90 Years of The Gate Theatre

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Micháel Mac Liammóir and Hilton EdwardsThis year the Gate Theatre is celebrating 90 years since its opening in 1928, a historical and momentous occasion that shaped and changed the theatrical world for Dublin. To commemorate this occasion Dublin City Archives have put together an exhibition, Aspects of Micheál Mac Liammoir and the Dublin Gate Theatre filled with the history of the theatre and photographs which display the costumes, stage designs and productions from the founders of the theatre Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards. Book a free guided tour of this fantastic new exhibition with Dr Mary Clark, Dublin City Archivist this June.

Image: Micheál Mac Liammóir & Hilton Edwards outside Gate Theatre, 1974 (see larger version) Image courtesy Irish Theatre Archive at Dublin City Library and Archive.

The Gate Theatre was founded in 1928 by Micheál Mac Liammóir an actor who played in various plays from Peter Pan to King Lear and Hamlet as well as pursuing a career as an artist and Hilton Edwards who acted in Shakespearean plays and singing in their opera. The pair met while both on tour with Anew McMaster an actor-manager in Enniscorthy in 1927. Micheál and Hilton instantly became friends and would discuss their wish to bring a new kind of theatre to Ireland, one where Hilton could experiment putting new production methods into place while Micheal wanted Irish audiences to experience the visual elements of drama. The theatre proposed to host multiple modern and progressive plays as well as lectures, discussions and exhibitions on occasion.

Despite Micheál and Hilton both being well established figures in the theatrical world with the opportunity to open theatres anywhere across Europe they chose Dublin, simply because they both felt it was a place that had never been a forefront of theatrical experiment in comparison to what other cities like London had to offer in the theatrical world. The idea of the theatre was always an experimental one. Hilton said that the aim was to ‘experiment and explore’ and they must be prepared to fail often. But despite their realistic expectations that the theatre might not turn out to be a success it prospered and became a massive part of Irish theatrical history.

Hilton Edwards and Micháel Mac Liammóir

Micheál and Hilton examine props for The Signalman's Apprentice. Image courtesy Irish Theatre Archive at Dublin City Library and Archive.

The theatre opened in October 1928 in the Abbey’s Peacock Theatre with a production of Norwegian play Peer Gynt, Hilton and Michel made a compatible duo.  Hilton produced more than 300 plays at the theatre as well acting in many of them while Micheál wrote witty and original scripts and designed sets and costumes bringing the plays to life. After the success of the first season of plays the theatre moved into the Rotunda theatre. The stage was small, lack of room for storage of sets and no fly space but the theatre exceeded expectations and was one of the most exciting places to be in Dublin. The initial intent was for the theatre to eventually become a private one for its frequent visitors and their friends once the number of audience they attracted went up.

Gate Theatre

Dress rehearsals for a production of King Lear. Image courtesy Irish Theatre Archive at Dublin City Library and Archive.

In his book, The Mantle of Harlequin Hilton explained that although the Gate theatre was home to many plays written by Irish authors and based around Irish life, Hilton and Micheál always wanted the theatre to not just be a place of Irish productions but just a ‘theatre’, one that showcased all forms of theatrical expressions regardless of nationality. This is evident in the variety of plays that the theatre showcased from Shakespearean plays to Henrik Ibsen to Oscar Wilde. The Gate Theatre brought about diversity and excitement in the theatrical world at a time was Dublin was experiencing an era that lacked inspiration when it came to plays.

Gate theatre

A grand finale at the Gate. Image courtesy Irish Theatre Archive at Dublin City Library and Archive.

Despite intentions at the beginning for the Gate Theatre to become a private theatre for those who visited frequently and their friends, today the Gate Theatre is still a public building and place for anyone to visit and experience. The theatre remains a place that hosts a variety of plays from different nationalities with something to pique everyone’s interest. Hilton Edwards once referred to the theatre as a place that ‘exists to put at the disposal of our audiences, all the riches the theatre, past, present and future, culled from the theatre of all the world and irrespective of their nationality. A theatre limited only by the limits of our imagination.’ The Gate theatre has become a staple and historic place for the theatrical world, what started out as a small experiment for two ambitious friend that could have failed after the first attempt, Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards have created a theatre has remained throughout the years and provided entertainment to the Irish public for centuries and undoubtedly will continue to do so in the future.

Submitted by Irish Theatre Archive.


Great to read this. The early production where always so stylish. Best sear was the back row at one schilling!

The revival of peer gynt recalled the first production..
Looking forward to the talk and exhibition

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