about the play


Richard Ellman is trying to solve a mystery. In 1917, a young bride on her honeymoon suddenly fell into a trance, and began receiving messages from beyond the grave. Where did the voices come from, and what did she believe?

The newlyweds were W.B. Yeats and his wife George. Yeats’s Ghosts tells the true story of the poet’s obsessive passion for Maud Gonne, his improbable marriage to George Hyde-Lees, the strange events of 1917, and the poetry it inspired.

The show incorporates an original dance work from acclaimed Winnipeg dancer and choreographer Alexandra Elliott, using music composed by Yeats’s friend, the poet Ezra Pound.  

From the writer of Let Me Freeze Your Head

“★★★★” CBC

“A must-see” Mooney on Theatre (Toronto)

Shortlisted for the Harry S. Rintouil Award for best new Manitoba play




Yeats’s Ghosts is based on one of the most remarkable stories in modern literature. In 1917, the poet W.B. Yeats was despondent after his proposal of marriage was rejected by his great love Maud Gonne. He impulsively proposed to a young woman, George Hyde-Lees, whom he knew from meetings of the various spiritualist societies to which he belonged. While the couple were on their honeymoon, George went into a trance and began writing messages she claimed to have received from the spirit world. After several months of these “automatic writing” sessions, she and her husband used the messages to construct a symbolic system that inspired his later poetry, regarded as some of the finest ever written in English.

Did Yeats think these were really messages from beyond? Did George? In 1946, after Yeats’s death, the scholar Richard Ellman travelled to Ireland to talk to her and find out. A Yale professor, Ellman had been assigned to the intelligence service during the war. He later wrote a book, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, that discusses the automatic writing and its significance for Yeats’s poetry, and that describes his own meetings with George and his attempts to learn the truth about the automatic writing. However, he never resolved definitively what the couple actually believed about the messages they received.



The Cast

(in alphabetical order)

Steed Crandell: Major John MacBride, Ezra Pound

Darren Felbel: Richard Ellman

Neil McArthur: W.B. Yeats

Sarah Struthers: Maud Gonne

Claire Thomas: George Yeats

The Dancers: Zorya Arrow, Emma Beech

The Instructors (Voices): Jessica Gonzalez, Charlie Peters

The British Commander (Voice): Graham Padgett

Director: Darren Felbel

Choreographer: Alexandra Elliott

Stage Manager: Stephanie Blanchette

Writer: Neil McArthur