Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by seeing Irish theatre and Irish actors onstage
If you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, then head to a theatre! Both the West End and Broadway are teeming with Irish talent — hardly surprising, since Ireland itself has a long and remarkable theatrical tradition.
William Congreve, one of the leading poets and playwrights of the Restoration era, grew up in Ireland and studied at Trinity College, Dublin. In the following centuries, the country produced great playwrights like Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer), Richard Sheridan (The Rivals and The School for Scandal), and Dion Boucicault (London Assurance, The Octoroon).
Oscar Wilde’s remarkable social comedies, like An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, are still treasured today, while fellow Irishman George Bernard Shaw is renowned for his more polemical work, like Major Barbara, Saint Joan, and Pygmalion.
More recently, Ireland has produced the likes of John Millington Synge (The Playboy of the Western World), Seán O’Casey (Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars), Enda Walsh (Disco Pigs, Once), Conor McPherson (The Seafarer, Girl from the North Country), Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Hangmen), Marie Jones (Stones in His Pockets), and of course the great modernist Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot, Endgame). Not to mention the stream of wonderful actors, directors and creatives, and great Irish stories – like Jez Butterworth’s play The Ferryman.
Here are some of the exciting productions you can book for now in London and New York featuring talent from Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Irish theatre in the West End
See Jessie Buckley in Cabaret
Rebecca Frecknall’s revelatory West End revival of Kander and Ebb’s musical has transformed the Playhouse Theatre: From the moment you walk down into the murky basement, where dancers hide behind beaded curtains or slink across the bar, you’re in a different world. And at the centre of the action is Sally Bowles, played by Irish actress Jessie Buckley.
Buckley first rose to fame as a teenager thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV talent show I’d Do Anything, designed to find the next Nancy in Oliver! She finished as the runner-up and went back to study at RADA. It’s certainly paid off: She’s had a rich and varied career since, including Shakespeare productions, TV series like War and Peace and Chernobyl, and films such as Wild Rose, Judy and The Lost Daughter.
She also brings real dramatic heft to her rich portrayal of Sally Bowles, opposite Eddie Redmayne and Omari Douglas, including haunting renditions of “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret” which pierce the heart and prove that this searing revival is the show for the moment.
See Killian Donnelly in The Phantom of the Opera
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary musical is still a West End favourite thanks to the composer’s sweeping score, the production’s jaw-dropping Paris Opera House design, and the story’s stirring love triangle between budding soprano Christine, her childhood friend-turned-wealthy suitor Raoul, and her singing teacher: the mysterious, sewer-dwelling Phantom.
The key role of the Phantom is currently being played by the great Irish musical theatre leading man Killian Donnelly. It’s a homecoming for Donnelly, who last played Raoul in the show. He’s renowned, too, for his performances in Les Misérables, working his way up from a swing to Enjolras and then Jean Valjean, plus playing Courfeyrac in the 25th Anniversary Concert and Combeferre in the movie adaptation. He also starred in Billy Elliot The Musical, The Commitments, Memphis, and Kinky Boots.
In 2021, Donnelly returned to play the title role in the West End Phantom, and is now bringing his considerable talent to this powerful production alongside Lucy St. Louis as Christine and Rhys Whitfield as Raoul.
See Stephanie McKeon in Frozen
It was only a matter of time before Disney’s film phenomenon came to the stage, with its musical theatre-ready score from Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Sure enough, Frozen debuted on Broadway in 2018, starring Patti Murin and Caissie Levy, and featuring all of the film’s hits as well as new songs like “Monster.”
Michael Grandage’s sumptuous production uses clever design, special effects, and puppetry to evoke the magical Arendelle and characters like Sven and Olaf, while Jennifer Lee’s book expands on the relationship between the two sisters — making those lead roles even more enticing. But who would play them in the West End?
Samantha Barks was cast as Elsa, and Dublin-born Stephanie McKeon got the part of Anna. McKeon has a strong track record, having played Natalie in The Commitments and Cynthia Weil in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, but this is a star-making role for her — and one that’s earned her a much-deserved Olivier Award nomination.
Irish theatre in New York
Watch Eugene O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet
The Irish Repertory Theatre in New York is staging O’Neill’s great play about the tragedies of the class system. A Touch of the Poet is set in the rundown Melody’s Tavern, in a village near Boston in 1828. Owner Major Cornelius “Con” Melody is a debt-ridden social climber who desperately wants to be perceived as a gentleman and war hero – not as someone with humble Irish roots. Though completed in 1942, the play wasn’t performed until after O’Neill’s death, in 1958.
O’Neill was the son of first- and second-generation Irish immigrants, James O’Neill and Mary Ellen Quinlan. After spending several years at sea, he devoted himself to writing, producing extraordinary plays like Anna Christie, The Iceman Cometh, and Long Day’s Journey into Night.
O’Neill’s work is often revived not just because of its artistic quality, but because so many of its themes still resonate. That’s certainly the case with A Touch of the Poet, which tackles immigration, disillusionment, pride, family, and the American dream.
See Rachel Tucker in Come From Away
Like Jessie Buckley, the Northern Irish actress Rachel Tucker was a finalist on I’d Do Anything. Since then, she’s starred as Meat in the Queen musical We Will Rock You and played Elphaba in Wicked in the West End and on Broadway — the latter for over 1,000 performances, making her one of the longest-running Elphabas ever. She also originated the role of Meg in Sting’s musical The Last Ship.
Tucker is currently starring in Broadway’s Come From Away. This funny, surprising and deeply moving musical tells a remarkable true story: on 9/11, thousands of plane passengers were stranded in a small town in Newfoundland. There, they found love and kindness from the locals, in the midst of an international tragedy — the best of humanity in the worst of times.
Tucker first played the pioneering Captain Beverley Bass and Newfoundland teacher Annette in the original West End run of the show, and was nominated for an Olivier Award. Now, she’s reprising those roles in the beautifully heartfelt Broadway production.
Watch Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen on Broadway
Martin McDonagh’s play, Hangmen, was due to open on Broadway in 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic scuppered the original 2020 run, and the show played two weeks of previews at the Golden Theatre. Now, Hangmen returns for a second life at the Golden Theatre in spring 2022.
Hangmen sees Britain’s second-most famous executioner, Harry, without a job as hanging has been abolished. How does Harry console his new-found life? Drink. But when a cub reporter and strangers turn up to drink by Harry’s side, everything balances precariously.
Martin McDonagh is a British-Irish playwright and is the son of Irish parents who were born in County Sligo and County Galway. Many of McDonagh’s plays focus on Irish settings: The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Cripple of Inishmaan, to name a few. Hangmen marks McDonagh’s seventh play on Broadway and will be a jewel in the playwright’s Broadway career.
Visit the Irish Repertory Theatre
The strong links between America and Ireland’s cultures are honoured by the great Off-Broadway Irish Repertory Theatre, founded in 1988 by Ciarán O’Reilly and Charlotte Moore with the aim of illuminating the Irish-American experience through art. The venue found its permanent home in 1995 and now features two spaces: The Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage and the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre.
The Irish Rep’s premiere production was Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, and since then it has staged over 190 shows — plus won plaudits like the Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad from President Michael D. Higgins, special awards from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk, and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Body of Work.
Recent productions at the Irish Rep include Angela’s Ashes: The Musical (based on Frank McCourt’s novel), Annie Ryan’s adaptation of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, and Dion Boucicault’s The Streets of New York. Its current season features A Touch of the Poet, two JM Synge plays — In the Shadow of the Glen and The Tinker’s Wedding — and the New York premiere of Jaki McCarrick’s Belfast Girls.