cusack's letter is, in his own description, "ultra-cautious"; he does not think himself a good judge of a play, but despite all mincing of words he makes this comment on the play and on himself: "As it is, this is not the play I would ask, above all, to put on, and, alas, that is the only kind of play upon which I could possibly take a risk" (28 December 1964). An O'Neill could not beat him for mixing diplomacy with boldness.

Ernest Blythe, then director of the Abbey Theatre, reported that there were widely differing opinions on the Abbey board about the play. He himself committed himself as far as to say that "while O'Neill is not a play which might be expected to be wildly popular or a money-spinner and might indeed even provoke some public anger, we think it is far better than any previous play about O'Neill which has come to us and merits the most serious consideration" (24 May 1966).

However, despite such good feedback from The Abbey, The O'Neill suffered the fate of a quixotic journey via the desks of three successive directors and various others, before the Abbey finally produced it in May and June of 1969, with Dubliner Joseph O'Connor in the lead role. In the meantime, Kilroy's second play, The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, was turned down by the Abbey in 1966 or early 1967, and then overtook The O'Neill by reaching the stage first (Dublin Theatre Festival, 1968).

Revival of "The O'Neill" on the anniversary of O'Neill's departure from Rathmullen
It's also noteworthy that when Brian Friel wrote his own play about Hugh O'Neill, Making History (produced by Field Day in 1988), he and Kilroy were in correspondence about it. There is an essay by Anne Fogarty about the way either dramatist makes sense of "The Great O'Neill" and of historiography. (Irish University Review, vol 32 no.1, Spring/Summer 2002) 18-32.
Vera Orschel