Photography: Ros Kavanagh

Eimer Murphy is the Prop Master at the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre. In 2017 she completed a Masters Degree in Material Culture Design History at the National College of Art and Design, submitting a thesis which examines anecdotal and little understood attitudes and behaviours around props, and applied material culture and behavioural psychology theories to unlock some of the reasons behind them. She also presents at academic conferences, notably for the Irish Society for Theatre Research, and at the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies conference in 2019. She is a guest lecturer at the Lir Academy in Dublin and at University College Cork, and is also the author of a chapter entitled “Props to the Abbey Prop Man”, a tribute to legendary Prop Master Stephen Molloy, which appears in the Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Irish Theatre.

Eimer Murphy

“That which is rare is wonderful”- old Irish proverb

In Theatre Journal’s 2012 issue, editor Ric Knowles notes that: “Theatre practice has always and inevitably dealt with stuff, in all of its messiness. It engages with the ‘thingness’ of the material world in ways that few other art practices do.” His observation that the theatre also “generates things in abundance” resonates. As Prop Master of the Abbey Theatre, I wrestle daily with an ever-expanding collection of the most wildly varying objects: from mobile phones to chandeliers and everything in between. These are the things of plays: objects conceived of in writers imaginations, and materialised by successions of Prop Masters before me. Props earn their keep by appearing and reappearing on our stages, constantly being re-invented and re-used: the ultimate in recycling. But with storage space in short supply I must ruthlessly confront each prop, weighing its individual merits under a cold list of criteria in order to decide which ones to keep. Some are significant props from important plays, others are antique items, rare and difficult to source. The concept of the Abbey stores as an “accidental archive” occupies me as I wrestle with the practicalities of housing this extraordinary, irreplaceable collection. Take the rolls of ‘Nottingham’ lace sourced for our 2012 production of The Dead. It had been made by Haddow, Aird and Crerar, a lacemaker in Scotland’s Irvine Valley, for 150 years. In 2012 they were about to retire the machines that wove the Nottingham, and so the Abbey bought up the last run of this lace that was ever, or will ever, be made.