David Butcher’s Album of Sean’s Dublin Homes and Juno and the Paycock

Sean O’Casey was a prolific writer of letters. His correspondence was both deep and wide. Many of his letters were ably tracked down and presented in four volumes by the US poet and academic David Krause. These books are now out of print but can still be found second-hand, and are an extraordinary work of scholarship. This story is not included in there, but is also one that deserves telling.

In 1955 Sean corresponded with an amateur actor called David Butcher. David was born in Dublin in 1920, and although his family returned to England in 1922 he retained a strong connection to the country. He wrote to Sean after reading Sean’s autobiography asking him about specific places in Dublin where Sean had a connection or interest.

His story came to us via his cousin’s son Hugh Levey.

Norman David Butcher (known as David) was the only child of English parents: Charles Edward Butcher and Ethel Butcher (née Levey). His father, Charles, worked for the Audit Department of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway Company, based mostly in Norfolk. In 1913 Charles was transferred to the Auditor General’s Departments in Dublin, where [Norman] David was born on 7th January 1920.

Clearly there was much unrest in Ireland during the whole of this period, culminating in the formation of the Irish Free State and civil war. As a Civil Servant of English extraction, Charles Butcher was relocated back to the UK for his and the family’s safety. As David later wrote, “With great sadness the Butcher family left Dublin on 20th July, 1922, my mother in tears all the way over to Holyhead.”

David retained a fond affection for Ireland all of his life, and for Dublin in particular. He often visited Ireland, to meet up with other relations (Todd family) and to enjoy the people, culture and history.

David Butcher trained as an Accountant and spent much of his working life with British manufacturing company Goring-Kerr, retiring as a Director in July 1987. He lived in the Windsor area and was a passionate amateur actor, performing for over 40 years with the Windsor Theatre Guild, where he also acted as Treasurer (& Chairman?). He inherited his love of the theatre from his Aunt May Levey who was also an amateur thespian.

His love of literature and his love of Dublin, appears to have come together in his interest in Sean O’Casey’s work. He had read the writer’s autobiographies, corresponded with him, and photographed locations which were significant in O’Casey’s Dublin life and inspiration. David attended a 1995 performance of Juno and the Paycock in Dublin and was introduced to most of the cast by Tom McKenna. David, himself, performed roles in the play at least 2 or 3 times, including an amateur performance he organised in the late 1950s to raise funds for the rebuilding of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.

David Butcher Visits Sean O’Casey’s Dublin

The following are pages from David Butcher’s album containing his letter from Sean O’Casey and his photographs and record of a trip to Dublin, in June 1956, to visit Sean’s old homes and to see the Abbey Theatre’s production of Juno and the Paycock. He tracked down the locations Sean described to him of where he had lived in Dublin. David also ventured out to explore more of the city and caused a sensation with his camera it seems.

David saw the Abbey Theatre production of Juno and the Paycock with Harry Brogan as the Captain and Eileen Crowe as Juno. The performance was staged at the Queen’s Theatre as the Abbey itself had been badly damaged by a fire (after a performance of The Plough and the Stars). He met with Tom McKenna, who played Johnny, and saw a show at the Gaiety Theatre with him before returning to England.

Seeing Juno at The Abbey and Meeting Tom McKenna

Windsor Theatre Guild Production of Juno and the Paycock

As part of the Windsor Theatre Guild David helped stage a production of Juno and the Paycock in 1957 to benefit the Abbey Theatre Rebuilding Fund. He played Jerry Devine in the production and you can see a photograph of him sharing his photos of his trip to Dublin with members of the company. Also in the album is a letter from one of the Directors of the Abbey, Ernest Blythe, thanking David and the Windsor Theatre Guild for the donation.

David must have enquired about any plans the Abbey had to mount a production of Juno and Mr Blythe responds that they may put the play on as part of a theatre festival with Tom McKenna moving from the role of Johnny to that of Jerry Devine. The same role David had just played.

It has been wonderful to receive the scans of this album and to learn the story from David’s family. Amateur theatre is a vital part of our cultural life and it is heartening to hear a story of how an interest and correspondence with Sean was part of the passion of someone as committed to theatre as David Butcher. Stories live in the telling. David’s passion for Juno and Dublin came together to make a new story and to help rebuild the Abbey Theatre.

The photographs he took in Dublin in 1956 are a fascinating bridge between the time Sean lived in the city and now. His viewing of Juno at the Queen’s Theatre, meeting Tom McKenna and then performing in the play himself picks out a brilliant thread in the web of theatre. As Hugh Levey relates David was active in the theatre for more than 40 years and played many parts. Included in the album are two photos of him in the role of Corin, the shepherd, from As You Like It.

David Butcher as Corin from As You Like It
David Butcher as Corin from As You Like It. From the 1956 Windsor Theatre Guild production

Thank you to David Butcher’s family, in particular Hugh Levey, for allowing us to use David’s scrapbook in this post. We hope that Sean’s letter and David’s archive will find a suitable home where it can be made available to those interested in this story about the community of theatre and how Dublin and Windsor connect through one man’s passion for a play.

Howard Davies, Director, 1945 – 2016

It is very sad indeed to note the death of Howard Davies. His recent productions of O’Casey plays were very successful indeed and as Rufus Norris, Artistic Director of the National Theatre says, “His work, particularly on the American, Russian and Irish canons, was unparalleled. His reputation among actors, writers, directors and designers alike was beyond question, and has been for so long that his name has become a byword for quality and depth.”

