Thursday 18 January 2018

Abbey Theatre hopes to 'wake' the nation in 2016

The national theatre hopes 2016 will question our achievements, writes drama critic Emer O'Kelly

Director Fiach MacConghail
Director Fiach MacConghail

Emer O'Kelly

The national theatre has announced its programme of commemoration for the centenary of 1916. Director Fiach MacConghail, (the programme will mark the end of his tenure), emphasises that it is aimed at interrogating rather than celebrating the past. The overall title is deliberately ambiguous: Waking the Nation.

MacConghail is long on record as considering himself "a bit of an old-fashioned republican". That in itself can have ambiguous connotations; but at the launch of his programme he reminded his audience that the 'Abbey rebels' (the men and women who left the theatre to join the Rising volunteers) did not distinguish between the role of culture and independence, theatre and politics. Plays, Mac Conghail said, have the power to ask questions and resonate for generations.

In that context, it is worth noting that he is the first director of the Abbey in modern times to be overtly political: we have to go back to the time of Ernest Blythe for a comparison. Blythe was a former government Minister in Cumann na nGaedhael but is better known as the man who stifled artistic freedom and intellectual discourse in the Abbey throughout his long tenure from 1941 to 1967.

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