High-profile actors drawn to theater's reputation

As Dublin’s Gate Theater celebrates its 80th year, its program bears the unmistakable stamp of the Gate’s provocative and dynamic director, Michael Colgan, who has run the theater since 1983.

Remarkably, Colgan’s directorate is only the second in the theater’s history. Gate was founded by Micheal MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards in 1928 to provide Irish audiences with access to European and American plays that did not feature in the Irish-focused repertoire of the established Abbey Theater.

Under Colgan’s tenure, the Gate has solidified a reputation for high production values that attracts a loyal middle-class audience (productions regularly play to more than 85% capacity).

Colgan also has lured film and television stars to trod the boards, while also putting on headline-grabbing festivals of major playwrights’ work, starting with the first-ever staging of all of Samuel Beckett’s 19 plays in 1991 (later immortalized as “Beckett on Film” by Colgan and Alan Moloney’s Blue Angel Films).

This commitment to Beckett is extended in July’s Lincoln Center “Gate/Beckett” program, devoted to the staging of pieces originally written for other media.

At Lincoln Center, Liam Neeson stars in “Eh Joe,” Atom Egoyan’s live staging of Beckett’s television play, which premiered at the Gate in 2006 (starring Michael Gambon) and subsequently played in London and Sydney (where Gambon was replaced by Charles Dance).

Ralph Fiennes will reprise his role in “First Love,” which premiered in Sydney last year and was directed by Colgan. The final element of the “Gate/Beckett” program is “I’ll Go On,” a monologue based on Beckett’s novels performed by Barry McGovern, which first played at the Gate in 1985.

The theater’s summer program alternates high-profile Irish and U.K. talent.

The first major Irish production of Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” directed by Tony winner Garry Hynes, features some of Ireland’s finest actors, including Sean McGinley and Denis Conway. Along with Gambon, the cast of the new production of Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” includes David Bradley (Argus Filch in the “Harry Potter” films) and David Walliams (star of the U.K. comedy series “Little Britain”), and will be directed by Rupert Goold (whose Patrick Stewart-starring “Macbeth” is currently on Broadway).

The new version of “Hedda Gabler” by venerated Brian Friel will be directed by up-and-coming Englishwoman Anna Mackmin.

Remarkably, the Gate has never toured Ireland with any of its productions, but will begin to redress that balance this year with a hugely ambitious tour of its storied staging of “Waiting for Godot.”

Walter Asmus’ production will play in 40 venues in all 32 counties of Ireland and Northern Ireland, playing each venue for one night only.

First seen at the Gate in 1988, production will feature its original cast (Johnny Murphy, Barry McGovern, Alan Stanford and Stephen Brennan).

The theater also plans this year to complete a wing that will include rehearsal facilities, an archive and a laboratory space for new and emerging talent.

While among the prettiest of Ireland’s theaters, the Gate’s 18th-century premises are not purpose-built and have long been acknowledged as inadequate. The Gate development project is the result of an extensive fund-raising campaign from private, corporate and government sources.

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