Edward Gordon Craig’s screens received a not insignificant amount of attention the Irish press. This attention focused on two seminal periods. In 1911, on the screens debut on the Abbey stage and in 1913 on the occasion of an exhibition devoted to Craig’s screens in Dublin.
There was some expectation in the run up to the screens debut at the Abbey. They were to be first employed in a double bill, Lady Gregory’s The Deliverer followed by W.B. Yeats The Hour-Glass. In January In 1911, a short piece speaks in great anticipation of the screens being used for the first time at the Abbey Theatre “This week will be one of exceptional interest at the Abbey Theatre as the Gordon Craig’s new scenery will be used for the first time. This remarkable invention has been much discussed in theatrical circles both in England and on the continent. Lady Gregory’s new play “The Deliverer” will be presented for the first time and will be the first played with the new scenery. It will be followed by Mr Yeats’s morality play “The Hour Glass” for which Mr Craig himself painted the scene and designed the costumes.” (Irish Times, 11 January 1911). An article in the Freemans Journal described the mechanics of the screens and interviewed W.B. Yeats about the reasoning behind the screens “The primary value of Mr. Craig’s invention, is that it enables one to use light in a more natural and more beautiful way than ever before…..it is now possible to substitute in the shading of one scene real light and shadow for painted light and shadow…the extraordinary beauty of delicate light and shade”. (Freemans Journal, 10 January 1911).
A few days later in a review in The Irish Times, the reviewer praises the practicality of the screens and hopes that the new method of staging will “enable the Abbey Theatre Company to shorten its intervals, and make an evening at the theatre a brighter experience”. He praises the many “striking points of merit” of the new system of staging and the “application of genius to the methods and details of staging”. He surmises that “the main point, however is the fact that the new settings are far better than the old”. He describes the scenery as an “arrangement of neutral tinted scenes” and the only props being the Wise Man’s seat “built of the name neutral tinted material” and the Wise Man’s illuminated book, bell and the hour glass. He spoke of the “variations in the lighting of the stage which supplied as powerful an aid to the expression of the emotional progress of the play as that afforded by incidental music in many productions”. (The Irish Times, 13 January 1911).
The screens did not receive the same applause the following year when they were used to stage a further two plays at the Abbey, Lady Gregory’s The Canavans and Dr Douglas Hyde’s The Thinker and the Fairy. A commentator in The Irish Times noted that unless the staging was upon the Gordon Craig method and they would have “otherwise would not have aroused more than a passing notice”. The journalist goes on to comment “Though there is much to be said in favour of Mr Craig’s system of lighting and scenic arrangement, it can hardly be said that its merits are best illustrated in a play such as “The Canavans”…” and continues to remark that this new method is best suited to plays such as Dierdre and The Hour-Glass rather than a “grotesque comedy”. (The Irish Times, 16 February 1912).
There was sufficient interest in Gordon Craig’s ideas to warrant an exhibition in the Central Hall on Westmoreland Street for a week in March 1913 (The Irish Times, 15 and 17 March 1913). In conjunction with this exhibition there is an interesting interview with Yeats about Gordon Craig’s method. Yeats calls Gordon Craig “The most influential producer and stage director in Europe”. (The Irish Times, 8 March 1913).
There are other small references to Gordon Craig as a set designer over the next couple of decades in the Irish Press. While set design would hardly be a regular feature of discussion in mainstream newspapers today, it must be remembered that theatre was one of the main attractions of the period and discussed and critiqued as such.