(Deirdre Falvey’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 3/27.)

There’s a gulp when you see it. Outside, the audience doors into Dublin’s Gate Theatre from Parnell Square, before ascending towards the auditorium, are locked by a heavy security gate. One of the linchpins of Irish theatre for almost a century has been dark for over a year now.

The other door to the right opens, and inside all is still, just three staff, expecting this visitor, Covid protocols at the ready. Selina Cartmell, director and CEO, leads the way upstairs and inside.

We’re on the stage, she says. The sense of strange is not just because this space, scene of so much drama, is unnaturally stilled; since the metaphorical curtain fell on Our New Girl in March 2020 it’s been frozen by pandemic. It’s also unsettling because the space has been reconfigured: rows of seats removed and the floor raised to the level of the stage, creating a large, open “creative studio space”, at a higher level.

The familiar proscenium arch and period plasterwork remind you it’s still the same auditorium. The new floor level is a third of the way up the door from the foyer. Around the cavern’s perimeter is a single row of the Gate’s tip-up seats. In the centre are two seats about three metres apart. We sit.

This space will host a reawakening, with a splash. The world premiere of a new Frank McGuinness play is a two-hander written for Stephen Rea and Judith Roddy, and directed by Caitríona McLaughlin, her last gig before taking over as artistic director of the Abbey Theatre. The Visiting Hour is durational, the length, in real time, of a nursing home visit during Covid.

A daughter visits her father through a window. “His mind is beginning to wander, but conversations about the past can be dangerous, and family memories can look very different, depending on who is telling the story.”

After rehearsal, it’ll be filmed here in 360 degrees by multiple cameras on April 21st, then streamed at 7.30pm on the following three nights. The creative team (Paul Keoghan on lighting, Katie Davenport on design, Tom Lane on sound/composition) is up and at it, and photos were taken this afternoon in Rea’s garden.

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