Stage finally set for €3m theatre makeover after funds donated
WORK is to begin shortly on a €3m refurbishment of one of Dublin's oldest theatres, thanks to funds committed by the Government when Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach, but also to "significant" donations from philanthropists such as financier Dermot Desmond.
The Smock Alley Theatre building in Temple Bar, which dates back to 1662, is regarded as one of the most important sites in European theatre history.
The Gaiety School of Acting is currently managing a 110-seat black-box space on this site. It is working alongside Temple Bar Cultural Trust and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism to reinstate the theatre to its former glory.
It is proposed that the development will include a 220-seat theatre, a 110-seat studio space and seven state-of-the-art rehearsal/training studios.
In 2005 a proposal by Smock Alley Ltd to convert the church into a theatre and provide premises for the Gaiety School of Acting was approved.
Patrick Sutton, director of the Gaiety School of Acting, has been engaged in a fundraising process in recent years to enable work get under way. It is hoped the refurbished theatre will be opened to the public in March next year.
Mr Sutton, who has acted as a elocution coach to Bertie Ahern, is understood to have secured "significant" funding from well-known figures, such as financier Dermot Desmond, as well as from Carmel Naughton, wife of businessman Martin Naughton.
Mr Desmond is said by some sources to have committed €500,000 to the project, but this was denied yesterday by Mr Sutton, who confirmed, nonetheless, that the financier had, some years ago, made a "significant" contribution.
"The refurbishment of Smock Alley would not be possible without the generosity of Mr Desmond, and other patrons of the art, such as Carmel Naughton, and others, too, who will be acknowledged when the theatre opens, hopefully in March," Mr Sutton told the Sunday Independent yesterday.
In 2005, Mr Desmond wrote to Mr Ahern to suggest the Abbey Theatre be moved from its current location to the Docklands, a plan that ran into strong objection and now seems to be off the agenda.
In an open letter in the Sunday Independent at the time, Mr Desmond asked the renowned theatre critic Bruce Arnold, who had opposed the relocation of the Abbey to the Docklands: "Would you prefer that it continue to be surrounded by disused buildings, lap-dancing clubs and litter?"
In reply, Mr Arnold wrote of Mr Desmond: "He did not need to be insulting. I am not pompous. I am not arrogant. I care for the city and for people living their ordinary lives in it. I love theatre and think that the whole approach to recovering the Abbey Theatre is misguided, pretentious and exaggerated."
The original Smock Alley theatre was the first in Dublin to secure a royal patent, issued following Oliver Cromwell's death. It would have been where English actor and theatre manager David Garrick (1717-1779) staged his version of Hamlet. The theatre also staged works by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), whose father, Thomas, was the theatre's manager.
Through connections with Covent Garden in London, the theatre thrived and was remodelled a number of times before it was rebuilt in 1735. In later years, the site was home to a Catholic church, SS Michael and John's, and the Dublin Viking Experience.