Thursday, January 13, 2011

W.B. Yeats and the Lyric Theatre

Denis Smyth as Conchubar in On Baile's Strand, Lyric Theatre archives, NUI Galway
As mentioned in a previous post, Mary O’Malley was greatly influenced by the drama of W.B. Yeats, and indeed modelled the Lyric on Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Her interest was sparked from a young age, when she saw Yeats in the flesh at the Abbey, having been brought by her brother Gerald.

When she established regular productions from her home in the late 1950s, she took this as an opportunity to explore Yeats’ plays. The Lyric would go on to produce all of Yeats’ plays in the following years. These were often amongst their least popular productions – Yeats’ drama being not nearly as acclaimed as his poetry - but O’Malley steadfastly persevered in her vision.  In 1961 the Lyric Theatre was invited to perform several Yeats plays at the first international Yeats Summer School in Sligo, and returned there for several years afterward. The company also travelled to Dublin with these rarely performed dramas.

Mary O'Malley at Yeats' grave, Sligo (1961)
Mary O’Malley gained recognition as an interpreter of, and indeed expert on, Yeats’ dramatic work. The archives here in NUI Galway contain letters from Yeats devotees and students from as far afield as Zambia, seeking her advice and guidance on the topic.

These, along with costume and set designs, annotated scripts, and O'Malley's own production notes, will prove an invaluable resource for students of theatre and of W.B. Yeats.

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