In a year that the Theatre Royal closed in May for a refurbishment yet to happen and with the gloom of recession in the last quarter, this review of 2008 has a diversity, a richness, a variety, and a lot of work to cover. In that same time, with no Opera Festival, I saw at least ten musicals including three David Hennessy youth productions. WIFLO put on a Festival Favourites in Christ Church Cathedral that included at least fifty percent of songs never heard at the festival.
Garter Lane filled the gap with a wide range of productions like Turn Of The Screw, The Third Policeman, Abigail’s Party, Eclipsed, Woman In Black and the premiere with Stagemad of The End Of Pirate Radio by Kieran Stewart. Stagemad Theatre Company furthered their reputation for new work with two new plays, Misery by Anna Jordan and Catch The Wind, written and performed by Adam Wallace, that caught the mood of the Imagine Festival. Wallace has put down the marker, and his game is on. Stagemad will repeat his and Jordan’s work at Garter Lane middle of January 2009.
Moondharrig Players had a success with Run For Your Wife, with a wonderful performance from James Conway. Carrick-on-Suir’s Brewery Lane Theatre excelled with a fine A Doll’s House; a new director, Enda O’Driscoll, debuted with them for A Place With The Pigs.; Peg Power directed the Ibbsen and later shone with an amazing production of Hugh Leonard’s DA with a superb Tom Nealon in the title role.
Dungarvan re-opened the Town Hall Theatre and Dungarvan Drama Club served up big cast productions of Arsenic And Old Lace and an excellent Whiteheaded Boy by Lennox Robinson. They also brought a production from America of The Fantasticks to open a twinning relationship. Compared to the risk taking of Dungarvan, Waterford Dramatic Society only managed two lots of short plays and some reheats at that.
MusicalsOn the musical theatre front, the lack of an Opera Festival was hardly noticed; in fact, at this year’s Theatre Royal AGM there was no mention of this significant festival. Bryan Flynn got his wish with a full stage production of his composition Michael Collins and this production is to be revived in 2009 at the Cork Opera House.
Edmund Rice Society has an AIMS award winning G&S, The Mikado and Carrick-on-Suir likewise with a zippy Swing Mikado. De La Salle opened the year with Annie Get Your Gun with a splendid performance by Gretta Rochford in the title role. She took over the stage with vivacity and energy. New Ross had an indifferent Little Shop Of Horrors and a fine Clown.
Bowler Hat Theatre Company brought musical magic and a touch of sophistication to Garter Lane with the popular US show, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Andrew Holden made his stylish debut as director with a brilliant cast of Tobie Hickey, Dermot Keyes, Gabrielle Cummins and Vicki Graham. This show will return for Valentine’s Day 2009.
De La Salle College had two excellent shows in their Sports Hall with a rockin’ good Grease and an amazing Hot Mikado that brought Gary Power back into the limelight with gifted direction and an exceptionally goof Paul Barry set. The self same designer, Paul Barry, had a great year with two quality sets for David Hennessy Stage School, with Cinderella and a clever Guys And Dolls. David Hennessy also impressed with these kids shows and an exciting High School Musical for Dungarvan Youth.
Waterford Youth Arts
It was golden time for Waterford Youth Arts with a bunch of their graduates shining in the professional sphere. Andrew Macklin was in The Abbey for The Three Sisters and also starred as Troy in Fair City. Deirdre Dwyer got a prestigious bursary to study design in Wales, Shane Barry brought out his own CD Album, Blanaid de Roiste joined the script team of Fair City and Ros Na Run. Nick Kavanagh toured with Red Kettle and Marcus Quinlan worked in two touring Galway theatre companies. They had an improvised and very indulgent Etcetera but made magic with a complex set of commissioned plays in Diversions from the Imagine Festival.
This project organised by Robert Browne, another WAY alumnus, was set on a bus with the action on and off on a route across the city over ninety exciting minutes. This project gave a great chance for young directors to shine and young actors to excite at close range.
