A visit to the Abbey Theatre: Dublin by Lamplight

The Abbey Theatre is certainly up there on the list of things to experience in Dublin. Dublin by Lamplight was my first production to see in the Abbey Theatre – and I highly recommend it.

The Abbey is really well tiered. You can comfortably see everything from everywhere, which as a great help when booking tickets

The story line is a fable based on the founding of Ireland’s national theatre. It fuses the opening of the Irish National Theatre, the visit of the King to Ireland and the destruction of Nelson’s pillar on what is now O’Connell Street. The words vibrant and dynamic are often used to describe theatre, and it seems almost like they are meaningless artsy words. However, it was really vibrant and dynamic: a cacophony of Irish accents, singing and dancing; vividly portrayed stereotypes of the people of 1904’s Dublin and their respective attitudes towards politics and society on top of a tirelessly amusing piano accompaniment. The actors of the Corn Exchange, the theatre company, seem very engaged and invested into their roles – which inevitably gives any production amazing energy.

Aside from being funny, loud and amusing, the play is deeply allegorical:

We have two Eimears proclaiming their soliloquies at the end: equally passionate, Eva St. John says hers out of a desire to help, albeit a condescending one, whereas Maggie says hers because it is her only chance to make anything of herself in a world where she would otherwise always be the help. Which is a more genuine call for freedom: the arrogant and selfless or the oppressed and driven by self-interest ? The playwright makes it very difficult to not see the other’s point of view – a hallmark of any great piece of literature.

Cú Chulainn, as Frank Hayes, runs off on a boat to England! A mix between a neurotic drunk, a determined man, a liberating hero and a terrorist, he nonetheless is the only one with a legacy: a clearer view of O’Connell Street and a child on the way.

The reconciling pacifist, Willie Hayes, who refuses to pick a side is the only one for whom there is no longer a role in the world of the play.

I am left with the question though: why do so many Irish plays insist on featuring a forlorn pregnant woman out of wedlock? It’s not like getting pregnant out of wedlock was exactly celebrated anywhere else around the world, yet no other nation’s literature insists on making it look like it was a fate worse than death. The play is nonetheless far from melancholic and I highly recommend it!

Dublin by Lamplight is written by Michael West and directed by Annie Ryan.

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