Abbey programme for next year strikes cautious note
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Don Wycherley and Risteárd Cooper at the launch of the Abbey programme yesterday.

Photo: Mark O'Sullivan


Abbey programme for next year strikes cautious note

Following a turbulent two years, which saw the Abbey Theatre’s state funding fall in steep proportion to the recession – from €10m in 2008 to €7.25m for 2010 – the national theatre’s actions have been candid, cautious and severe. Sometimes, that seems to be as true of its programming as its internal operations. Earlier this month the Abbey, which had an operating surplus of €56,485 in 2008, returned accounts for 2009 that showed €1.8m in losses, largely incurred by its long negotiated and soon to conclude restructuring process. When that process is finished, with the amalgamation of the Press and Marketing departments into a new Communications department, and the merging of Front of House and Box Office into Customer Services, the organisation will have reduced its staff from 113 “full-time equivalent” positions to 81. Accounting for the redundancies in 2009, which were not implemented until this year following a Labour Relations Court ruling in January, the restructuring has cost the Abbey €1.25 million.

While it weathers those storms, the Abbey’s recent programme has erred on the side of prudence, staging large-scale revivals or big-name adaptations on the main stage, while buying in successful Irish productions for short-term engagements, and keeping the Peacock space dark for stretches of the calendar. The 2009 accounts suggest a reason, recording a 10.6 per cent dip in box office takings from 2008 figures - from €2,640,801 to €2,361,331. 2009 was a year of large-scale productions of new work by established writers, with Marina Carr’s Marble, Tom Murphy’s The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant and Sebastian Barry’s Tales of Ballycumber, all on the main stage, with Sam Shepard’s Ages of the Moon and Tom MacIntyre’s Only an Apple performed in the Peacock.

While the Abbey was concerned that the economic downturn may impact on the company’s box office income, its box office for 2010 is up on the previous year, according to director of finance and administration, Declan Cantwell. In 2010, its programme played it more safe, with a new Bernard Farrell comedy, Bookworms, and an international star-studded production of John Gabriel Borkman, destined for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) next year, which will aid the Abbey’s plans to concentrate on fundraising in the US.

The programme announced yesterday for 2011, which schedules productions up to August, largely continues recent trends. Its most adventurous project is the (previously announced) diptych from Paul Mercier, The Passing and East Pier, which will be performed on the Abbey stage in repertory next March. But it also adds two new works by two new writers to the Peacock’s schedule, each of which will run for only four weeks. No Romance by Nancy Harris opens in February, directed by Wayne Jordan, and Perve by Stacey Gregg premieres in May directed by Róisín McBrinn.

As was the case in 2010, the Abbey is bringing two independent companies into the building next year, with The Company’s Joyce-inspired Absolut Fringe show, As You Are Now So Once Were We, remounted in the Peacock for a short commitment and Theatre Lovett and The Ark’s already revived and recently toured The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly for just over a fortnight. In early summer, director Annabelle Comyn makes her main-stage debut with Shaw’s Pygmalion, while Conall Morrison directs Brian Friel’s Translations.

Unlike this year's verbatim drama of Mary Raferty’s No Escape and the economic illustration of David McWilliams’s Outsiders, both successful productions, the new programme has little conspicuous topical engagement. No Romance is about “the search for connection in a fractured world” and Perve mourns the loss of innocence in our “highly sexualised world”. As the National Theatre prepares for an uncertain future for the arts in Ireland, committing to new work may be risky enough.




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