Tag Archives: Abbey Theatre

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.

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.

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.

The Plough and the Stars at The Abbey Theatre 2016

The Plough and the Stars will be part of the Abbey Theatre’s Waking the Nation season in 2016. Abbey Theatre Director Fiach Mac Conghail has announced a major programme of work, “to commemorate and acknowledge the major historical events of 1916”.

The season will include productions of The Plough and the Stars, directed by Sean Holmes, and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. In addition there will be several new works performed by writers such as David Ireland, Sean P. Summers and Phillip McMahon.

The Plough and the Stars will run at the Abbey from 9 March – 23 April 2016 and then embark on a tour of Ireland taking in Cork Opera House; The National Opera House, Wexford; Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick and Town Hall Theatre, Galway. In addition there will be a tour of North America to Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater (Massachusetts); the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (Philadelphia); Montclair State University’s Peak Performances, (New Jersey) and Southern Theatre, (Ohio).

The Shadow of a Gunman at the Abbey Theatre: Reviews

The Abbey Theatre and  The Lyric Theatre’s co-production of  The Shadow of a Gunman is running on the Abbey Stage in Dublin until the 1st of August.

Wayne Jordan’s production, starring  Mark O’Halloran,  Amy McAllister and  David Ganly,  has received an enthusiastic reception.

  • “High theatrical energy is kept aloft by the colourful parade of O’Casey’s tenement dwellers, and equally the parade of O’Casey’s brilliant writing talent.”
  • “Nothing is more absurd in O’Casey’s 1923 play than the notion that art couldbe indifferent to politics. Set just three years earlier, itsnear-vaudevillian succession of intrusions leading towards something more shattering, was first performed during a vicious Civil War. It was a dangerous weapon itself, a tragedy played for laughs.”
  • “The drama packs a punch…  as O’Casey reminds us ‘it’s the civilians who suffer’.”
  • “All poses have dropped away, and this impressively lucid production leaves us with the question: what would we have done in his place?”

Book now online or contact the Abbey Theatre box office at,  0035-3187 87222.

Aideen O’Kelly, Irish Actor, 1940 – 2015

It is sad to note the death of  Aideen O’Kelly last month. She began her career with the Abbey Theatre  in  1964 playing Mrs Gogan  in  The  Plough and the Stars.  She notably  played  Fionnuala  in  Red  Roses  for  Me  in  addition  to many  other  roles  at  the Abbey.

In  the  1980s  she  moved  to  New  York  and  achieved  acclaim  for  her  acting  on  Broadway.

The Shadow of a Gunman: Abbey Theatre and Lyric Theatre Co production

The Abbey Theatre has announced its forthcoming co production of  The Shadow of a Gunman with the Lyric Theatre Belfast.  The production will run from  Friday, 12 June 2015 to  Saturday, 1 August 2015.

The production will be directed by  Wayne Jordan and feature  Mark O’Halloran as  Donal Davoren,  David Ganly as  Seamus Shields and  Amy McAllister as  Minnie Powell.

Tickets are available via the Abbey Theatre. Buy online now.

Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks Includes The Plough and the Stars

Sackville Street (Dublin) after the 1916 Easter Rising
Sackville (now O’Connell) Street, Dublin, after the 1916 Easter Rising
The Irish Times is running a series of articles looking at modern Ireland through artworks in various media. The Plough and the Stars has been included with an article by Fintan O’Toole looking at the context of the play and its impact.

It was not unreasonable to expect that the Abbey would mark the [tenth] anniversary [of the Easter Rising] respectfully. Instead it presented Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, which presented the Rising through the experiences of those who suffered most in Easter Week: the Dublin slum dwellers unwillingly thrust on to the frontline. And it suggested that, for them, the great event had brought nothing but deeper misery.

The article looks at how W.B. Yates defended the play and importance of the ability to accept failings and ambiguities as a mark of a mature nation.

The series of articles looks at many different artworks and their impact on Ireland and the wider world.

Gabrielle Reidy, Irish Actor, 1960 – 2014

Gabrielle Reidy as Bessie Burgess
Gabrielle Reidy as Bessie Burgess in the Abbey Theatre’s production of The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

It is deeply saddening to learn that  Gabrielle Reidy has died. Her career was bookended by roles in plays by Sean O’Casey at the Abbey Theatre. Starting as a child actor in The  Shadow of a Gunman in 1971 and with her last role her acclaimed performance as Bessie Burgess in The Plough and the Stars 2012.

In the intervening years she graced many productions on stage, television and film. More information is contained in her obituaries in The Guardian and The Irish Times.

Condolences to her family and friends.