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Michael D Higgins, Senator Dr. Katherine Zappone and Fiach MacConghail, photographed during the 2011 Irish presidential election. Photo by: Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Despite wide criticism, Abbey Theatre declares: We’re still relevant

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Michael D Higgins, Senator Dr. Katherine Zappone and Fiach MacConghail, photographed during the 2011 Irish presidential election. Photo by: Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland

The Abbey Theatre in Dublin has hit back at reported criticism that it is no longer producing world-class plays.

Abbey director Senator Fiach MacConghail has described a report of an independent private assessment as “cruel” and undermining the trust between the theatre and its artists.

The Irish Times reported that an independent assessment had found the Abbey, Ireland’s national theater, was struggling to meet its aim of being a world-class theater.

An international independent assessment panel was appointed in 2012 in an attempt to resolve difficulties between the Abbey and the Arts Council which gave it grants of €7.1 million last year.

Assessment reports were obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The paper says it discovered some Abbey productions were judged by individual assessors as not reaching even “an acceptable standard for professional theatre presentation.”

The assessors found that just four of 12 recent productions were “very good” or “excellent,” or very close to it.  Four productions ranked as “good” and four were judged to be somewhere between “acceptable” and “good.”

No production was judged by more than one panel member to be world-class.

Mac Conghail declined to comment to the paper’s report. He would only say the assessment process was not yet complete and he felt it would be premature for him to comment.

But on the Abbey’s own website he issued a statement that publication in the Times of the reports, when the private evaluation process was only halfway done, was “cruel.”

“The whole arts sector is working with diminished resources. It means I have to make tough decisions so that the investment in our art can be maximized to the best of our ability and that value for money for the Irish tax-payer can be achieved,” he said.

“I am proud of every play that we have staged at the Abbey Theatre. I am proud of every artist who chooses to collaborate with us to achieve theatre on a bigger, more ambitious scale than any other Irish theater.”

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