Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, the Directors of the Abbey Theatre, have been criticised in an open letter signed by more than 300 members of the Irish theatre community, among them actors, technical staff and theatremakers.  

The letter, addressed to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan, the Chair of the Arts Council and to the Chair of the Abbey Board, which can be read in full below, expresses concern with the direction taken by The Abbey under Murray and McLaren, who took the reigns at Ireland's National Theatre in 2016.

Listen: Actor Denis Conway explains why he and hundreds of other members of the Irish theatre community have signed a letter expressing 'deep concern and dissatisfaction' at the direction the Abbey Theatre has taken, via Morning Ireland:


The 312 signatories include a number of Irish theatre veterans, several of whom have appeared on the Abbey stage in recent years.

Jimmy's Hall, directed by Graham McLaren, premiered at The Abbey in 2017

The letter compares the year that Murray and McLaren were appointed at The Abbey - 2016, when it claims that the theatre directly employed 123 actors in Abbey productions and 90 actors in readings and workshops - to the duo's first year at the helm, in which, it claims, just 56 actors were directly employed by the theatre. The letter does not include figures for readings or workshops. 

Watch: 300 theatre members express ‘deep concern’ over Abbey, via RTÉ Six One News

In addition, the signatories claim that the freelance theatre community in Ireland has been 'cast adrift' by the duo, as a result of a shift in programming policy, leading to less direct employment by the Abbey.

They also argue that the Abbey's programming of work by theatre companies already in receipt of funding amounts to 'double funding'.

A particular point of contention is The Abbey's recent Christmas offering, Come From Away, an award-winning American musical currently playing to sell-out audiences on the Abbey main stage.

Murray and McLaren, the former Co-Directors of the Scottish National Theatre, were the subject of a 2018 RTÉ documentary, A Riot Of Their Own, filmed during their first year at The Abbey. Their recently announced 2019 programme includes a new adaptation of Enda O'Brien's novel The Country Girls, directed by McLaren, alongside work from Irish theatre companies Theatre Upstairs, Bitter Like A Lemon, Livin’ Dred Theatre Co and THEATREclub.

Read the letter in full below:

Dear Minister,

It is with regret that we, the undersigned theatre practitioners, write to apprise you of our deep concern and dissatisfaction with the direction that The Abbey Theatre has taken since the appointment of its Directors, Neil Murray and Graham McLaren. The grace period since their arrival is well and truly over and the situation in which the Irish theatre community finds itself is now critical. While the institution may be financially buoyant – and due congratulations for this – the freelance theatre community, in particular, has been cast adrift.

The changing artistic model of producing fewer in-house productions and presenting or co-presenting more has caused devastation amongst our ranks. Although the management’s strategy of offering diversity to their own audiences is admirable in theory, it offers up several problems in practice. The National Theatre reducing its own production output means less diversity, and reduced employment, not more. There will not have been an Ireland-based actor in an Abbey Theatre production on an Abbey stage since Jimmy’s Hall ended on 8 September 2018 until The Country Girls opens on 23 February 2019. That is five and a half months without an Ireland-based actor directly employed by the Abbey.

The numbers are stark and are worth stating. In 2016 the Abbey directly employed 123 actors in Abbey productions and 90 actors in readings and workshops.  Then, in 2017 the Abbey directly employed only 56 actors. No figures are available for readings or workshops that year. Fifty six. That is a reduction of 46% of actors appearing on stage directly employed by our National Theatre. We would surmise that this reduction will be substantially higher when workshop figures are made available for 2017. Though the casting and employment statistics have been removed from the Abbey website, an approximate calculation for 2018 is 65 actors employed directly by the Abbey. In a theatre founded by writers and actors it is profoundly worrying that there is no commitment to sustaining that community.

There are a number of other factors that would appear to contribute to the shrinking employment opportunities and we have endeavoured to clarify these below.

