Dublin Theatre Festival 1957-2007

by Patrick Lonergran (Volume editor) Nicholas Grene (Volume editor)
©2008 Edited Collection XIV, 388 Pages
Series: Carysfort Press Ltd., Volume 216


For over fifty years, the Dublin Theatre Festival has been one of Ireland’s most important cultural events, bringing countless events, bringing countless new Irish plays to the world stage, while introducing Irish audiences to the most important international theatre companies and artists. With contributions from leading scholars and practitioners, Interactions explores and celebrates the Festival’s achievements since 1957 featuring essays on major Irish writers, directors and theatre companies, as well as the impact of visiting directors and companies from abroad. This book includes specially commissioned memoirs from past organizers and observers of the Festival, offering a unique perspective on the controversies and successes that have marked the event’s history. An especially valuable feature of the volume, also, is a complete listing the shows that have appeared at the Festival from 1957 to 2008.
Contributors: Lewis Clohessy, Tanya Dean, Ros Dixon, Christopher Fitz-Simon, Lisa Fitzpatrick, David Grant, John P. Harrington, Sara Keating, Thomas Kilroy, Peter Kuch, Cathy Leeney, Fergus Linehan, Tony Ó Dálaigh, Fintan O‘Toole, Lionel Pilkington, Emilie Pine, Alexandra Poulain, Shaun Richards, Carmen Szabó. With a preface by Loughlin Deegan.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface
  • Introduction: the Festival at Fifty
  • Part One: Essays
  • 1 A Playwright’s Festival
  • 2 Theatre, Sexuality, and the State: Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo at the Dublin Theatre Festival, 1957
  • 3 Irish Language Theatre at the Dublin Theatre Festival
  • 4 Leonard’s Progress: Hugh Leonard at the Dublin Theatre Festival
  • 5 Subjects of ‘the machinery of citizenship’: The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche and The Gentle Island at the Dublin Theatre Festival
  • 6 West Meets East: Russian Productions at the Dublin Theatre Festival, 1957–2006
  • 7 Tom Murphy’s The Sanctuary Lamp at the Dublin Theatre Festival, 1975 and 2001
  • 8 Patrick Mason: A Director’s Festival Golden Fish
  • 9 In-dependency: Rough Magic and the Dublin Theatre Festival
  • 10 Festivals National and International: The Beckett Festival
  • 11 From Ex Libris to Ex Machina – Two Shakespearean Case Studies at the Dublin Theatre Festival
  • 12 An Antipodean Epic: Cloudstreet at the Dublin Theatre Festival
  • 13 ‘Bogland Parodies’: The Midlands Setting in Marina Carr and Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre
  • 14 The Dublin Theatre Festival: Social and Cultural Contexts
  • Part Two: Memoirs and Productions
  • 1 An Tóstal and the First Dublin Theatre Festival: a Personal Memoir
  • Production History Part One: 1957–1970
  • 2 Dublin Theatre Festival: 1984–1989
  • Production History Part Two: 1971–1985
  • 3 ‘Present Tense’ or ‘It shouldn’t happen to a festival programmer!’
  • Production History Part Three: 1986–1994
  • 4 Dublin Theatre Festival in the 1990s
  • Production History Part Four: 1995–2008
  • 5 Dublin Theatre Festival in the Twenty-First Century
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


This book had its origins in a conference organized by the Irish Theatrical Diaspora in association with the Dublin Theatre Festival and the Irish Theatre Institute in October 2007. On behalf of the ITD, we would like gratefully to acknowledge our partner institutions in organizing that event. In particular, we need to thank Loughlin Deegan for his encouragement throughout and for the Festival’s substantial support in publicizing the conference and making the Project Arts Centre available to us. We must also thank Madeline Boughton, Ross Keane, and Shauna Lyons. For additional support in funding the conference, we are pleased to acknowledge the Arts and Social Sciences Benefaction Fund in Trinity College, Dublin, and the NUI Galway Millennium Fund. We are also grateful to Karen Fricker, who was an active and immensely knowledgeable member of the steering committee for the conference. In the running of the conference itself, we were extremely well assisted by Lisa Coen and Shelley Troupe, our fellow researchers in a larger related project funded by the Irish Research Council for Humanities and the Social Sciences; to them many thanks. In preparing the list of DTF productions, Aoife Spillane-Hinks, the other member of the research team in the IRCHSS-supported project, carried out valuable research, while Shelley Troupe provided editorial support. We also gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Riana O’Dwyer of NUI Galway. At Carysfort Press, we wish to thank the team of Dan Farrelly, Eamonn Jordan, and particularly Lilian Chambers, who originally commissioned the memoirs from past directors of the Festival.



