Sunday 21 January 2018

Abbey Theatre boldly strikes out with two Scots sharing job of new director

Neil Murray and Graham McLaren outside their new fiefdom
Neil Murray and Graham McLaren outside their new fiefdom
The outgoing director Fiach MacConghail with his daughters Luisne and Síofra
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Ireland's arts community was thrown a curve ball when the Abbey Theatre announced that not one, but two men will succeed Fiach MacConghail as director of the Abbey Theatre.

Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, from the National Theatre of Scotland, will begin their tenure at the Abbey on July 1, 2016.

The two men will work alongside MacConghail until he formally steps down in January 2017.

The joint directors will be in receipt of two separate salaries but The Abbey refused to disclose if it would be paying both Murray and McLaren the same salary as MacConghail - or whether it would be getting two for the price of one.

The old Abbey Theatre
The old Abbey Theatre

The position of director of the National Theatre is one of the most prestigious roles in Ireland's arts scene.

There were over 30 applications for the post, of which eight were international.

In the lead-up to yesterday's announcement, the rumour mill was in top gear. Highly regarded Irish producers, including Loughlin Deegan, Anne Clarke, Willie White and Jimmy Fay, were all thought to be contenders, but several have denied applying for the position.

"There have been six months of speculation," Cian O'Brien, artistic director of the Project Arts Centre, said.

"Ever since Fiach announced he was leaving, gossip has been rife, but I don't think many people had heard these names in the mix."

The legendary theatre actress and comedienne Rosaleen Linehan believes the decision will ruffle a few feathers.

"I think a lot of our own boys will be surprised," she said. "But at least they (Murray and McLaren) are Celts."

But perhaps some practitioners were wary of the size and scale of the job.

"It is a huge theatre with an international reputation," Mr O'Brien noted. "The Abbey also has an incredible history and you are responsible for that. It's a huge job to take on."

While Murray and McLaren may not be natives to Ireland, they have both spent considerable time here, showcasing work at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Murray has worked at the National Theatre of Scotland since its inception in 2005, while McLaren has spent over 20 years working in Canadian and Scottish theatre.

Many consider the appointment a "bold" move from the Abbey's board of directors and the newcomers will be under a great deal of scrutiny.

"Both Neil and Graham come from a dynamic and reputable background," the director of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Willie White, said.

"This is a very bold move for the Abbey and an extremely exciting time.

"Murray has established a renowned national theatre in Scotland, despite not having an actual building to house it. I think they will both bring a huge amount to the role."

The two men and their families will relocate to Ireland next year.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr McLaren said it was a "dream come true".

He added: "We believe in an international perspective that will take the Abbey Theatre's best work out of the country on a regular basis and bring exciting international artists to Ireland.

"Living and working in Ireland has always been a dream."

Irish Independent

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