Smock Alley Theatre – A Tour
Last week I had a pleasure of embarking on a tour through the history of Smock Alley Theatre, unquestionably one Dublin’s theatrical hidden gems. Originally set up in 1662, as one of three major theatres across the UK and Ireland, it marked its reign with on-stage extravaganzas and real-life dramas. Reopened in 2012, this architectural wonder stages a diverse and creative programme of events, right in the heart of the Irish capital.
The tour launched with a quick look at the stoic facade of former SS Michael and John Church, which was set up in 1811 by Fr Michael Blake. I quickly learned that the Padre was a pretty adventurous chap, not afraid of breaking rules in order to draw attention to his parishioners. Soon after the opening, he equipped the church with a bell to call people for a prayer. It was the first Christian bell to be heard in Dublin for almost 300 years, which caused a lot of stir, and led to Fr Blake’s imprisonment by the local authorities. Charges were later dropped, thanks to his lawyer Daniel O’Connell (yes, THAT Daniel O’Connell). We could hear it toll just at the end of our excursion.
We stepped through a glass entrance to the side, to view the original grey-stone front, now hidden from curious eyes. Actors would learn numerous plays by heart, and the audience would choose their preference at the end of each day. The cast needed to please viewers, otherwise there would be an outbreak of rotten vegetables, and I am pretty convinced the fourth wall must have been invented to creative safety barriers in front of the stage. A few minutes later, we were back in the open-plan reception, admiring old church pillars and a stunning floating ceiling in the Banquet Hall. It is held by 300 ropes, and quite recently obtained fine plaster to keep the heat in.
Our next stop was The Boy’s School, an unusual space, with a ceiling that appears to be jutting out into the night-sky. It has already hosted a number of plays, aerial shows and even a pop-up restaurant, showing the adaptability of the space. Through spacious The Banquet Hall, we moved to the crypt to look for a pipe-smoking ghost and a stone sarcophagus. In the past the church had stored up to 100 bodies, before it was deconsecrated, and the spirits remain, apparently roaming corridors of the theatre, leaving a scent of burnt tobacco behind.
They key room is Smock Alley Theatre, a large space with an impressively wide stage. In the 17th century it was lit by 1000 candles each night, which must have been a spectacular view. We were told that actors were praised by audience by throwing their own coats or silk pieces to secure warm landing during death scenes. It was also where my group had a chance to recite Hamlet’s famous ‘To Be or Not to Be’. We passed the actor’s test and received a cert for performing on the stage, dated 1662.
If places could speak, Smock Alley Theatre would be a loveable rascal with a feather hat treating us with anecdotes. It is absolutely magical mixing the pearls of theatrical past with contemporary present. With upcoming the Dublin Fringe Festival and Dublin Theatre Festival, it will take you on an adventurous rollercoaster. And I am definitely buying a ticket in.
Tours are available upon a request. To learn or to book a tour, please contact the theatre at 01-6770014 or email email@example.com.