Being custodians of such a significant cultural organization as the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival in its fiftieth anniversary year was a bracing responsibility. The challenge was to recognize Brendan Smith’s great vision and acknowledge the Festival’s illustrious theatrical history whilst remaining resolutely forward looking. We set ourselves high ambitions which we achieved, for the most part I believe, in fruitful partnership with many cultural and academic institutions.

One of the first meetings I had following my appointment in November 2006 was with Nicholas Grene and Patrick Lonergan of the Irish Theatrical Diaspora Project. They were interested in working with the Festival to organize an academic conference designed to investigate the impact of the Festival on the cultural life of the nation and its artists. We were delighted to work together to make such an important event happen, the results of which are contained in this very impressive published record.

The conference was personally stimulating in many ways: having researched the Festival’s history thoroughly in advance, I was thrilled to have my own reading of its influence challenged by Fintan O’Toole’s brilliant analysis. I, like many others, had continuously emphasized the enormous impact that visiting companies and artists must have had on a doggedly inward looking country still under the control of a conservative ruling party and an all-powerful church. Fintan, on the other hand, rightly concluded that it was the Irish work presented by the Festival that had the greater impact, challenging directly, as it did, the State who had supported the event from the outset and the Church who (initially) endorsed it. It was not, therefore, the corrupting influence of the foreign that was of concern, but the way we were representing ourselves to those foreigners through the powerful prism of our new International Theatre Festival.

As we all know, Ireland has changed radically in the past fifty years and the Festival’s survival is partly a result of its ability to move with the times. Likewise, it was always our intention to use the anniversary to set down markers for how the Festival might grow and develop in the future. The Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival can only maintain (and enhance) its position as one of the world’s leading theatre festivals by insisting on excellence and innovation. We must present the leading artists of our time and the major works, unconstrained by venues or facilities. We must present an original programme that introduces work to international audiences and is not a carbon copy of the multitude of festivals and events that now exist around the world. We must present a diverse, interesting, and balanced programme that satisfies the Festival’s diverse audiences and continues to impact on the city in real and meaningful ways.

In keeping with Fintan’s analysis, this focus on innovation and excellence must also extend to the Irish work. One of my ongoing ambitions is to improve the way the Festival develops and showcases Irish work (to as many foreigners as possible!). To do this, I believe, we must begin to see and appreciate Irish work in an international context. We are all aware that the world is becoming increasingly globalized and that international barriers are being eroded in numerous ways – from Ryanair to Facebook and everything in between. Using theatre as a tool to delineate a clear sense of national identity, therefore, is becoming less urgent and it is simply a fact that the international theatre scene has developed and mutated accordingly. Irish theatre artists are also reflecting this shifting reality in the work that they create and the institutional structures must now change to accommodate this work.

What is most significant about this publication is that it addresses all of these issues. It not only maps the Festival’s influence over the past fifty years, but it also provides signposts for how the Festival could and should develop over its second half century.

Loughlin Deegan
Artistic Director & CEO, Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival


Introduction: the Festival at Fifty

‘Both feast and celebration: a feast of international shows and a celebration of the creative talents of Irish artists.’ This was the summary of the organizers of the 1983 Dublin Theatre Festival, quoted below by John Harrington in his essay on the Beckett Festival. A quarter of a century later, how might the history of the Festival at Fifty be best charted, evaluated, or evoked? It is possible to trace its evolution from the nationwide tourist event An Tóstal, as Christopher Fitz-Simon does in his lively personal reminiscence, and to provide a social and political reading of that evolution as Fintan O’Toole does in his searching retrospect. A complete listing of all the productions mounted by the DTF can be compiled, as this volume does for the first time. Individual landmark events can be picked out: important Irish premieres at the Festival such as Hugh Leonard’s Joyce adaptation Stephen D. (1962), Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come! in 1964 or Máiréad Ní Ghráda’s An Triail from the same year, Tom Murphy’s The Sanctuary Lamp (1975), Stewart Parker’s Northern Star (1985), Thomas Kilroy’s The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde (1997) or Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats (1998); notable foreign visits like Jean Vilar’s Théâtre Nationale Populaire in the Festival’s inaugural year, the Polish Wroclaw Contemporary Theatre in 1981 and 1982, the Moscow Art Theatre with Chekhov’s The Seagull in 1989, and Footsbarn’s circus Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1990. What this book aims to do is to bring together information and analysis, interpretation and memory, to create a sense of what constitutes the history of the DTF and its meanings.

