Architecture of the Abbey Theater

In my first impression of the Abbey Theater, I was a bit surprised by the architectural design. I knew that the Abbey Theater had been around since 1904, but I was not aware that the Abbey Theater was destroyed by a fire in 1951 and was rebuilt in the 1960’s. I was curious to what the old Abbey Theater looked like and how it compared to the Abbey Theater currently standing.

Dispatches from the theatrical front: a look behind the Abbey's ...
The original Abbey Theater which was destroyed by a fire in 1951.

The old Abbey Theater was a beautiful building made of brick, like many of the buildings of its day. The theater displayed ornate curling designs on the front of the building and arched windows. I was struck by the smallness of the space that it appeared to occupy. When I explored the street area of the Abbey Theater today, the current theater appeared to occupy much more space. One aspect of the old theater that I wish I could have explored was the inside of the theater. To see the original theater stage where so many great plays were premiered and so many actors got their start would be quite an amazing tour. However, I was unable to find photos from reputable sources, but if anyone is able to find any, I would be interested in seeing them.

Abbey Theatre - Wikipedia
The Abbey Theater as it stands today.

The Abbey Theater today is much more austere. The theater consists of concrete, glass, and bright lighting illuminating its face. I was unable to find any resemblance to the old Abbey Theater in the architecture. The building seems to be in the style of brutalism architecture which is characterized by blocky concrete in geometric shapes. Brutalism architecture was particularly popular during the 1950’s and 1960’s, but has become more polarizing since then. However, the inside of the Abbey Theater is gorgeous with a much more contemporary appearance.

The inside of the Abbey Theater has lush red seats and and appears to have modern wooden paneling.

When researching the history of the architecture, I found some articles discussing the possibility of redesigning the Abbey Theater. Though brutalism architecture has been making a bit of a comeback, the style has been criticized for its severe looks. Graham McLaren, one of the two artistic directors, called Abbey Theater “the worst theater building [he has] ever worked in“. He went on to say, “I thought it would be old and you could smell Yeats in the place. It’s Stalinesque. It’s like a civic building. It’s a terrible, terrible design.”

However, no matter the design, the Abbey Theater is nonetheless an essential aspect of Irish culture, history, and theater. McLaren described the impact of the Abbey Theater saying, “It can lay claim, like few other theatres on the planet, to having moved the hearts and the minds of the nation.

1 Comment

  1. I really like this post, it’s the complete opposite of mine (I also felt like the theater was very lacking and underwhelming); however, I agree with you on the importance of the theater along with all other theaters. While interior is important, nothing holds more significance than the plays that are performed on the stage, and the plays are most telling of how life is like for commoners of that time.

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