(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 3/22.)
“It is not about the plays, it’s about the building!” So insists Willy Hayes, cofounder and resident playwright of the Irish National Theatre of Ireland, as he tries desperately to guard its future against a calamitous opening night in 1904. If that line brings the house down at the actual national theatre, nearly 13 years since the debut of Corn Exchange’s marvellous creation, it’s because it is now about the play and the building. Together at last.
Michael West’s witty and nimble alternative history of the founding of the Abbey, developed with its original ensemble, was first staged in parallel with the national theatre’s own blighted centenary, by a company on the outside looking in. Today, at this close proximity, director Annie Ryan’s production is razor-sharp, yet it seems surprisingly fresher and more affectionate towards its inspiration.
It helps that the performance, delivered in Corn Exchange’s head-spinningly energetic version of Commedia dell’arte, finds an artful correspondence with the world of the characters. Whether these fantastic actors briskly summon up a squeaking trolley, a spooked horse, a street riot, or an unpleasant squelch on the cobblestones, just as the Yeatsian playwright and his company struggle to create a mythic play “for Ireland”, the delight of the show is to see people building up their world right in front of you.