It is difficult to determine precisely whether stage design at the Abbey Theatre was a response to ideological imperatives or to financial constraints. Both probably played a significant part. Certainly after the break-up of the Irish Literary Theatre Society at the close of its third season in October 1901 money was scarce. Between 1901 and December 1904 when the Abbey came into being, theatrical activity was focused on W. G. Fay's amateur group, known first in 1902 as the Irish National Dramatic Company but after 1903 as the Irish National Theatre Society. Though there was a wealth of ambition among the members and varying degrees of staging and acting skills, the budget was markedly limited. Design, of necessity, had in practice to be minimal so the accompanying aesthetic focused on minimalism.
By 1903 Annie Horniman had begun to direct some of her small private fortune to assist in the appropriate staging of Yeats’s plays (The King’s Threshold in 1903 and On Baile’s Strand for the opening of the Abbey in 1904). Wanting to have a direct hand in the proceedings, she took over the design of the costumes with very little knowledge of the principles which must govern choice and matching of colours to achieve satisfying stage images. Her work on The King’s Threshold produced a riot of tints, textures and shapes for what is fundamentally an austere morality play.
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