The Hanging Gardens

Photos by Ros Kavanagh


The Hanging Gardens was the first new play by Frank McGuinness at the Abbey Theatre in 14 years. His play hung in a place somewhere between a real geographical location and a limbo. The drama had to be ‘suspended’ although mark the passing of time and the changing seasons of a landscape – a family crisis in which everything said has many meanings and implications – both delicate and somehow epic. This presented set design challenges because of its intimate dialogue on the wide-open spaces of the Abbey Theatre stage. It is a poetic play and although written in the location of the garden which of course presents naturalistic demands, the aesthetic needed to be heightened to the visual equivalent of poetic realism.

My solution to these factors was to bring the playing area as close to the audience as possible and embrace the ‘sweet spot’ of the stage with rusted steel panels that focused the audience’s attention and helped the acoustics, so that the actors could be heard without having to project unnecessarily. Director Patrick Mason and I must have positioned and repositioned the central character’s (Sam) chairs at least a dozen times on the plan, in the model and on the stage throughout rehearsals… trying to get the perfect angle and distance from the audience.


Frank talks about the mysteries of writing ‘The Hanging Gardens’…