←1 |

The complete listing of productions represents a crucially important scholarly resource, but is not readable except as raw data. Particular essays necessarily focus on specific parts of the Festival’s repertoire, drawing out the significance of work in particular media, or individual playwrights, directors, and companies. So Sara Keating shows the importance of Irish language drama, especially in the early stages of the Festival, with the emergence of adventurous and experimental playwrights influenced by European dramaturgy such as Seán Ó Tuama, Máiréad Ní Ghráda, and Séamus Ó Néill, while in more recent years it has devolved first into the Fringe Festival and then into its own separate festival An Borradh Buan. Emilie Pine highlights the importance of Hugh Leonard, the most produced Irish playwright at the Festival, and questions why his popular gifts as acute satirist of contemporary Ireland have been increasingly devalued and not received their due academic attention. Ros Dixon, in focussing on the recurrent Russian presence in the Festival, is able to situate within the history of Russian theatre itself the visits of the Moscow Art Theatre director, Maria Knebel, to direct an Abbey Theatre production of The Cherry Orchard in 1968, the 1989 MAT Seagull, or the more radical post-Soviet productions seen in the 1990s and since. Cathy Leeney concentrates on the work of a single director, Patrick Mason, and his exceptional creative gifts in the shaping of theatrical spaces in collaboration with scenic designers and playwrights as different as Kilroy, Mac Intyre, and Carr. Tanya Dean looks at the emergence of Rough Magic as one of the key contributors to the Festival from the mid-1980s, and reflects on the relationship between their policies as a resolutely independent company and their involvement in the mainstream DTF.

The key event of the first Festival in 1957, as Lionel Pilkington reminds us, happened offstage: the arrest of Alan Simpson, director of the Pike Theatre, for his allegedly immoral production of The Rose Tattoo. In his essay, Pilkington provides a carefully argued interpretation of the significance of this event, with the radical subversiveness of both play and production challenging the longstanding function of Irish theatre as an acceptable instrument of modernization within the ←2 | 3→state. He concludes his account of the prosecution of Simpson over The Rose Tattoo: ‘for the development of a modernist and radical Irish theatre, the results were catastrophic’. Fintan O’Toole’s interpretation is rather different. He argues that the attack on The Rose Tattoo was the first sign that the Festival was not going to fulfil its designated official objective of drawing in tourists to admire Irish culture, ‘a cultural version of the economic modernization project’. Instead, increasingly in the 1960s and beyond, Irish playwrights in the DTF put upon the stage not the ‘deeper thoughts and emotions of Ireland’ promised by the original Irish Literary Theatre in 1897, but its physical, social, and sexual deprivations. This was the more striking, O’Toole maintains, in the early 1980s, when the issue of the body was so foregrounded in Irish politics by the H-Block hunger strikes and debates over abortion and contraception, and when at the same time productions in the Festival from at home and abroad manifested a new physical language of the theatre. Shaun Richards, in his examination of Thomas Kilroy’s The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche (1968) and Brian Friel’s The Gentle Island (1971) also focuses on sexuality, showing how the construction of straight masculinity as part of Irish national identity seems to have inhibited critics and audiences from attending to the plays’ concern with gay men. On the other hand, The Sanctuary Lamp, which elicited such controversy for its anti-clericalism when first produced in 1975, as Alexandra Poulain shows, had a new and different relevance for audiences when revived in the 2001 Festival as part of the Abbey’s Murphy season.

