Liam Murphy’s Arts Review of 2017
In general terms, 2017 was a bit of a mixed bag. The buzz of the 1916-2016 Commemoration has dissipated with some ‘carry-over’ before the 1918-1921 Remembrance funding scrabble begins.
The awaited Arts Strategy Waterford City & County 2016 – 2021 came out as ‘A Shared Vision For Waterford Arts’. Its aim to “feed positively into the Council plans for the present and near future” and to “act as a catalyst for creative change for our region” is well-meant with its themes of Value, Sharing and Evaluating.
But it comes at a time when the implications for Arts and Brexit haven’t been particularly teased out at national level. There seems to be conflict coming between the Government preference for a policy called Creative Ireland and the ‘at arm’s length’ policy of The Arts Council.
Waterford will begin to see the impact of a shared operation of Music Generation with Wexford and the new Government policy promising a music education for all children in its Education policy. The Cultural Quarter will shake up the thinking but it is possible that there will be more ‘top-down thinking’ rather than ‘bottom-up consultation’.
It was an impressive year for plays, at a time when nationally some theatre companies are deploring the uncertainty of touring grants, and in some cases, companies are saying there isn’t an audience for plays anymore, outside of Dublin. This year across the South East I saw such a range and variety starting with a South Tipperary company Standout Theatre at Central Arts with The Birds. In Dungarvan, the ambitious and adventurous Curtain Call Productions impressed with Closer, directed by Fidelma Meaney, that toured to Festivals. This company had their Dungarvan audience in stitches with Cheshire Cats by Gail Young. I understand they will take a Neil LaBute misogynistic play Some Girls to Festivals in the Spring of 2018.
Dungarvan Dramatic Club was not to be outdone and staged two difficult plays, especially the Richard Bean comedy, One Man Two Guvnors where Con O’Sullivan gave an excellent and bewilderingly funny presentation of a man piling excuse on excuse with hilarious results. This involved split-second timing and a great supporting cast, as well as musicians onstage as required. This company also impressed with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men with Paul Barry delivering a very sympathetic performance as Lennie the man-child.
In Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick on Suir, I saw The House Of Bernarda Alba and the Sandra Power directed The Yank Outsider for the Clancy Festival. She also shone with Neill Bourke in the difficult Noel Coward play, Blithe Spirit, with lots of ghostly technical effects.
Central Arts had a quiet year with plays but had two productions on national tours, Pulled and The Collector ( I saw it again in the Theatre Royal and enjoyed Andrew Holden and Paula Weldon
That company, Ground Floor Theatre Company also staged Blink, where the audience joined the cast onstage. Conor Clancy with Strive TC presented his new play Will It Fit In The Van and he has a quirky comedy style. Also in Central, I saw Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me from Happy Robot with Gerry Kane and Darren Malone in fine form.
In Garter Lane, I remembered Denise Quinn in Tender Mercies, Jim Nolan’s touring production of Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. Jim directed a new Pat Daly play, The Hall starring Jenni Ledwell and Michael Quinlan. Quinlan returned to the Theatre Royal with the London version of Pat Daly’s Rigor Mortis Urbs Intacta Manet. There was The Quiet Land from Malachy McKenna starring Des Keogh and Derry Power. Stagemad staged Anna Jordan’s The January Show with a live band onstage. Irene Kelleher shone in her poignant one-woman show, Mary And Me.
Also at Garter Lane, I enjoyed the international Japanese Kyogen Theatre with some Lafcadio Hearn inspired pieces. A real treat. Somewhere in the mix I remembered Dubliners Women and Drinking In America. I liked the mixed media content of Petticoat Loose from Rigout Productions (script by Martina Collender and music by Eadaoin Breathnach). David Hennessy directed his new Theatre Company in a fine The Kings Of The Kilburn High Road with memorable performances from Dermot Keyes and Konor Halpin.
