Director Cal McCrystal writes for Culture about his production of Lennox Robinson's classic 'well-built' comedy Drama At Inish, currently playing at the Abbey Theatre for the Christmas season. 

Drama at Inish takes place in a sleepy coastal town in Co. Cork unsettled by the arrival of the De La Mare Repertory company.

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I was immediately attracted to the play for the well written and quirky characters, darkly exploring the power of theatre. Struggling actor-managers, Hector De La Mare and Constance Constantia were of particular interest. Before turning to directing I spent 20 years as an actor and know well the challenge of making ends meet. Actors can have full houses hanging off their every word and yet struggle to find a "shilling for the meter" when they get home. Hector's bitter and regretful description in Act II of an actor's life will ring true for most performers. Few worked harder than the Irish touring companies of the early 20th century, bringing art and
entertainment to rural communities like the fictitious but recognizable Inish. Some companies performed in tents, built up and torn down by the performers (whatever the weather) before and after each show. The De La Mares can be seen as figures of fun but they are a joy in their benign pretentiousness and devotion to their craft.


 
Drama at Inish was written in 1933 but I decided to set our production loosely in the 1960s. This era rang the final death knell for the old style of acting that the De La Mares would have served to audiences in the early part of the 20th century. "Ham acting" as it might now be described, is a phrase that alludes to the pork fat that was once used in the manufacture of stage make up. These wonderful "hams" gave forceful and potent performances, highly effective in the days before modern theatrical enhancements such as electric lighting design, amplified sound and multimedia. It is on their shoulders that we now respectfully stand.

Marcus Lamb in Drama at Inish at the Abbey Theatre

We revised very little by updating Inish to the 60s. There was limited social change in Irish rural communities, certainly with regard to the issues raised in the play. The later setting also gave designer Sarah Bacon some fun costume opportunities for the boisterous Twohig family and their coterie.

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As an Irishman living abroad, it is hugely significant for me to be here at the Abbey directing this delightful Irish play. Following my father's career as a journalist, my family moved from Belfast to London in my childhood and then on to New York, returning to London some years later. We always spent school holidays "at home" in Ireland. I have always strongly identified as Irish and so it was a particular joy to be invited to the Abbey and I feel privileged to be working with the superbly warm and talented cast, crew and production team. I would like to sincerely thank Graham and Neil for trusting me with Drama at Inish.

I hope you enjoy the show as much as we enjoyed making it.
 
Drama At Inish is at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin until 24th January 2020 - find out more here.