This week I explored the Abbey Theatre. The theatre sits on Abbey street, just across the River Liffey from Trinity College and Dublin Castle. Looking inside the theatre, I was struck by how modest the space was. Neither of the stages are particularly large, nor does the building feature any extravagant designs or architecture. The significance of this location is not within the building itself, but in the people who have occupied it and the artistic work it has produced. W.B. Yeats spearheaded the founding of the Abbey Theatre, wishing to create a national theatre which could showcase ambitious new Irish plays and give playwrights ultimate authority, as opposed to actors or audience. The Abbey staged many of his plays, as well as plays by Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge. The opening of Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World caused riots in the theatre in 1907, a testament to the theatre’s history of staging plays that are controversial, both creatively and socially.
The Abbey Theatre was also closely tied with the Irish Literary Revival movement and from its inception, focused on presenting Irish plays and bolstering an Irish national identity. Plays such as Juno and the Paycock, which the Abbey staged, address the social, political, and social concerns of the Irish people in the early 20th century. Over the years, the Abbey Theatre cemented itself as a uniquely Irish institution as a result of its aims and established itself as a vital part of Ireland’s history.