The beautiful, atmospheric 17th century Smock Alley theatre is one of the oldest purpose-built theatres in Europe.
- Opened in 1662 by Scotsman John Ogilby, who also created the first road map of Britain
- Oliver Goldsmith (author of She Stoops to Conquer) was one of many playwrights to feature here
- During a notorious riot in 1747, 50 drunken students from Trinity College tore up the building
- After a century as a theatre, the building then spent time as whisky store and later a church
- In 1811, it was the first Catholic bell to toll in Dublin in 300 years
- In 2009, an archaeological dig uncovered medieval wine bottles, tobacco pipe fragments, and an actor's wig curler
- In 2012, Smock Alley Theatre reopened its doors
- The theatre still has essentially the same look-and-feel as when it was opened in 1662
Smock Alley Theatre is a popular venue for a range of different events, including lectures, comedy, theatre, dance and musical performances. Contemporary plays are regularly hosted, although the venue is also popular for productions of Shakespeare and other classics, due to its special interior. The venue is also regular location for a number of Dublin festivals such as the Dublin Fringe Fest, Dublin Theatre Festival and the Dublin Writers Festival.
The theatre features four different spaces
- The largest is the Main Space, which is feels most like the original theatre
- The Black Box is a smaller, more contemporary space
- The Boys School is another small space, with more of a church feel
- The Banquet Hall, a beautiful upstairs space with large, stained glass windows, is mainly used as a commercial hire venue
Built in 1662, Smock Alley Theatre is one of three royal theatres built in Ireland and Great Britain to celebrate the Restoration of the King Charles II in 1660. They other Theatre Royals were London's Drury Lane (1662) and London's Lincoln's Inn Fields (1661). This was Scotsman's John Ogilby's second purpose-built theatre, having previously opened Ireland's first ever theatre on Werburgh Street in 1637. Smock Alley Theatre lost the title Theatre Royal for a brief period of time, and the title was claimed by a new theatre on Aungier street. Thomas Sheridan, godson of Jonathan Swift, became manager of Smock and Aungier theatres and was responsible for the many improvements made to both. Following the upgrades, he reclaimed the title for Smock. In 1750, the Aungier street theatre closed.
Playwrights and Actors
Smock Alley Theatre presented to the world the plays of George Farquhar, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Notable actors who performed there were Peg Woffington, Thomas Sheridan, Spranger Barry, and Charles Macklin. David Garrick, considered the greatest actor of the 18th century, played Hamlet for the first time at Smock.
Kelly complains that "a Gentleman, a Man of Family and Honour, has received a blow from a Player".
The Kelly Riots of 1747
It was also the site of some of the notorious 18th century Dublin riots, including the Kelly riots of 1747. At this time, audience members were prohibited from going on stage and were charged a fee for the privilege of going backstage to meet the actors. One drunken Trinity College student named Edward Kelly from Co. Galway, tested these rules by clambering on the stage and making his way into the dressing room of one of the actresses, whom he tried to assault. The manager and lead actor Thomas Sheridan confronted Kelly, and struck him. This was an outrage to the Trinity students, who considered themselves socially superior to mere 'actors'. Two nights later, about fifty "gentlemen" (as they called themselves) from Trinity attended a performance with malevolent intent. A riot broke out and they tore up the inside of the theatre.
In 1670, the upper galleries of Smock Theatre collapsed due to the instability of the ground beneath the building, which had been built on land reclaimed from the River Liffey. Restored, it collapsed again in 1701 and was finally abandoned in 1734.
The decision was made in 1735 to demolish the building and rebuild the theatre with a larger audience capacity. In 1758, however, a rival theatre opened and Smock Alley Theatre closed. After this time the building was briefly used as a whiskey store.
First Catholic Church in Dublin for 300 Years
In 1811, the building was converted to a Catholic church, when Father Michael Blake took charge of the building. It was named St Michael and John's Church after the medieval churches of St. Michael of the Hill (Dublinia) and St. John of Booth Street (Fishamble Street). Under British rule, Catholicism had been suppressed, and the Church had gone underground, with church services typically taking place in hidden locations. So, when Father Blake tolled the bell of St. Michael and John's Church in 1811, it was the first time in 300 years since a Catholic church bell had rung in Dublin. Charges were brought against him by the city alderman for the deed, and he was defended in court by a young up and coming lawyer named Daniel O'Connell -- "The Liberator", who would later bring about Catholic emancipation in Ireland.
Church Numbers Shrink
The church thrived for 175 years when, in the late 20th century, the number of parishioners started to decline and the church was deconsecrated in 1989.
Smock Alley Theatre Today
Today’s Smock Alley Theatre retains the beautiful stained glass windows and ceiling plasterwork that were present when Father Blake first tolled the church bell in 1811. The walls are the same walls that stood in the first theatre. The 178 seats, dressing rooms, and green room facilities are new.
Parking in the area can be difficult and expensive. If you park at the nearby Fleet St indoor carpark, you can get your ticket validated at the theatre, for a much reduced rate.
The schedule of current events, ticket prices and theatre policies can be found at the Smock Alley Theatre website.
Entrance to Smock Alley Theatre. Image by Elizabethe
Appeal to the Publick. Image: icollector.com