For a relatively small island at the western fringe of Europe, Ireland has made a disproportionally large contribution to the history of theatre in the Western world. Famous playwrights like Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett are only the tip of the iceberg. Many Irish writers created plays over the last two centuries that are still popular on stages around the world and a new generation of dramatists is keeping the tradition alive. The creative flame is fuelled by lively, passionate audiences.
Dublin has a thriving theatre scene which is typically anything but high brow or overly formal. Dubliners go to the theatre to have a good time. Next time you visit Dublin, why not take in a play and make a night-out of it. Whether your taste leans towards classic or contemporary plays or whether you prefer solid entertainment or biting social or political commentary, Dublin offers a wide range of theatre for all tastes. And don't bother to bring evening wear or a suit - Dublin's theatre audiences don't go for formalities. Just enjoy yourself.
A Brief History Of Irish Theatre
The history of theatre in Ireland is closely linked to the country's political and economic development. Irish dramatists first rose to wider recognition during the 18th century, a time when Ireland enjoyed economic prosperity and a relatively strong position within the British Isles. Writers like Richard Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith enjoyed significant commercial success in London. Sheridan was owner of the famous Drury Lane theatre in London until it burned down in 1809.
The golden age of Irish theatre arguably commenced in the second half of the 19th century with Dion Boucicault who achieved great success in New York. Oscar Wilde soon went on to eclipse those who came before him with a series of four plays 'Lady Windermere’s Fan' (1892), 'A Woman of No Importance' (1893), 'An Ideal Husband' (1895) and 'The Importance of Being Earnest' (1895). More than a century later, Wilde's plays are still mainstays of theatre companies around the world.
The other figurehead of 19th century Irish theatre is Dublin-born George Bernard Shaw, whose play 'Pygmalion' is a timeless classic. Shaw's play was turned into the movie 'My Fair Lady'.
Coinciding with the strive for an independent Ireland and the eventual achievement of an Irish Republic in the early 20th century, Irish theatre exploded onto the international scene. William Butler (W.B.) Yeats, John Millington Synge, George Moore, and Sean O'Casey are some of the playwrights whose work continues to resound on English language stages.
With independence came a surge in Irish language theatre. The most famous writer working in both Irish and English is Dubliner Brendan Behan. Openly irreverent and sharp-tongued Behan is one of the most celebrated rebels of the Irish theatre scene. His 1950's plays like The Hostage (An Giall) and books like the autobiographical 'Borstal Boy' have aged well and still sound fresh today.
The biggest 20th century icon of Irish theatre is Samuel Beckett, whose 1953 play 'Waiting For Godot' is still synonymous with far out, avantgarde theatre. Beckett won the Nobel Prize in 1969 and his work is still as relevant and moving, more than 40 years later.
A new generation of contemporary writers is carrying the torch of Irish theatre into the 21st century. Marina Carr, Hugh Leonard, Brian Friel and Tom Murphy manage the tightrope walk between achieving critical appreciation and commercial success. Irish theatre continues to travel well, particularly in the English speaking world. Young writers like Mark O'Rowe see their plays performed in New York and many dramatists enjoy crossover success on the television and cinema screens.
The Irish Theatre Institute
If you are curious about theatre in Ireland, then the Irish Theatre Institute offers some useful online resources. The institute offers searchable online databases of Irish plays since 1904, active Irish theatre companies and Irish theatres and suitable venues.
17 Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Dublin Theatre Dresscode
The good news is - There is no dresscode to enjoy theatre in Dublin. Dubliners typically treat a visit to the theatre as a good night out rather than a formal occasion. Dress up if you feel like it, but it is by no means required. Smart casual for men and any style of evening wear for the ladies will do. Though you will be just as welcome in jeans and a leather jacket. There used to be a time not so long ago, when trainers or sneakers where simply not done in Dublin, but that has changed and pretty much anything goes in the footwear department.
Dublin Theatre Bars
The place to be during the intervals is the theatre bar. Honour a Dublin tradition and pre-order your drinks at the bar for the next interval. Place your order, pay and return after the next act to see your drinks magically waiting for you in the bar with a little note attached. This system sounds impossible, but it usually works!
The Abbey is the National Theatre of Ireland (Amharclann Náisiúnta na hÉireann) and the first publicly-funded theatre in the English speaking world. Opened in 1904, The Abbey has received a subsidy from the Irish state since 1925. The Abbey has served as an incubator for a large number of Irish dramatists. Famous writers such as William Butler Yeats, Sean O'Casey and John Millington Synge cut their teeth at The Abbey. Balancing the commercial mainstream with the more experimental fringes of contemporary theatre, The Abbey operates a separate, smaller stage within the theatre building, called The Peacock.
26 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1
Andrews Lane Theatre
The Andrews Lane Theatre is tucked away in a back alley between Dame Street and Dublin’s main shopping mile, Grafton Street. The slightly grungy outside hides an intimate studio theatre which stages exciting fringe theatre by Irish and international theatre companies. The Andrews Lane Theatre runs regular late club nights at weekends.
12/16 Andrews Lane, Dublin 2
Theatre obsessed Dublin has the unique resource of a theatre exclusively dedicated to children. The Ark in Dublin’s Temple Bar cultural quarter stages regular plays for children between 3-14 years of age. Many plays shown at The Ark are specially commissioned and have their world premiere at this small but charming theatre in Dublin!
11a Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
The 19th century Gaiety Theatre stages mainly opera and musicals these days. If you catch a dramatic play here, it is typically a hugely popular Irish blockbuster like Brian Friel's 'Dancing At Lughnasa'. At Christmas time, The Gaiety is also home to the traditional Christmas pantomime, or as Dubliners call it: The Panto. This is a real family occasion with children and parents singing along and shouting stage directions. The actual play differs from year to year, but The Panto has been a fixture at The Gaiety for more than a century. The Gaiety turns into a nightclub every Friday and Saturday after the last performance. The disco at The Gaiety enjoys some of the latest opening hours in Dublin.
South King Street, Dublin 2
Founded in 1928, The Gate has been instrumental in promoting 'modern' theatre in Dublin. Local son Samuel Beckett featured heavily on The Gate's stage. Famous Hollywood actors Orson Welles and James Mason both started their careers on the stage of The Gate. The Gate Theatre is located at the top end of O'Connell Street, next door to the rock music venue The Ambassador.
Cavendish Row, Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Project Arts Centre
The Project Arts Centre has two stages, The Cube and The Space Upstairs. Located in the heart of Dublin’s cultural and entertainment quarter, Temple Bar, the Project Arts Centre sets the pace when it comes to contemporary theatre, dance and performance art. Housed in a former printing works, the industrial chic and cutting edge schedule of the Project Arts Centre attracts a trendy, arty crowd. If you are looking for provocative, contemporary theatre, then the Project Arts Centre should be your first stop in Dublin.
39 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
The Tivoli Theatre is the new kid on the block, competing head on with the Gaiety, Gate and Abbey. Perched on top of Francis Street with its colourful mix of antique dealers, modern art galleries and old-fashioned Dublin shops and pubs, the Tivoli is a plush mid-size venue that stages mainstream commercial productions as well as comedy and fringe theatre. The Tivoli’s 3:00 am licence makes it a popular late night venue, even for people who are not into theatre. Many international top DJs from the Techno and House scenes guest on the decks here.
Francis Street, Dublin 8