Most impressive was a beautiful Adam Wallace play from another WYA beginner.
Little Red Kettle had a luminous hit on their hands with a stunning Ben Hennessy production of Romeo And Juliet, with great production values and two wonderful teenagers in the title roles. Alex Browne was an excellent Romeo and Holly Browne shone like a star in the star-crossed heavens as the radiant Juliet.
This production was brought back by popular demand and then Red Kettle had an impressive and imaginative production of Climb in a collaboration between Eoin Lynch and Ben Hennessy. It took a fresh and physical theatre approach to Mallory’s three attempts on Everest and I would hope that The Arts Council would support a touring production in 2009 as this work deserves a greater audience number to experience how Red Kettle make theatre enjoyable and exciting.
Youth also shoed its paces in the area of dance with a continuing increase in devotees of Hip Hop and Breakdance. Margaret Hunter’s Ballet Academy had original work in The Dream Makers and the De Braam School had a beautiful costumed Coppelia with Shauna Ridgard in fine form. Libby Seward launched her professional dance theatre company – Animated State – with a rich and textured Rag And Bone Shop Of The Heart with a splendid set by Ben Hennessy and lighting by Conor Nolan.
Once again Waterford City Council took a creative initiative here by significantly supporting this first professional dance company. Again it was a great year for Conor Nolan, the City Arts Officer, who led the way with important support and not just cash funding in areas like the Sean Dunne Writers’ Festival sustained support for youth rock and folk musicians.
This was a year that the Imagine Festival came into creative flow and with City and Failte Ireland funding, it showed what can be achieved. Nolan also improved facilities at Greyfriars Gallery by installing projection equipment that gave the fledgling Waterford Film Festival a great base to work from. He also brought Childrens’ Irish theatre to that space and revamped interest in the Arts Form. No wonder Waterford City Council was second only to Galway in per capita support of the arts.
A new Mary Street gallery came and went but not before they launched a major Clare Scott show, Road Trip. Greyfriars had an excellent Ben Hennessy exhibition, Journey To Lir, and an international Helnwein show. Henlwein changed the art face of Waterford with his huge and controversial canvases on public places. The girl’s portrait on the derelict Grain store was an amazing effect to bring art out of the gallery into the glare of public viewing.
Manifesto continued to support local and national artwork but the event of the year for me was in a house in Wilkin Street during the Imagine Festival. Claire Meaney and Mary Grehan brought a list of contemporary artists and video artists in a wonderful show, Trick Or Treat for Halloween. Greta Falvey had a fine show in Dungarvan and she also won the Bulbulia Award.
Such was the richness and diversity of work that some excellent work didn’t seem to fit into the usual categories.
Mary Roper launched a successful Collected Works. Dave Duggan, now living in Derry, brought out a major collection of plays – Plays In A Peace Process and it is only a matter of time until some local company does this work justice.
The Barrack Street Band shone under Mark Fitzgerald’s baton. Sopranos Caroline Reid O’Brien and Bridget Knowles excelled in solo concerts at Christ Church Cathedral. The Booley House in Co. Waterford continued to delight and made several television shows. John Grubb wrote, devised and produced a fine multi-media show, Hound, that gathered an excellent set of technical artists to his side.
With Martin Cullen, as Arts Minister, things look set-fair for a significant 2009 and in times of gloom and doom the arts survive, mainly because of their low-cost base. However the wealth of talent needs constant revitalisation and support and it will always be a hard task despite its diversity.
As is customary I again list my notional and virtual awards for work and performances that deserve better recognition and individual support.
Best Male Performer:
Tom Nealon for Da
Best Female Performer:
Holly Browne in Romeo And Juliet
Trick Or Treat by Claire Meaney and Mary Grehan
Best Youth Production:
Diversions from Waterford Youth Arts
Best New Play:
Catch The Wind by Adam Wallace
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change from Bowler Hat
Best Young Performer:
Vicki Sheridan for The Hot Mikado.