This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Emer here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Ireland.
2016 is a landmark year, certainly — not just because of Shakespeare 400, but also because of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. Plans for commemorating Shakespeare 400 are well underway as we all know, but so are plans to commemorate 1916 here next year, with the Ireland 2016 Centenary programme of events taking centre stage.
The Abbey Theatre have just announced their Waking The Nation season for 2016 as part of that programme, and outgoing artistic director Fiach Mac Conghail put particular emphasis on Abbey actors’ (known as the ‘Abbey Rebels’) participation in the Rising: ‘The Abbey Rebels did not distinguish between the role of culture and independence; theatre and politics’, he said. ‘Today we carry the legacy of these remarkable individuals as we embark, with our artists and audiences, on a year of reflection and conversation through theatre’ (see here for more details). A plaque already stands to mark their contribution, which will be updated to include names that had been previously omitted or overlooked.
What does this season have to do with Shakespeare, you may ask? As well as original work and more established plays (of course, The Plough and the Stars will be performed), there is one Shakespearean production in the Waking the Nation programme. This will be Othello — and former artistic director of the Abbey and current artistic director of the Guthrie Theatre, Joe Dowling, will return to direct it with Peter Macon in the lead role. Dowling has a longstanding association with Shakespeare at the Abbey: he has directed The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and Much Ado About Nothing for both Abbey and Peacock stages, and during his tenure as artistic director, welcomed Michael Bogdanov to the main stage in 1983 to direct Hamlet. So it’s interesting that he returns to direct Shakespeare in an important year for the Abbey.
Interestingly, the pull quote used by the Abbey to advertise Othello is ‘I have done the State some service; they know’t. No more of that’ — and the website bills it as ‘an extraordinary state of the nation play’. This raises some very interesting questions, especially in the light of Willy Maley’s work on Othello and the Irish question in recent years (we do not know if this work will be a touchstone for the production): how will this be realised in performance? How will this Othello fit into the commemoration of the Rising? Furthermore, how will other Irish theatre companies address Shakespeare in 2016 — or will they do so at all? It’s difficult to tell as of now, but next year will be an interesting one for Irish Shakespeare nonetheless.
Othello will be on the Abbey main stage from 5 May 2016 — 11 June 2016. General booking opens on 11 November. More news on the production (and other Irish Shakespeares taking place next year) as we get it…