-The Abbey receives the lion’s share of available funding - €6.8m in 2018, with an additional €200,000- touring grant. With the Abbey now co-producing with the major independents, whilst receiving 10.25% of the overall Arts Council budget, it now also benefits from the production budgets of some of the better-funded independent companies. A clear case of double funding.

-Despite The Abbey being in receipt of 50% of the Arts Council’s entire Drama budget; and now extra resources from other companies; our Actors, Directors and Designers are being paid less when working at the Abbey than before and for shorter runs. They are being contracted in the Abbey by the co-producer - an independent company that offers lesser rates. This reduction in pay can be as much as 25%.

-Independent productions, which would previously have found a home elsewhere, are now being housed at the Abbey. Thus venues, which were developed to host Ireland’s independent companies, now have gaps in their calendars. This has the knock-on effect of reducing employment in these venues.

-Contracts for working weeks that would have previously been on offer from Independent companies to freelance Technicians have been reduced, covered as they are in these co-productions/co-presentations by Abbey permanent staff. 

-Not a single National Theatre contract has been given to an Irish-based Set Designer on the main stage in either 2017 or 2018.

-The abolition of the Casting Department has created a significant disconnect with Actors. The tradition of open auditions for graduate and young actors is no longer available. There is no single person with experience and responsibility for casting with whom actors and their agents can build a relationship or who can mentor up and coming talent.  

-This year’s Christmas offering on the National Theatre main stage has for so many become the final straw. Any critical questioning of the wisdom of the Irish National Theatre using its resources to facilitate a Canadian commercial management’s seven week stop-over, before going into the West End, have been cynically framed as xenophobic and little islander. This disingenuous accusation is beneath contempt, and we dismiss it with as much alacrity as the Abbey management dismisses the employment of its local workers over Christmas. Irish audiences deserve to have access to shows of this international reputation coming from and going to Broadway and the West End: but of course they already have, in our various No1 receiving venues.

-To believe that our National Theatre needs to engage with audiences in Ireland, but not its Theatre professionals is a fallacy. The current working practices in The Abbey Theatre – The National Theatre of Ireland are in direct opposition to the priorities as set out in the Government’s Culture 2025 document, The Arts Council’s Making Great Art Work policy, as well as their own mission statement.

Irish Art and Culture are internationally held in high regard. Consequently, our Artists have over many years done the State sterling service. At home and abroad our talents and expertise have been at the heart of promoting Tourism, and in developing international relationships for trade and negotiation. Our Theatre workers have been at the frontline of ‘Brand Ireland’, only time and again to return home to live on the poverty line. The reduction in the proportion of Abbey Theatre budget going to Ireland-based Performers, Directors and Designers serves to rub further salt in the wound.

We respectfully ask that The National Theatre engages in a greater percentage of in-house productions, as opposed to co-productions or buy-ins. It is the proportion which is so damaging, so heedless.

We demand that Performers, Directors and Designers whose work is used by the National Theatre are given National Theatre terms and conditions, along with every other employee in the building.

