Queen's Theatre

Queen's Theatre

In Brief

The funeral cort├Ęge in Hades passes "the Queen's theatre" at 209 Great Brunswick (now Pearse) Street, one of several major theaters mentioned in Ulysses, along with the Theatre Royal and the Gaiety Theatre. Of these three purveyors of popular entertainment the Queen's Theatre set its sights lowest, though for a time in the 1950s and 60s it housed the more prestigious Abbey Theatre. It closed its doors in 1969.

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The Queen's Royal Theatre, commonly called the Queen's, opened in 1844. In the following decades it often staged Irish melodramas, written by Dion Boucicault and others. In Hades Bloom thinks of attending a musical version of Boucicault's Colleen Bawn: "Or the Lily of Killarney? Elster Grimes Opera company." The theater also produced countless flimsy plays on Irish figures like St. Patrick, Wolfe Tone, and Robert Emmet. In his foreword to Joseph O'Brien's Dear, Dirty Dublin (1982), Hugh Kenner calls the "endless minor plays on Irish historical themes" the equivalent of westerns in 20th century America (ix).

By the end of the 19th century the theater was staging Victorian precursors of what came to be known as "variety shows," with assorted acts predominantly musical and comical. The quality of some of these can be gauged by the Cyclops narrator's description of the Citizen "shouting like a stuck pig, as good as any bloody play in the Queen's royal theatre." As variety theater supplanted music-hall shows in the mid-20th century, the Queen's led the way with acts like the Happy Gang, a group of comedians and musicians.

From 1951 to 1966 the Abbey Theatre Company took over the building after its own theater burned down. But as Philip B. Ryan observes in his The Lost Theatres of Dublin (1998), these fifteen years marked a very low ebb in the ambitions of Ireland's famous art theater. By the end of the Abbey's uninspiring run, variety shows had largely been killed off by television, and the Queen's lasted for only a few more years. In 1975 it was demolished to make way for a modern office building, just as the Theatre Royal had been in the 1960s.

JH 2020
Entry in the 1885 Era Almanack describing the Queen's Theatre. Source: www.arthurlloyd.co.uk.
The Queen's Theatre for sale in 1968, in a photograph held in the RTE archives. Source: twitter.com.