Howard Davies
Howard Davies

Howard won Olivier Awards three times for The White Guard, The Iceman Cometh, and All My Sons and was nominated a further three times. He took several productions from the UK to successful runs on Broadway and mounted several productions in New York. He was also integral in the founding of the Warehouse Theatre that went on to become the Donmar Warehouse.

You can find obituaries for Howard Davies at,

Shivaun O’Casey: National Theatre Platform Interview with Fergal Keane

Shivaun O’Casey was interviewed by Fergal Keane before a performance of Sean O’Casey’s Plough and the Stars at the National Theatre. The interview touches on the National’s production, the writing of the play, the reaction to the play and the effect of that on Sean and his relationship to Ireland.

The Plough and the Stars runs through October 22nd at the National Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online or by contacting the box office on 020 7452 3000.

The Plough and the Stars at the National Theatre: Reviews

Jeremy Herrin and Howard Davies‘ production of The Plough and the Stars opened at the National Theatre on Wednesday 27th July and has received several very positive reviews.

[O]nce the play starts to exert its grip, it never lets go and leaves you shaken and stirred

Michael Billington, The Guardian

[T]he drama gathers in intensity to a final act of harrowing brilliance

If O’Casey had written nothing else, this portrait of the inhabitants of a Dublin tenement building would have put him among the great dramatists of the past two centuries

Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times

[T}his is a big, proper production of a historically cultural and significant play

Natasha Tripney, The Stage

It’s an extraordinary play and beautifully served by the production

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage

O’Casey’s potent blend of comedy and tragedy really packs a punch

Radio Times

[S]uperbly crafted tragicomedy

Neil Dowden, Londonist

The production runs until October 22nd at the Lyttelton Theatre. You can book online or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

Sean O’Casey’s Dublin Homes

Karl O’Neill writes in the Irish Times of taking a walking tour of the six houses Sean O’Casey lived at in Dublin. The tour starts at 85 Dorset Street and covers an area of just under a square kilometer of Dublin before ending at 422 North Circular Road where Sean wrote the plays of his Dublin Trilogy.

Place is an important part of any life. While Sean’s plays are very much about people, those people are the product of a very particular environment. We can’t travel back in time but we can traverse the same spaces.

The Silver Tassie in the BBC Radio 3 Minds at War Series

Playwright Elizabeth Kuti examines The Silver Tassie as part of the BBC Radio 3 Minds at War series. She looks at how the second act works to question the meaning of the war and how the final act places the meaninglessness of the war and its consequences back into the lives of the soldiers and their families.

Kuti goes on to put the play in context in Sean’s life looking at the rejection from W.B. Yates and support from G.B. Shaw as well as how the play fits in the context of other war plays including Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War! and Sarah Kane’s Blasted.

 

The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre – Reviews

Both The Guardian and The Stage have reacted very positively to Sean Holmes‘ production of The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre. Tickets are already hard to come by for the performances at the Abbey and these reviews may well increase demand.

Reviews

[T]his production succeeds in being very moving, while asking insistent questions about social justice that often get lost in the fray.

Helen Meany, The Guardian

In a bold update for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, director Sean Holmes makes the best work of O’Casey’s Plough in years.

Chris McCormack, The Stage

[D]irector Sean Holmes has, for want of a better expression, absolutely nailed this.

James Dunne, Pure M Magazine

Tour

The production will tour Ireland starting on 26th of April with five nights at the Cork Opera House before moving on to The National Opera House, Wexford  (Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 May), Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick (Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 May) and Town Hall Theatre, Galway  (Tuesday 24 – Saturday 28 May).

Abbey/Lyric Theatres’ Shadow Well Represented in the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards

Congratulations to everyone involved in the recent production of Shadow of a Gunman co produced by the Abbey and Lyric Theatres. The production has received five nominations for Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards.

The nominees are,

  • Best Director, Wayne Jordan
  • Best Actor, Mark O’Halloran (Donal Davoren)
  • Best Supporting Actress, Amy McAllister (Minnie Powell)
  • Best Costume Design, Sarah Bacon
  • Best Set Design, Sarah Bacon

It is lovely to see this production recognised. The whole field of nominees is very strong pointing to a good year in dramatic arts. It is also good to see  the Waking The Feminists movement recognised in a  Judges’ special award for Lian Bell.

Juno and the Paycock Radio Recording with an Introduction by Sean O’Casey

In a recent article on the dialects of Ireland Professor Raymond Hickey talks about how Irish and specifically Dublin accents aspirationally referenced English RP. He gives as examples James Joyce and Sean O’Casey, “listening now to recordings of James Joyce and Sean O’Casey, it’s extraordinary how English they sounded”.

Dr Liam P Ó Murchú contests this view. He gives examples of available recordings as evidence and contextualises them by pointing out that as formal recording both men probably put on their dialectical best to be understood.

The example he gives for Sean is an introduction to a 1955 radio recording of Juno and the Paycock produced by Cyril Cusak. Cusak himself plays Joxer. Juno and Captain Boyle are played by Siobhan McKenna and Seamus Kavangh. Sean’s introduction sets the scene for the play and lasts about seven minutes.