Sunday 17 December 2017

Tomas MacAnna's vision helped the Abbey play its part on the world stage

The former artistic director of the Abbey was a key player in the success of the national theatre, writes Ulick O'Connor

AFTER the fire in the Abbey Theatre in 1951, the acting company was housed temporarily in the Queen's Theatre. The company returned to its home in Abbey Street in 1966 to a new theatre built by the State and opened with a flourish.

A key figure in the new era would be Tomas MacAnna, who joined the company in 1947 and now became artistic director. The new Abbey had some additions to the theatrical company created by Yeats and Lady Gregory. In addition to a state-of-the-art theatre and a substantial grant to pay, among other things, the salary of the resident company, a watchdog body had been created to ensure that the affairs of the Abbey were carried out in keeping with the ideas of the founders.

They were given shares in the company and included Cyril Cusack, Tyrone Guthrie, Siobhan McKenna, Cearbhall O Dalaigh (later Chief Justice and President of Ireland), Hugh Hunt, Bryan McMahon as well as representatives from the acting company and playwrights. By the mid-Seventies, with MacAnna artistic director and Frank Dermody in charge of the Abbey School of Acting, the Abbey seemed well worthy of its function as an Irish national theatre.

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