O dear, the “Whither the Abbey?” roadshow is back in town. There are many reasons why the proposal to move the theatre to the GPO is a flawed idea.
Locating the Abbey in the very crucible of Irish nationalism would only serve to strengthen the links between the theatre, the 1916 Rising and the foundation of the State. These are links which created a potent relevancy for the Abbey in the early decades of the last century but are ones which have hampered its project ever since. It has done much to distance itself from these associations in the past 20 years or so as it attempts to reflect modern concerns and eschew the idea that somehow its status as a “sacred cow” makes it more like a museum than a living theatre.
As I have recently discovered, with the restoration of the Theatre Royal in Waterford, converting old spaces to new purposes is infinitely more costly, complex and time consuming than building something new on a “greenfield”site and following on from this point is the very considerable sums of money required to turn a post office into a state-of-the-art theatre, sums of money that the hard pressed taxpayer would, to put it mildly, be none too thrilled to see spent as the Government slashes and burns its way through the public finances.
You suspect that the Abbey in its waters knows all this and with its recent improvements to that awful bunker is preparing to sit tight for the long haul. It is noticeable that no senior Ministers, or the Taoiseach have anything to say on this latest idea, nor indeed has the Arts Council. And one can feel the reluctance emanating from the Department of Arts.