Tuesday 26 September 2017

Once more with feeling - Dublin lit by lamplight again

‘Dublin by Lamplight’ will play at the Abbey Theatre until April 1 after its revival
‘Dublin by Lamplight’ will play at the Abbey Theatre until April 1 after its revival
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Dublin by Lamplight is a theatre show “filled with old ghosts”.

First performed in 2004, the play combines the story of the founding of the National Theatre with Joyce’s Ulysses.

It was a hit with both critics and crowds over a decade ago and will now play at the Abbey Theatre until April 1. 

While Annie Ryan and Michael West of theatre company The Corn Exchange are delighted the show is being revived, returning to the production has been somewhat bittersweet.

One of the original cast members Tom Murphy fell ill while the production was touring in 2007 and died shortly after it finished.

“It’s all dedicated to Tom,” Annie Ryan says.

“He was brilliant.

“When we first brought the new cast into the room it was full of ghosts of previous performers.

"We channeled all of them when working on this production - Tom and Mark O’Halloran and Janet Moran.”

Despite a ten year hiatus, the original production has managed to retain a vivid place in audience’s members collective memory - no doubt because of the cartoonish commedia dell'arte make up and stylised gestures.

“The touchstones we had while making it were vaudeville, melodrama, footlights and silent movies so the music is heightened and frenetic and fills the room,” writer Michael West says.

Annie Ryan combined the strict visual dialogue and signals of commedia del’arte with third person narrated story theatre. 

“We found it was a great way to transform the space,” Ryan said.

Ryan and West met at the Irish Student Drama Festival on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1990.

“We were sharing a double bill,” Ryan says. “I was in this really awful Sam Shepard play and Michael was in this real cool play with two chairs.

“So I sidled up to him and said ‘I really want to work with you’ and we started working together.”

In 2004, the company spent four weeks devising the piece and reading different texts including Dubliners, Goethe’s Faust and Roy Foster’s W.B. Yeats: A Life.

“It was a luxury and enormous privilege to have that time. One we haven’t been able to afford since,” Ryan said.

The production has another layer of significance for West and Ryan - a week before the first draft of the script - they welcomed their child Ollie into the world.

He has followed his parents into theatre.

While Dublin by Lamplight is running upstairs, Ollie is in development with Dead Centre’s Hamnet in the Peacock downstairs..

"Coming back to the play now - you see different things," West said.

"lines have a currency and meaning that they didn’t the first time around. It’s been a joyous and an extremely rich experience for us.” 

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