Is muidne le meas

AIDAN CROWE

AIDAN GILLEN

AIDAN MCARDLE

AIDAN MORIARTY

AIDAN TURNER

ÁINE NÍ LAOGHAIRE

AISLÍN MCGUCKIN

AISLING MOONEY

AISLING O’SULLIVAN

AISLINN O’BYRNE

ALI WHITE

ALISON MCKENNA

ALISUN FOX

AMY O’DWYER

ANDREA CLEARY

ANDREA IRVINE

ANNABELLE COMYN

ANNE KENT

ANNE LAYDE

ANN RUSSELL

ANTHONY FOX

AOIBHÍN MURPHY

AOIBHÍNN MCGINNITY

AOIBHÉANN MCCANN

AOIFE MARTYN

AOIFE MORONEY WARD

AOIFE SPILLANE-HINKS

AONGHUS ÓG MCANALLY

ARTHUR RIORDAN

BAIRBRE GUILFOYLE

BAIRBRE NÍ CHAOIMH

BARBARA BRENNAN

BARBARA RYAN

BARRY MCKIERNAN

BILLIE TRAYNOR

BREFFNI HOLAHAN

BRÍD DUKES

BRÍD NÍ CHUMHAILL

BUSH MOUKARZEL

CAOIMHE CONNOLLY

CARA CHRISTIE

CARLA ROGERS

CAROLINE FITZGERALD

CATHAL MCGUIRE

CATHAL SYNNOTT

CATHERINE FAY

CATHERINE WALKER

CATHRYN BRENNAN

CATHY BELTON

CATHY WHITE

CHARLENE CRAIG

CHARLENE MCKENNA

CHARLIE MURPHY

CHARLOTTE MCCURRY

CIARÁN HINDS

CIARÁN O’GRADY

CIARA O’CALLAGHAN

CILLIAN Ó GAIRBHÍ

CLARE DUNNE

CLARE MAGUIRE

CLÍONA DUKES

CLIVE WELSH

COLM MCNALLY

COLM O’BRIEN

CONALL MORRISON

CONOR HANRATTY

CONOR LINEHAN

CONOR MACNEILL

CONOR MULLEN

CONOR O’RIORDAN

DAN COLLEY

DANIEL REARDON

DAN MONAGHAN

DAVEY KELLEHER

DAVID BOLGER

DAVID O’MEARA

DAWN BRADFIELD

DEARBHLA MOLLOY

DECLAN CONLON

DEIRDRE MONAGHAN

DENIS CONWAY

DENISE GOUGH

DERBHLE CROTTY

DERMOT MAGENNIS

DONAGH DEENEY

DONAL COURTNEY

DONAL SHIELS

DONNA LEONARD

DONNCHA O’DEA

DOROTHY DUFFY

EAVAN GAFFNEY

EILEEN WALSH

EIMEAR KEATING

EIMEAR MORRISSEY

ELAINE MURPHY

ELEANOR METHVEN

ELEANOR MINIHAN

EMER CASEY

EMILY FOX

EMILY GILLMOR MURPHY

EMMA COEN

EMMA O’KANE

EMMET BYRNE

ENDA OATES

EOGHAN CARRICK

EOGHAN COLLINS

EOIN LYNCH

EVA BARTLEY

EVA JANE GAFFNEY

FIONA BELL

FIONA MCGEOWN

FIONA STOUT

FIONNUALA GYGAX

FRANK BLAKE

FRANK MCCUSKER

GARRETT LOMBARD

GAVIN DREA

GAVIN O’CONNOR

GEMMA KANE

GENE ROONEY

GER KELLY

GERARD BYRNE

GERARD LEE

GERARD HUMPHREYS

GERALDINE PLUNKETT

GER RYAN

GERRY O’BRIEN

GERRY STEMBRIDGE

GRÁINNE KEENAN

GUS MCDONAGH

HALINA FROUDIST

HELEN ROCHE

HELENA WALSH

HILDA FAY

HOLLY CAREY

INGRID CRAIGIE

IAN LLOYD ANDERSON

IVAN BIRTHISTLE

JACK CAWLEY

JACK HICKEY

JACK MULLARKEY

JAMES MURPHY

JAMIE O’NEILL

JANE BRENNAN

JANE MCCARTHY

JANET MORAN

JEMMA NIC LOCHLAINN

JENNIFER JENNINGS

JESSICA ÍDE LEEN

JIM NOLAN

JIMMY EADIE

JIMMY MURPHY

JOAN O’CLERY

JOE HANLEY

JOE O’BYRNE

JOE VANEK

JOHN COMISKEY