Michael Winkle closed out the year for me at Garter Lane with his memorable one-man show, The Cuckoo’s Late This Year.In New Ross, the Drama Festival was first class and I loved the Tara Ann Byrne directed, Tribes.Elsewhere in contemporary dance theatre I was very impressed with The Body Collective, choreographed by Jessica Rowell and featuring the colourful Natasha Everitt who also wrote, acted and danced with two others in Submerged, that I saw in Barnstorm Theatre in Kilkenny Arts Festival.
The range and spread of shows, many of them one-night events at the Theatre Royal has added to the cultural and tourism attractiveness of Waterford. A cross-section was: The High Kings, Pat Shortt, Neil Delamere, David Flynn, Johnny McEvoy, Des Bishop, The Butterfly Band, Liam O’Maonlai, The Magic of the Beatles, Waterford’s Got Talent, Billy Joel Songbook (Elio Pace), Leonard Cohen Mass, A Taste Of Beckett (starring Carrie Crowley and Arthur Riordan), Kate Bush Songbook, Jason Byrne, Brian Kennedy, Mad Ferritt, Reginald D Hunter, Country Classics, Nathan Carter, David Martin (The Singing Soldier) and The Kilfenora Band.
There seems to be a head of nostalgia gathering as people remember fondly the Waterford International Festival Of Light Opera and the response to Wayne Brown’s new Waterford Theatre Archive has been spectacular. This archive has fed the nostalgia and some find it hard to understand how the Festival slipped away, especially when the South East region has some of the finest musical theatre companies in Ireland.
Carrick on Suir Musical Society set the tone and it was pink. They decorated the outside of their theatre in pink and carried the motif into the auditorium. Louise Mulcahy, Irene Malone and Bobby Landers shone in their Legally Blonde production. New Ross Musical Society upped their game for Singing In The Rain with James McDermott and James Dobbs in great singing and dancing mood. A new Waterford company (possibly a one-off) Dats De Y, took on Sondheim’s Assassins where Rory Walsh, Ann-Marie Collins, Brian Tuohy and Paula Weldon starred at Garter Lane.
Kilkenny Musical Society excelled with a daring and difficult, Parade, that did well in AIMS Awards. South Eastern Theatre Group presented Bugsy Malone where the Stradbally Rogers Family (AlltheRogers on Facebook) were a unique selling point. Wexford Light Opera Society restored their top class image with 9 to 5 where Sharon Clancy, Aileen Donohoe, Maggs Jacob and Elizabeth Rose-Browne rocked the house. Waterford Musical Society tilted at windmills with Man Of La Mancha directed by Bill Stafford and Keith Flanagan and Dermot Keyes succeeded.
Irene Warren who starred in the original Bryan Flynn, Michael Collins wowed me in a one-woman musical, Tell Me On A Sunday, in the Everyman Cork. At the same venue, I saw Tom Creed’s excellent production of Owen Wingrave, the Benjamin Britten opera. Vicki Graham lit a fire under me with, In The Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and a great cast featuring Tom Rogers in a leading role.
Dungarvan Playhouse introduced a new star with Jessica Dwyer playing Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the Town Hall Theatre. South Eastern Theatre Group powerhoused back with David Hennessy’s take on Jesus Christ Superstar where Robert Vickers was splendid in the title role.
The second musical theatre company in New Ross – St Michael’s Theatre Musical Society impressed with Legally Blonde where Ashley Doran was the best Elle Woods I have seen in Ireland. Sean O’Brien was adored by the audience as UPS Guy who had a package to deliver.
Sean O’Brien also shone in the New Ross panto, Robin Hood. Terry Brennan delighted as the Dame and Keith Flanagan and Jenny Keogh were a great comedy double act. Portlaw Panto kept the standard high with Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves and in Carrick on Suir Boby Landers stole the honours in an over-wordy Robinson Crusoe. Take A Bow Theatre in Dungarvan took a new route with their Haloween entertainment, My Big Fat Freak Wedding written by Martine Rogers. Great script and a credit to a hard-working cast that included AllTheRogers, and I mean all the Rogers. Mary Nagle organised it all.
