Sunday, November 27, 2016


I never knew the Queens Theatre as The Queens, as my parents would have.

In 1951 the Abbey Theatre burned down and the company moved to the Queens which then became the Abbey.

And the Abbey it was as far as I was concerned.

So it was great to hear about the history of the Queens from Cecil Allen, whose grandfather, Ira Allen, was intimately involved with it both as a manager/owner and an actor.

The Queens specialised in melodrama. This to me conjures up all those Victorian drawing room comedies, but that is not at all what it was about. There was political melodrama, romantic melodrama, and whatever you're having yourself melodrama. And the sets were elaborate with from live horses to lakes appearing onstage as required.

Cecil brought the tradition direct to his audience by punctuating his talk with commendable bursts of (melodramatic ?) acting. Marvellous.

The theatre, in its later years as the Queens, was also home to the Happy Gang, a troupe of comics, singers and musicians including Danny Cummins and Cecil Nash. I was familiar with Danny Cummins from his performances in the Theatre Royal and, I think, the Gaiety. I knew Cecil Nash slightly as he lived around the corner from me in Ballybrack when we were there.

Cecil Allen mentioned the vigorous audience participation which was a feature of these melodramas and I was able to remind him that, in one aspect at least, the Abbey continued this tradition down the years.

This was the Christmas panto in the Irish language. Many Dublin schools were brought to it and some travelled up from down the country. No doubt their teachers thought it would engender a grá for the language. But what they didn't reckon on was the base cunning of the actors. Liberated from the straight jacket of actual scripts and free to adlib to their hearts' content, these wily actors researched the classes which were coming to the show and then mercilessly savaged their teachers from the stage, much to the enthusiastic approval of the pupils. At least that's how I remember it.

I also noticed in one of Cecil's slides, I think it was from Hamlet, the crowns worn by the King and Queen. It reminded me that myself and some classmates were drafted by Tomás Mac Anna to make such crowns for the panto. Sheets of golden cardboard, coloured cellophane, like from the old boiled sweet papers, and an assortment of staples, glue and paper fixers were the commonplace ingredients of these magnificent headpieces.

Cecil has written a book, The Actor, which, while a riveting novel, is attested to have a well researched background of the times (beginning of the twentieth century). You can read a review here, which I suspect is from Cecil's wife. Sounds good.

Cecil's talk was one of two at a seminar, in Dublin City Library and Archive (23/11/2016), on Popular Theatre in Dublin in the context of Explore Your Archives Week.

You can hear and read Cecil's earlier talk on the Queens, given during Heritage Week in August 2016, here.

1 comment:

Póló said...

My friend, Cathal Cavanagh, has pointed out another connection.

Mick Eustace, who was member of the Happy Gang, ended up working as a messenger in the Department of Finance, where both Cathal and I worked.

You can read Cecil Nash on Mick here