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What Happens Next Is This...The Abbey Theatre Programme 2017

Graham McLaren and Neil Murray

Conversations on a homecoming

There was a genuine buzz last night as The Abbey Theatre launched their 2017 programme, “What Happens Next Is This…” on the stage of the Peacock Theatre. With the audience brimming with excitement and enthusiasm, the event was marked by a welcoming, cozy informality. With The Peacock stage adorned with lamplight and two comfy chairs, The Abbey Theatre’s new Artistic Directors, Graham McLaren and Neil Murray invited all into their parlour where they unveiled their inaugural programme. The whole was a stark contrast to last year’s “Waking The Nation” launch, whose gender inequality subsequently launched #wakingthefeminist. This year there was a lot more love in the house, with many of the audience speaking of the national theatre as “their” house, perhaps for the first time. A state of affairs a convivial McLaren and Murray were keen to foster;

‘We wanted to start our first season on the Abbey stage by inviting in Irish artists, companies and shows we have long admired. A number of these shows have never been seen in Dublin and none of them at the national theatre. If you haven’t seen them yet, you should, and if you have seen them you should see them again.’

Acknowledging that their programming did not include programming for The Peacock, which is still to come in early 2017, McLaren and Murray nailed their flag firmly to the mast with an eclectic array of critically acclaimed productions to be presented in 2017, featuring homegrown and international partnerships:

  • Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival productions of both Arlington, written and directed by Enda Walsh and choreographed by Emma Martin, and Ballyturk, written and directed by Enda Walsh

  • Corn Exchange’s Dublin by Lamplight, written by Michael West in collaboration with the company, directed by Annie Ryan

  • Rough Magic’s The Train, a musical by Arthur Riordan and Bill Whelan, directed by Lynne Parker

  • Druid Theatre Company’s production of Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel Beckett and directed by Garry Hynes

  • Dublin Dance Festival in association with The Abbey Theatre present Sunny by Emmauel Gat/Awir Leon, and Deep Dish by Chris Haring/Liquid Loft

  • An Abbey Theatre and Old Vic co-production No’s Knife. A selection of Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing, conceived and performed by Lisa Dwan

  • An Abbey Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East co-production in association with National Theatre of Scotland of Room, written by Emma Donoghue and directed by Cora Bissett

  • Abbey Theatre production of Jimmy’s Hall adapted from Paul Laverty’s film script, directed by Graham McLaren

  • Abbey Theatre production of Katie Roche written by Teresa Deevy

  • Abbey Theatre production of Ulysses by James Joyce, adapted by Dermot Bolger and directed by Graham McLaren

  • The National Theatre of Scotland, by arrangement with Marla Rubin Productions LTD and Bill Kenwright, in association with the Abbey Theatre present Let the Right One In. Based on the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne and directed by John Tiffany

  • Performances in pubs across Ireland in 2017 with Abbey Theatre on Tour of Two Pints written by Roddy Doyle.

  • An Open House forum and Free preview programme to give greater access and voice to both audiences and artists

Deep Dish. Dublin Dance Festival and The Abbey Theatre. Photo by Bernhard Müller

Whilst the welcome inclusion of classics from companies like Corn Exchange and Druid, as well as the often forgotten Teresa Deevy, go a long way to redressing an imbalance, some would say an injustice, that has lingered for far too long, it could be argued that new works being developed share a worrying similarity. “Room,” “Jimmy’s Hall,” “Let The Right One In” and even Roddy Doyle’s “Two Pints” are all reimagined works previously produced in another format. Not that such reproductions cannot be artistically worthwhile. But frequently this repackaging of pre-existing works in other formats, which bring with them an immediate and identifiable branding whose success is already established, reflects a safe bet positioning rather than a risk taking one. Not that this should be rigorously avoided, but recycling works from other formats to the exclusion of all other approaches to developing new work gives serious pause for thought. Granted, the programme for The Peacock stage is yet to be released, but as many commented on the night, seeing brave, new work on The Abbey stage is part of what one wishes to see in their national theatre

Indeed, while there’s certainly much to admire with regards to The Abbey’s 2017 programme, you could argue, from another perspective, that it’s playing safe by dealing in the tried and tested. A safe bet programme built on re-runs, and on the importing of re-runs from other formats dressed up as something new. Yet it needs to be remembered that McLaren and Murray’s inaugural progamme is addressing a lot of historical baggage and redressing many imbalances. Teresa Deevy’s neglected work gracing the national stage, Waiting For Godot getting its first outing at the national theatre in 40 years, Dublin By Candlelight finally taking its rightful place on the very stage it speaks to, are long overdue. Still, no harm sounding a cautionary note for going forward.

Corn Exchange's Michael West and Annie Ryan with Graham McLaren and Neil Murray

If “What Happens Next Is This…”risks playing safe in places, it’s also attempting to test the water, to reclaim something many feel got lost. With “What Happens Next Is This…” new brooms Graham McLaren and Neil Murray show they have developed a programme built on an effective and meaningful communication strategy. One built on transparency and respect, on listening and on reaching out and asking. A strategy which has won hearts and minds by opening up much needed conversations. Conversations on how to bring everyone into the fold of the national theatre so they too might call it home. “What Happens Next Is This…” is a jumping off point into the future for which McLaren and Murray deserve every support. So let's jump and see where we land.

“What Happens Next Is This…” the Abbey Theatre’s programme for 2017 is available online. For more information visit, The Abbey Theatre

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