'Festivalization’ has come to be recognized as a phenomenon in itself; a festival as an exceptional event, drawing larger audiences, can make possible shows that could not be produced in normal theatrical circumstances. John Harrington, with his consideration of the Beckett Festival, originally a festival within the Dublin Theatre Festival of 1991, then transplanted to New York in 1996 and London in 1999, interrogates and theorizes the form of festival itself, the ways in which it combines apparently contrary impulses towards the national and the international. The progress of the Australian epic Cloudstreet, an adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel, is traced by Peter Kuch ←3 | 4→from its premiere at the Sydney Festival in 1998 through its many different stagings to the DTF in 1999. Kuch examines the implications of its variant forms and seeks to explain its capacity to reach different festival audiences across the world. Robert Lepage’s Elsinore was another regular festival traveller. Carmen Szabó reads its appearance at the DTF in 1997, together with Conall Morrison’s experimental, technologized Hamlet of 2005 as symptomatic of a postmodern exploration of ‘dark play’, in which any stable conception of character or identity is called in question. In the representation of Ireland, too, the last decade has brought innovative theatrical forms to the Festival. The Fabulous Beast dance-drama, Giselle, was co-produced by the DTF itself in 2003; as part of director Michael Keegan-Dolan’s ‘Midlands trilogy’ it is read by Lisa Fitzpatrick with Marina Carr’s work as a violently grotesque parody of past theatrical traditions, subverting at once the heroic genre of tragedy and the Irish idealization of the West as source of authenticity.

Scholars recover the record, analyse, scrutinize, and interpret the events of the past. Being there, however, being involved, and then remembering how it was, add another dimension to the sense of history. David Grant, in his recollection of his period as Programme Director of the Festival (1989-91), draws usefully on Stanislavsky’s concept of ‘affective memory’ and experiments with a memoir based on ‘embodied knowledge’. Thomas Kilroy, in the opening essay of this volume, testifies to his experience of what the Festival meant to him as a creative artist coming to maturity in the Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s. He brings to uniquely vivid life the repressive atmosphere of 1957, and how the encouragement of men such as Alan Simpson, Tomás Mac Anna, Jim Fitzgerald, as well as the Festival’s founder Brendan Smith, enabled him to become the playwright of The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche. Christopher Fitz-Simon, as Trinity student and actor in R.B.D. French’s impishly irreverent Players’ revues at the time, conjures up a rather different view of 1957 and the first Festival. Necessarily for later Festival directors such as Lewis Clohessy (1984-1989), Tony Ó Dálaigh (1990-1999), and Fergus Linehan (2000-2004), funding and the problems of administration loom ←4 | 5→large. Their memoirs give us perspectives from behind the scenes, the hand-to-mouth existence of the Festival, always threatened by Arts Council cutbacks and the vagaries of sponsorship, backstage ‘crises, skulduggery and intrigues’, the challenges of recruiting and supporting large-scale visiting shows. The juxtaposition of these informal first person recollections with the factual listing of the productions in each decade of the Festival’s fifty-year-old history is designed to highlight the very different ways this story can be told.

Theatre is by its nature an ephemeral art; for the theatregoer who did not make it to a particular production it did not happen – it will never come again. The ephemerality of the theatre festival in that context is something rather special. Because of its concentration of so much work into one short space of time it can produce an effect of unusual intensity, and by its showcasing of daringly different or innovative productions can make them appear more memorable. And yet the very overindulgence in theatre over the one limited period of a couple of weeks can lead to a blurring of effect as the experience of one play merges with another in the mind. Over the years, equally, for the hardened and recidivist festival frequenter, one whole festival tends to become confused with all the others. This book is planned to restore to distinct and distinctly understood life the theatrical phenomenon of the Festival over its fifty years. Its title of Interactions is intended, most centrally, to bring into focus the interrelationship within the Festival of its national and international elements, its ‘feast of international shows and celebration of the creative talents of Irish artists’. It is also suggestive of the ways in which the Festival has interacted with the society and culture of its time, challenging or reflecting its assumptions in complex ways. As editors, however, we hope to have allowed the essays, memoirs, and production lists to interact with one another. Most of the essays had their origins in papers given at the 2007 conference organized by the Irish Theatrical Diaspora in association with the Dublin Theatre Festival and the Irish Theatre Institute. While many of the essayists have revised their papers for publication, we encouraged Thomas Kilroy and Fintan O’Toole, the plenary conference speakers, to retain the oral form of their ←5 | 6→talks. We have assembled the essays according to a roughly chronological order, based on the date of the first work considered in each essay, but the different trajectories of argument of the contributors have meant that they range widely over time. There are, inevitably, elements of overlap between one essay and another, between the essays and the memoirs, as certain key events and productions are re-visited from different points of view. Our belief is that these function as interactions not repetitions, confirming the multiple nature of the Festival over its half-century and the multiple refractions with which it can be viewed.

Nicholas Grene
Patrick Lonergan


XIV, 388
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (April)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2008. XIV, 388 pp.

Biographical notes

Patrick Lonergran (Volume editor) Nicholas Grene (Volume editor)


Title: Interactions
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