I was able to see two plays in Dublin. When the bus dropped me off on O’Connell Street, I noticed that the Gate had Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance playing. Not a single ticket available to that, and I thought my scheme of just showing up and seeing plays might fall apart.
The Smock Alley Theatre, the oldest purpose-built theatre in western Europe, had just reopened after a fantastic renovation. They were presenting John Millington Synge’s Playboy of the Western World and I was able to get a ticket and a tour of this amazing space.
The building has been a theatre, a church, and a Viking tourist attraction (just up the block is the location of a phenomenal Viking archaeological site, now buried under government buildings). The theatre has wonderful treasures under it (crypts and roads and medieval walls). The main theatre is a thrust with four main exits from the stage, two immediately stage right and left and two angled exits (voms, or vomitoriums for you theatre design fans) and a trompe l’oeil brick wall upstage that is also an exit for players. You come into the theatre at street level and walk down steps to seats that are like church pews, high backed with green cushions. The acoustics are lovely.
The performance was great. A darker comedy I am sure exists, but this one is pretty damn dark. I had a meal near the theatre (which faces the Liffey), and I had one of those memorable moments from a trip. I asked whether the fish stew or the skate wing were recommended, and the barman/waiter replied that he was a big fan of the skate, and it was served with a risotto with mint and peas. “And nothing says summer like mint and peas,” he told me. To me, nothing says summer like tomatoes and basil, but I didn’t want to quibble. I ordered the skate, and it was delicious.
I was able, for my last night in Dublin, to get a ticket for the Abbey Theatre’s production of the Plow and the Stars. I was still in town for their first preview, and there were a handful of tickets left. It was not at the main stage, as they are doing some asbestos abatement in the catwalks, but at the O’Reilly Theatre in a nearby school. The production was very good. A little long (three plus hours) but only one or two of the performances seemed stiff. What was most impressive was the synergy of location and production. Most of the events of the play (surrounding the 1916 Easter Rising) happen within blocks of the theatre. It was haunting to come out into the building courtyard after having survived the shelling in the last act.
What a wonderful four days, full of literature, sights, walks, authors, and good food.