Just a couple of Peacocks… Paycocks?? A Tour of the Peacock Stage Cafe at the Abbey Theatre.

During my travels this weekend I explored the Abbey Theatre and the surrounding area. Luckily, I was able to tour most of the theater’s interior, from its concession bar to its stage and seating, to the backstage wings, dressing rooms, and actors’ lounge. Many of my traveling companions have already noted the theater’s sparse decor, and the smallness of its vicinity, especially backstage, where beds fill dressing room corners, and multiple couches are crammed into one room. Additionally, we noticed an odd sort of blankness about the stage, the standard black no-slip floor cover, tape, black painted walls, and a few modern chairs stilly couched beneath the lights.

Many asked, “How could this be the famous stage of duels, and stars, the very one which saw the first showing of O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock?” Even in her book, Kilfeather describes the Abbey as courting ” the controversial over the years, identifying that this role was part of its mission,” through riots with the audience, uncensored performances, and the like (171).

However, I think that despite its stature, or the blandness of the stage itself, this is the Abbey pre-transformation. Though many theaters in my hometown of Los Angeles, such as the Pantages, boast beautiful interior design which projects its rich cultural history, such trappings are unnecessary for one to enjoy the theater experience. In fact, the transformation of a stage can often be more important to result in a transformation of oneself by a production. And we merely saw the theater as it exists, naked, without a show to breathe in life. Thus, I investigated the staging process for one of the Abbey’s more recent productions of Juno… and found the video linked below:

Abbey Theatre – Juno and The Paycock – Sean O'Casey

“Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis”A co-production between the Abbey Theatre and the National Theatre of Great BritainIn this the second part of O’Casey’s great Dublin Trilogy, the ambitions of the Boyle family are set against the political and social events of the Irish Civil War in 1922. Set in a tenement house, Juno and the Paycock is an epic tale of survival and vengeance punctuated by dreadful poverty.Juno, the spirited matriarch of the Boyle household tries to keep her family together while it is being pulled apart by growing political unrest. Her husband, Captain Jack Boyle drinks his way through his days with his side-kick Joxer Daly while their children fail tragically in their own search for a better life.Abbey TheatreWednesday 21 September – Saturday 5 November 2011Tickets: €13 – €40Cast: Cornelius Clarke, Risteárd Cooper, Sinéad Cusack, Clare Dunne, Kieran Gough, Luke Hayden, Ciarán Hinds, Dermot Kerrigan, Nick Lee, Brian Martin, Gillian McCarthy, Bernadette McKenna, Janet Moran, Kevin Murphy, Ronan Raftery, Sophie Robinson, Eoin Slattery, Tom Vaughan-LawlorDirector: Howard DaviesSet and Costume Design: Bob CrowleyLighting Design: James FarncombeComposer: Anna RiceSound: Ben Delaneyabbeytheatre.ie

Posted by Abbey Theatre on Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This production was collaborative and staged in a large Georgian room. Still, through the interviews and anecdotes of the stage design process, we see the ways in which prop masters and artisans form a setting, a physical and emotional environment, by items placed upon the stage not the decorations surrounding it.

Additionally, I noted many modern improvements in the theater that contrast, yet also compliment, the more antiquated touches, such as classic Yeats portraits, which hang above more modern vinyl seating beyond the bar. The theater also has a small cafe for patrons to enjoy adjacent to its box office called the Peacock Cafe, in fact. The design of the cafe, with its sleek lines, chalkboard menu, and modern wood chairs reminded me of those found in trendy LA, such as Ray’s and Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And the retro postering within the ticket area papering the wall with vibrant colors and pops of modern graphic design recalled to mind the decor of the Hollywood location of Amoeba Music.

Not only did these provide charming familiarity to home (Though I’m definitely not missing Los Angeles’ ninety-degree weather right about now!), but suggest the ways in which the Abbey has set about to rebrand itself as present within the modern era, despite its long history. I think this can be seen in its many productions of O’Casey, which try to bring something fresh to the table every time, as showcased in the clip above. It also reminds us that the Abbey is working to make the best of and liven up within what space they have, just as the Boyles did, somewhat more foolishly, in their pursuit of new vibrancy in life, new status, and standing, through the improvement or transformation of a place, no matter how small it may be.


  1. Spencer, what wonderful comparisons you draw, particularly with all of your Los Angeles photos at the end…you made me miss the city, especially Amoeba. I love the “sin” quote along the cafe’s wall. It reminds me of this quote from Kilfeather: “The Abbey Theatre went on to court controversy over the years, identifying that this role was part of its mission” (171). Controversy, such as topics considered to be “sinful,” tinges the allure of theatre, and as the cafe quote points out, this becomes a powerful tool to entice youth and render itself relevant no matter the consequence.

  2. I found the lack of interior design in the theatre almost appealing as it is not necessarily what the space is for, but I like the attention you bring to the stage’s decor being more essential for each specific play rather than the theater itself. I did not think of it that way, but it certainly makes a lot of sense. In addition, the small size of the theatre does not lend itself to such lavishness. The bit at the end in regards to Juno and the Paycock was an interesting connection as well!

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