JOHN DELANEY

JOHN GUNNING

JOHN KAVANAGH

JOHN MORTON

JOHN OLOHAN

JONATHAN SHANKEY

JOSE MIGUEL JIMENEZ

JOSH MULDOON

JULIAN ERSKINE

KAREN MCCARTNEY

KARL HAYDEN

KARL O’NEILL

KATE FINEGAN

KATE GILMORE

KATE STANLEY BRENNAN

KATHY ROSE O’BRIEN

KATIE MCCANN

KELLY PHELAN

KEVIN SMITH

KIERAN ROCHE

KILLIAN COYLE

LARA HICKEY

LAUREN LARKIN

LIAM HALLIGAN

LIAN BELL

LISA M BARRY

LISA COOK

LISA DWYER HOGG

LISE-ANN MCLAUGHLIN

LIZ FITZGIBBON

LLOYD COONEY

LORCAN CRANITCH

LORRAINE BRENNAN

LUKE GRIFFIN

MADI O’CARROLL

MAEVE FITZGERALD

MAEVE WHELAN

MAGS MULVEY

MAISIE LEE

MANUS HALLIGAN

MARCUS LAMB

MAREE KEARNS

MARGARET MCAULIFFE

MARIA MCDERMOTTROE

MARIE MULLEN

MARK HUBERMAN

MARK LAMBERT

MARK O’REGAN

MARK TANKERSLEY

MARTHA DUNLEA

MARTIN MAGUIRE

MARTINA KAVANAGH

MARTY REA

MARY MOYNIHAN

MATTHEW MALONE

MATTHEW RALLI

MAUREEN MCGLYNN

MAUREEN WHITE

MEGAN RIORDAN

MELISSA NOLAN

MICHAEL BARKER CAVEN

MICHAEL JAMES FORD

MICHAEL MCELHATTON

MICHAEL SHEEHAN

MICHELE FORBES

MICHELLE READ

MIRIAM DUFFY

MOLLY O’CATHAIN

MONICA FRAWLEY

MUIREANN D’ARCY

MUIRNE BLOOMER

NESSA MATTHEWS

NIALL BUGGY

NIAMH FERRY

NIAMH LUNNY

NIAMH MCCANN

NICK DUNNING

ÓRLA CHARLTON

OWEN MCCAFFERTY

OWEN ROE

PAT LAFFAN

PATRICK BYRNES

PATRICK SUTTON

PAULA GREEVY LEE

PAUL BURKE

PAUL O’MAHONY

PAUL REID

PETER COONAN

PETER CORBOY

PETER DALY

PETER DUNNE

PETER GAYNOR

PETER GOWEN

PETER SHERIDAN

PHELIM DREW

PHILIP O’SULLIVAN

PHILIP ST JOHN

RACHEL O’BYRNE

RAY SCANNELL

REBECCA GRIMES

REBECCA MURPHY

REBECCA O’MARA

RICHARD COOK

RISTEARD COOPER

ROBBIE O’CONNOR

ROGER GREGG

RÓISÍN MCBRINN

RÓISÍN O’NEILL

ROMANA TESTASECCA

RONAN LEAHY

RORY FLECK BYRNE

RORY NOLAN

RORY MULLEN

ROSALEEN LINEHAN

ROSE PARKINSON

ROSE HENDERSON

ROSEANNA PURCELL

ROSS GAYNOR

ROWAN FINKEN

RUAIRÍ LENEGHAN

RUTH HEGARTY

RUTH MCCABE

RUTH MCGILL

RUTH NEGGA

SAM O’MAHONY

SARAH BAXTER

SARAH BRENNAN

SARAH FITZGIBBON

SARAH GREENE

SARAH JANE SCAIFE

SARAH MORRIS

SEAMUS MORAN

SEAN MCGINLEY

SHANE G CASEY

SHANE O’REGAN

SHANE O’REILLY

SHARON COADE

SHARON O’DOHERTY

SHAY LINEHAN

SINÉAD CUSACK

SINEAD MCKENNA

SIMON COURY

SOPHIE JO WASSON

STANLEY TOWNSEND

STEPHEN BRENNAN

STEVE GUNN

SUSANNAH DE WRIXON

SUSIE LAMB

TARA EGAN LANGLEY

TERI HAYDEN

TIERNAN KEARNS

TOM LANE

TOM LAWLOR

TOM MORAN

TOM VAUGHAN-LAWLOR

VALERIE O’CONNOR

VANESSA EMME

VINCENT DOHERTY

YVONNE USSHER