The newly refurbished Theatre Royal was officially opened on Thursday last by the Chairperson of the Arts Council, Ms Pat Moylan, who deputised for the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Martin Cullen, who was unavoidably absent in the Dail on NAMA business.
Prior to the staging of a new play by Bernard Farrell, ‘Wallace, Balfe and Mr Bunn’, the audience was addressed from the stage by Ms Moylan, the Artistic Director of the Theatre, Ben Barnes, the Chairman of the Theatre Royal Society, Eamon Flavin and the Mayor of Waterford, Councillor John Halligan.
Mayor Halligan described the historic theatre as ‘a jewel in the city’s crown that had been restored to its former glory’. He said the Theatre Royal had received ‘a timely polish’ and had been made ‘fit for purpose’ approaching the second decade of this 21st century. It was ‘entirely fitting’, he declared, that the opening show should be Bernard Farrell’s ‘Wallace, Balfe and Mr Bunn’ which showcased some of Waterford’s finest music and provided a direct link to some of the great traditions showcased within the theatre’s walls for well over 200 years.
He pointed out that the Theatre Royal held a cherished place in the hearts and minds of Waterford people and had been central to the city’s social and cultural life since the late 18th Century. “There can scarcely be a Waterford family that has not had a positive interaction with this great theatre, whether as performers or as audience members”, he said.
Continued the Mayor: “I now look forward to seeing the Theatre Royal go from strength to strength as a key part of Waterford’s social infrastructure and as a central element in our Historic Quarter which will see considerable investment in the coming period. Many of those brought here by the new crystal visitor attraction to be established on the other side of The Mall will, I am sure, also be interested in visiting this historic theatre and some of the other remarkable buildings in this part of our city.
“I also encourage the people of Waterford to make full use of this great theatre and attend as many as possible of the shows staged here. For our part, Waterford City Council will continue to support the arts to the greatest possible extent within available resources.”
Mayor Halligan said good theatre and art that reflected and responded to post-Celtic Tiger Ireland could support the transition process that everybody had to under-go as we adjusted to life after the ‘boom’. He pointed out that some of the very best Irish theatre and film in his lifetime had emerged during the 1980s and early 1990s which were certainly not times of great economic growth or social development.
He said there could be a temptation, when faced with the current economic meltdown, to think of public funding for the arts as a luxury that was nice to have when finances were buoyant but which could be done without in leaner times. “I feel this view is misguided”, said the Mayor.
“The theatre has been given fresh life and vitality with facilities that now bear comparison with any equivalent performance spaces in this country or overseas. Importantly, the work has been done without compromising on the building’s historic integrity. In fact, much of what has been achieved has involved opening out the building’s original fabric”, he added.
Praising all those who had worked on the Theatre Royal’s restoration project and remembering those who had contributed so richly to the theatre over the years, but who haven’t lived to see the reopening, Mayor Halligan said he sent the traditional ‘break a leg’ message of goodwill to all who would perform on its famous stage.