All for Hecuba: An Irish Theatrical Biography

By: Michael MacLiammoir


From his days as a child actor in London, sharing the stage with Noel Coward, to founding the Gate Theatre in Dublin with his partner Hilton Edwards, and undertaking ambitious tours to pre-war Europe, Micheall MacLiammoir. All For Hecuba combines autobiography with a biography of theatre and post-civil-war Ireland.

Warm, engaging, intelligent and witty, this vivid narrative, first published in 1946, describes the struggles and triumphs of the Gate’s early years, when MacLiammoir and Edwards brought international theatre to Dublin audiences with a series of innovative and experimental productions and designs directed with extraordinary panache.

As they set about transforming the landscape of Irish theatre, they enlisted new and established talent in a roll-call of personalities; Denis Johnston, Lennox Robinson, architect Michael Scott, Mary Manning, Padraic Colum, Ria Mooney, Sybil Thorndike, Christine and Edward Longford, and the blazing comet that was Orson Welles.

The conversion of the Rotunda Rooms into a theatre space, the constant threat of bankruptcy, the infamous Longford split, and pre-war tours to Europe, Egypt and North America, are all set down in a supple, elegiac prose that establishes All For Hecuba as more than mere history, but as literature.

In its eighty years, the Gate Theatre has had only two artistic directorates, the first shared by Hilton Edwards and Micheal MacLiammoir, the second by Michael Colgan, who provides a foreword to the reissue of this neglected classic.

MICHEAL MACLIAMMOIR (1899-1978), artist, actor, designer, author andproducer, founded the Gate Theatre, along with his partner Hilton Edwards, in October 1928. He wrote several stage adaptations as well as thirteen plays. Amoung them are Diarmuid agus Grainne (1928), Where Stars Walk (1940), Ill Met by Moonlight (1946), Home For Christmas (1950) and Prelude in Kazbek Street (1973).

His books include All For Hecuba: An Irish Theatrical Autobiography (1946), Put Money In Thy Purse; A Diary of the Filming of Othello (1952), Aisteoiri Faoi Dha Shoals – Dialann Mheanmhara (1956) later translated and published as Each Actor on His Ass (1960), and Enter a Goldfish: Memoirs of an Irish Actor Young and Old (1977). His one-man dramatic monologues, The Importance of Being Oscar (1960), I Must Be Talking to My Friends (1963) and Talking About Yeats (1965), brought him worldwide renown as they toured to the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, America and South America.

He received many literary honours: the 1957 Douglas Hyde Award, the 1960 Lady Gregory Medal for Literature and a Doctorate of Laws from Trinity College, Dublin in 1963. In 1973 the lord mayor of Dublin conferred on him the Freedom of the City.

‘Coralie, Hilton and I were walking down a country road near Limerick in a bitter wind that perfectly excused a nose that resembled a ripe cherry, and Coralie said, Let’s all have a drink, and we huddled over the turf fire in a back-parlour, grey with the rainy twilight. We’ll make a theatre if the only show we do in it is your bloody play. We three are going to get a bit of capital somehow, and we’ll open in Dublin before the year is out. The rain beat with dismal triumph on the rattling windows. Coralie kicked the turf so that a tall bright flame rose up and the low ceiling turned to amber. To the new theatre in Dublin! she said, and we clinked our glasses.’ – From ‘Tears in February’, All for Hecuba

‘He had that unwavering energy of those who are born for the stage, and after rehearsing the Duke all day and raging round the town from show to show, from Jimmy O’Dea at the Olympia to some earnest young group of Left players reciting Roar China in a gas-lit garage, he would gobble supper in Noonan’s or the Kitchen and harangue a group of Trinity students of Gaelic Leaguers or the like until the small hours, when he would return, if we gave him the permission and the keys, to paint flats for us at the Gate until somebody fished him up from a bucket or down from a ladder and gave him breakfast.’ – On Orson Welles, from ‘The Early Thirties’, All for Hecuba

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Weight 1 kg

October 2008