The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) has said it’s "in talks" with Guinness owner Diageo to revitalize the Rupert Guinness Theatre for community use.

The 600-seat theatre, located on Watling Street near the James’s Gate brewery in the heart of The Liberties, is currently vacant and would require significant investment for refurbishment.

Designed by brewery architect R. J. Bickford and named after the second Lord Iveagh, the building has the Guinness Harp insignia mounted above the door.

The theatre has been in and out of use for the past two decades and was loaned to NCAD on nearby Thomas Street for use as a lecture hall before the pandemic.

The Rupert Guinness Theatre opened in May 1951 with a production of Seán O’Casey’s play "The Shadow of a Gunman." Later that summer, the Abbey Theatre moved in for three months after a fire broke out in their own theatre.

Local historian James Madigan said the building was once a multi-purpose hall.

“In my memory, there was the Tops of the Town there, the little local variety shows, and I met the Guinness Choir when they rehearsed there," he told the Dublin Inquirer.

In addition to the choir, the theatre was used by several Guinness-related social groups, including the Guinness Players and the Guinness Film Society, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

The Guinness Choir performed there sporadically over the next four decades, and the Teachers' Musical Society used the venue for its theatre productions in the early aughts. 

The 2009 Liberties Local Area Plan had the idea to revive the venue and have it opened for public use by 2020, but the site remained vacant.

Diageo leased the theatre to NCAD in 2015 as a 300-seat lecture hall. Repairs were needed to bring the building up to health-and-safety standards, and it reopened in September 2016 as a lecture hall.

According to an NCAD spokesperson, the school stopped using the hall by 2019 due to leaks, which have since been addressed.

However, the spokesperson said NCAD is currently in talks with Diageo about the future of the venue, including the "possibility of broader community usage."

The spokesperson said: “Investment would be required for internal refurbishment to bring the space into College or public use."

Meanwhile, the Dublin City Council, which is currently conducting a feasibility study on a potential 500-seat multi-purpose venue for the city, has said that while the Rupert Guinness Theatre is being considered in its study, the privately-owned building's heritage value and long time neglect could mean a costly refurbishment.

In addition, it and other existing vacant theaters are "extremely limited" and would most likely not meet "modern performance space demands."