MONTREAL — Ben Barnes, the artistic director of the Abbey Theater, will leave his post at the end of 2005 after a six-year extended term in the job.
He has told the Irish media that the issue of his contract being renewed at the theater “did not arise” and that his decision to leave was mutually agreed on between himself and the Abbey’s board.
While Barnes has been criticized for conservatism in his programming, a press release issued July 2 announcing his departure stressed the theater’s current successes, including John McColgan’s production of “The Shaughraun,” which is playing to 90% capacity on the Abbey mainstage.
The announcement came amid controversy about the postponement of two productions previously announced for the Abbey’s centenary season: Both “Drama at Inish,” by Lennox Robinson, and “Smokescreen,” a new play by Paul Mercier, were dropped from the 2004 schedule in the Peacock Theater, the Abbey’s second stage. Directors had already been contracted for both productions.
Abbey execs offered differing reasons for the schedule change: Ali Curran, director of the Peacock, told the Irish Times it was due to “cash-flow issues,” while managing director Brian Jackson told the same newspaper the concerns were logistical and not financial.
Chairwoman Eithne Healy offered yet another view when she told the Sunday Times the problems were indeed mainly financial and that the centenary programming has been overly ambitious.
The controversy played out in Barnes’ absence: He is in Toronto directing Brian Friel’s “Translations” for Soulpepper Theater Company, to open July 16.
Barnes directs frequently for Canadian theaters, including the Theatre du Nouveau Monde and Centaur Theater Co. in Montreal; he says he is currently in discussions with the Shaw and Stratford festivals about working there.
Richard Ouzounian in Toronto contributed to this report.