The Waterford Panto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the most professional and technically accomplished and Paula Weldon was great as Snow White. (Photo: Mick Wall)
Youth & Stage Schools
It was a good year for young people’s theatre and the Government announcement to revitalise music in schools should reap future benefits. It was heartening that WAMA stepped in to rescue TheatreBox and kudos to Trevor and Denise Darmody for doing so.
Once again, the Presentation Secondary Transition Year impressed with their approach and commitment to staging shows as part of their educational mission. Their Mark Scanlon is a leading creative here as well as a list of teachers who give lots of their time to furthering creative activities. Emily Grant and Leah Morrissey shone out in their Legally Blonde production.
Edel Quinlan and Centre Stage presented a colourful Alice In Wonderland with a fine mix of ballet and dance performance. Dungarvan Junior Stage School in the Sports Complex impressed with a David Hennessy directed Sister Act, where Brian Flynn was outstanding as the rocking Monsignor. Brian repeated this tour de force in the Garter Lane production of the same show for David Hennessy Stage School where Aisling Giles was splendid as Deloris.
I saw a circus-themed Waterford Youth Arts production in New Street Gardens and TheatreBox gave great value for money with Broadway Comes To Town. Little Red Kettle lit up the Theatre Royal with a beautiful and poignant Island Of Lost Children by Ben Hennessy.
Waterford Youth Arts challenged the audience with Martina Collender’s fine new work If The Lights Change and De La Salle College under Vicki Graham’s astute direction, raised the roof and the standards with We Will Rock You. St Paul’s Community College returned to stage a full-blooded Grease, directed by David Hennessy, with Alan Power and Jade O’Keeffe in excellent form as the summer lovers. Brian Flynn shone brightly here as well.
David Hennessy ushered out the year in Garter Lane with a festive treat for the family with a large cast (wall to wall children) Annie that had alternating casts. I was impressed by Robyn Forristal in the title role and Adam O’Neill was great as Warbucks in a comprehensive interpretation.
Art & Exhibitions
It was a mixed year for art and exhibitions. SOMA became GOMA and acquired new management but didn’t seem to establish a new identity. Previously this venue left a show on the wall for over a month. But in 2017 that didn’t seem to be the norm with short events that I hope attracted a new audience. I didn’t get to much there, but Ben Hennessy’s BOAT during Imagine was my highlight at GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art).I don’t see many local artists focusing on Waterford of the Ships, but Ben steered an imaginative course, part his unconscious and part the role ships have played in his career. I went back to look at his ‘enormous mural’ for the Book Centre from 1995 and central to it was a boat in all its glory. ‘Taking the Boat’ was an image Leslie Larson, the American novelist saw in his work and now he has taken the Boat image to another level of creativity.
In Garter Lane, I enjoyed First View for WIT students where Stephanie Harvey, Rory Van Dokkum, Anne Tweedy and Clare Scott impressed. During the WIT Degree Show at College St Campus, Clare Scott’s WAVE was a wow that embodied her surfing spirit and her fascination with ‘found art’ to make provocative statements.
Speaking of provocative art, Brenda Carroll with her Gaza show in the Rogue Gallery showed her crusading commitment to Palestine. This was art with a powerful resonance. In City Library, I enjoyed the LuAC group show, especially the paintings of Rosemary Dulson and Aidan Dunne. Liz Walsh was outstanding with Waterford Art Group in Garter Lane.
I saw an interesting mix of work in Carrick during the Clancy Brothers Festival and Rayleen Clancy had an impressive show at The Old Market House Dungarvan where I also saw work by Noeleen Crossan. The 20ten group have a small room in Lombard St but time and again they caught my attention with sculpture, paintings and a fine mix of artists and styles.
Winter Quintet at Greyfriar’s Gallery was probably the most promising mix of five artists: Rayleen Clancy, Tony Hayes, Ciaran Lynch, Anne McDonnell and Denis Power. (This exhibition runs until 27 January 2018).
The WIT library staff of Kieran Cronin and Peggy McHale organised two excellent exhibitions. Jews In Irish Literature in the WIT Library was impressive and Garter Lane exhibited the PhD work of Elizabeth Howard on Red Kettle Theatre Company and the memorabilia exhibited evoked a sadness and nostalgia.