All posts by Ruben Kenig

The Lost O’Casey at the Abbey Theatre

ANU Productions The Lost O’Casey will be at the Abbey Theatre from 25 – 30 June 2018. This production is based on Sean O’Casey’s 1924 play Nannie’s Night Out.

The play premiered at the Abbey Theatre 94 years ago staring Sara Allgood and Michael J. Dolan.  In The Lost O’Casey ANU Productions take the play out of the theatre and lead the audience through a journey exploring the play and its multiple endings, “the ending I wanted, the ending they wanted and the compromise.”

Sean Holmes’ Acclaimed Plough and the Stars at the Lyric and Gaiety Theatres

Sean Holmes’ 2016 production of The Plough and the Stars was widely praised during its first run at The Abbey Theatre and on its US tour. The production is being revived for performances at The Lyric Theatre in London (15 March – 7 April) and Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre (24 April – 5 May).

Reviews of the first run and tour were rightly very positive, so this is a great opportunity to catch up on what you missed or to revisit this wonderful production.

There is a great gallery of  Ros Kavanagh’s photos of both the production and rehearsal process available on Flickr.

You wouldn’t want to pass up a chance to watch the Abbey Theatre perform “The Plough and the Stars,” – The Washington Post

refreshed, high-energy restaging’  ★ ★ ★  – The Guardian

Buy tickets for the Lyric in London here

Buy tickets for the Gaiety in Dublin here

Actor Doreen Keogh 1924 – 2017

We are very sad to note the death of Doreen Keogh on 31st December 2017.

Doreen Keogh 1924 - 2017
Doreen Keogh 1924 – 2017

She will probably be most widely remembered for her television roles which were many and varied including a notable stint as Coronation Street’s barmaid. She also appeared with distinction in Ballykissangel, The Royle Family and Father Ted.

She has a strong connection with the plays of Sean O’Casey too, appearing in Sam Wanamaker’s UK tour of Purple Dust, Juno and the Paycock at the Aldwych, Silver Tassie at the Almeida and Shivaun O’Casey’s production of The Shadow of a Gunman.

Doreen trained at the Abbey Theatre School before joining the company at The Gate Theatre and later moving to London sparking a long career in television and radio in addition to her stage work.

There are several lovely obituaries available in The GuardianThe Telegraph and The Irish Independent.

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

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.

Abbey Theatre Production of Plough and the Stars in Washington

Sean Holmes’ production of The Plough and the Stars for the Abbey Theatre has been a huge success at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC. Writing for The Washington Post Nelson Pressley writes,

It’s a grubby milieu that screams poverty and hardship, yet as always the O’Casey characters are joltingly alive. The production’s triumph is the fluid, splendidly balanced ensemble, which for harmony and power rivals any other cast seen in Washington this year.

He goes on to say,

[T]his vigorous performance, which will tour elsewhere in the United States later this year, convincingly reinforces the mettle of O’Casey’s great play.

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.