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Tragic tale of greed in 1950s rural Ireland

THE REVIVAL of John B Keane's Sive at the Abbey is all the more significant given the national theatre's rejection of the play in 1959.

The institution's managing director, Ernest Blythe, infamously turned down the play on the basis of its supposed melodrama.

But audiences and critics subsequently proved him wrong. The work, which documents the greed and sterility of mid-century rural Ireland, does not make for easy viewing.

It concerns an 18-year-old girl, Sive, who is effectively sold into an arranged marriage with an elderly farmer by her uncle and his wife, with tragic consequences.


A publican and part-time writer, Keane scripted his play in little over a week after attending another production and deciding he could write a better play.

Despite the Abbey's rejection the work provided Keane with a breakthrough when the Listowel Drama Group won first prize with it at that year's All-Ireland Amateur Drama Festival.

His wife Mary later said: "He sent it to The Abbey and they wouldn't look at him, but when it won the trophy, it changed our lives."

The Abbey relented later in 1959 and staged the play at the Queen's Theatre on Pearse Street (the Abbey's own theatre had been damaged by fire). It wasn't performed onstage at the Abbey's itself until 1985.

Sive runs at the Abbey Theatre from February 12 to April 12