THEATRE: By W. J. IGOE
Ireland's Abbey Theatre : A History 1899-1951, compiled by Lennox Robinson (Sidgwick and Jackson, 30s.).
Avtsa to the Abbey Theatre on a rainy day in January. 1952, is
sad. Seen from the pavements of Abbey Street, the trim facade appears unchanged; in the dim light of the vestibule the portraits can be seen; tickets are sold for the company's performances at the Queen's Theatre.
To the Dubliner, the Abbey may be a mere playhouse; to the lover of Ireland from abroad, the lover of the theatre. it is a shrine. Perhaps, because Mr. Lennox Robinson is infatuated by his life's workshop, the title " Ireland's Abbey Theatre " seems mildly tautological; but he knows the world is jealous and would steal, as it stole so many of Ireland's actors, something of the Abbey's glory for itself. and lie, rightly, is iealous.
The book is to the member of the audience a treasure chest of jumbled riches. Reading it has something of the charm of exploration. The lists of every Abbey production since the foundation of the theatre, and the casts are spread through pages so that one must search out information using the eyes like a visual tooth comb. The pleasure of discovery atones for trouble taken. How one envies the eudience, for example, at the first night of June and the Paycock that saw a cast which included Barry Fitzgerald. Sarah Allgood, Arthur Sheilds, Eileen Crowe, F. J. McCormick, Maureen Delany, Michael Dolan, Gabriel Fallon, Tony Quinn and P. I. Caspian.
Death, Hollywood. the London theatre and Dublin drama criticism were enriched by the passing and the scattering of these artists; the thought of the impact of Sean O'C.asey's masterpiece as acted by such talent makes the head of a Wes' End reviewer spin. March 3. 1923 must have been the "Crispin's day " of the Irish theatre.
MR. Robinson traces the germinalion of modern Irish drama in the mind of Yeats. narrates its development in the hands of the Fay Brothers, through the years of great niaving. always more abundant than good writing. and illuminates the
work of three generations of Irish actors down to the days before the theatre was destroyed by fire.
Two months ago, at the Queen's, I saw Harry Brogan's Seamus Sheilds in Shadow of a Gunman with
Mr. Michael Dolan, Miss May Craig and a company of young actors who carry on the tradition under a heavy burden of changed conditions. The atmosphere of the old Abbey auditorium was missing. The Abbey genius was apparent always in Mr. Dolan, Miss Craig and Mr. Brogan, and in flashes from the company. One wishes they might tour the world, as in the past, for the world looks to Dublin to maintain its tradition of great Irish and European theatre, and gladly would pay for a new home, a new workshop, for the old spirit. The world will read Mr. Robinson's hook and marvel.