Dublin by Lamplight – Abbey Theatre – Review by Conor O’Carroll
Until April 1st on the Abbey Main Stage.
Dublin By Lamplight, by Michael West in collaboration with the company and Directed by Annie Ryan
Photo by Ros Kavanagh
This play is set in 1904 in Ireland. It is the same year as Joyce’s Ulysses is set and in which our National Theatre was born, upon whose stage it is now performed. It was written by Michael West, who blends fact and fiction to create a new version of events, an alternative history of what happened on the opening night of the Abbey!
In the play, events from different periods are brought together. It opens with the lead up to the opening night of the play “The Wooing of Emer” in the new national theatre. The Wooing of Emer by Cú Chulainn is an eleventh century text recounting the myth of the hero seeking a wife and meeting his match. The impresario Willy is wooing the Lady Eva (a parody of Lady Gregory) to sponsor the new theatre while she has pretensions of being a great actress. Meanwhile Willy’s brother Frank who is to play Cú Chulainn is assembling a bomb!
Outside preparations are underway for the King’s visit to Dublin, however in reality the visit was in 1907 as in 1904 he did come to Ireland but not to Dublin. There are echoes of O’Casey, Yeats and Joyce throughout the play with clear references to the Plough and the Stars and Nighttown. The founding of a national theatre and high art are contrasted by the squalor of Dublin full of streetwalkers and street cleaners shovelling human waste.
This is a new production by Corn Exchange, who originally produced the play in 2004. This production uses many elements of the original and has the same director in Annie West. It keeps some members of the original cast, with Louis Lovett and Karen Egan returning. The rest of the cast comprises a younger generation of Irish talent including Caitríona Ennis who was recently nominated for Best Actress in the Irish Times Theatre Awards. The original commedia dell’arte performance style is maintained, with the actors appearing with white faces and talking directly to the audience. There is a cast of six and yet at times it seems the stage is full of people.
Each cast member plays a variety of roles and they are an impressive ensemble. The stage is simple with the only prop being a bag. The cast use mime and their voices very effectively to evoke locations and objects. Lighting is used cleverly to move between scenes and shadows give the actors space to transform into another character. The pianist in the corner goes almost unnoticed and yet plays a critical role in setting the scene. This production is a bright and stylish evocation of another age.
Cast: Colin Campbell, Karen Egan, Caitríona Ennis, Louis Lovett, Gus McDonagh and Paul Reid.
Music composed and performed by Conor Linehan.
Set Design by Kris Stone, Costume Design by Sinéad Cuthbert, Lighting Design by Matt Frey and Relighting Designs by Stephen Dodd.