Running over eight nights, this year’s New Ross Drama Festival brought a great mix of theatre and entertainment and had the biggest audiences in years as well.

On Sunday, 22nd March, I saw a big production of Juno And The Paycock from Kilmuckridge Drama Group and admired the clever set and fine lead performances of Richard Devereaux as a strong and blustering Captain Boyle;a sensitive and resigned Juno from Marie Johnston with Peter Corboy in fine form as Johnny. These big set, large cast productions, are mostly seen at such festivals and the small communities that take on the task are to be praised for keeping good theatre alive.

I enjoyed the Palace Players, Fermoy, production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir, in a quality functional set of a pub. I’m not a McPherson fan but this was a significant production with a wonderful performance from Sean Ahearn as Jack. I saw McPherson’s own production of this play in The Gate last year and I preferred Ahearn’s performance to that of Sean McGinley. Booley House star James Lehane was a strong Finbar and Noelle Clarke impressed as Valerie. In her adjudication Biddy White-Lennon faulted the slow pace, of the work, yet in McPherson’s own production the timing and mood was slower and more measured.

On the final night the award-winning Shoestring Theatre Group, Co. Cork, presented the one-man show by Marie Jones, A Night In November, about the impact of the 1993 Belfast location when the Republic Of Ireland played Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier. William Lyons gave a frantic over-paced performance of Kenneth McAllister, a Protestant Dole Clerk. One-man shows have not been a feature of these All Ireland drama festivals and this added a further discussion point to the play. The audience loved the style and content of the work which was the Premier Winner and will now go to Athlone in early May.

Shoestring also won Best Producer (Kevin O’Shea) and Best Actor. Noelle Clarke won Best Support Actress and Dermot Ryan, Best Support Actor for the Weir. Mark Redmond won two set awards.

I was lucky that the four shows I saw garnered three quarters of the awards.

At the Awards I met Jim Nolan and the mother of actor Padraig Delaney from Wind That Shakes The Barley. Tomas Kavanagh, Suzanne Sinnott and Johnny Caulfield for St. Michael’s Theatre made my visits happy and informative.