Less work expected at the Peacock
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Above: The Empty Space? A view from the Peacock.

Less work expected at the Peacock

The pay dispute over actors’ fees at the Peacock may have been resolved, but as the Abbey director Fiach Mac Conghail pursues new models of operating the National Theatre with diminished resources, the role of the Peacock still seems to be under review.

Contending with a 27% cut from 2008 funding levels (from €10m two years ago to €7.25m in 2010) while the theatre continues a protracted period of restructuring and expects the loss of 26 staff positions, Mac Conghail told ITM that his priorities are to invest in big casts on the Abbey stage. Between Christ Deliver Us!, nearing the end of its performances, and Macbeth in rehearsals, he points out there are 59 actors currently employed by the Abbey. He also intends to bring on young directors, to maintain the activities of the literary department and to reach the end of the year without losing money.

“A part of that formula is [deciding] how to keep the Peacock open,” he says. The Peacock, with 127 seats, is a venue that has never made commercial sense, but nor is the Abbey funded to be a commercial theatre. “What I am trying to do is find a way to make sense to keep it open,” says Mac Conghail. “It’s unsustainable now in terms of the levels of costs that we have.”

Mac Conghail’s considerations for the Peacock include developing a younger company in the space next year and developing a different aesthetic for its productions: as he puts it, to “go back to its roots of being a studio theatre, as opposed to a mini-Abbey.”

Currently, his 2010 programme for the Peacock involves just three full productions with very short engagements: No Escape, the first production of The Darkest Corner season in April, runs for just 10 days, followed by Gerard Mannix Flynn’s James X, revived for three days, then the Dublin Dance Festival co-production, DAY, which runs for four days.

Mac Conghail maintains that he is trying to avoid the loss of job opportunities for actors, but it seems likely that the Peacock will remain dark for long stretches of the year. A summer show at the Peacock in 2009 was cancelled before it was announced and Mac Conghail told ITM that another show, planned for the summer of 2010, has also been scrapped. Similarly, Mac Conghail reveals that the organisation has had to scale back on much of its activities. Rehearsal schedules have been reduced to five weeks, a proposed tour will not go ahead and the theatre’s recently implemented understudy programme has also been discontinued. “We have to find a way to make good work cheaper,” says Mac Conghail.

The Abbey director would not be drawn on the specifics of fee negotiations which had surrounded the forthcoming production of No Escape, although Mac Conghail alluded to the implications of its resolution. “We have found a resolution,” he said. “It means we will do less work. And I’ll have to find a way to place more work on the Peacock stage in a way that’s sustainable in the next couple of years. Because I’d say the funding horizon for the Arts Council is going to get bleaker next year.”



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