Wayne Brown – on his Facebook site wrote: So That’s It – the end of another Theatre year . . . from Bugsy Malone in January to Hairspray in December! It’s been a busy one!
And because of his talent and musical commitment, it is people like Wayne who go a long way to underpin and practically support a lot of musical theatre in Waterford. He is peerless, with his patience and dedication and he knows the highs and lows of the entertainment business.
Bugsy Malone might not have been a high point but from it, Gary Power, of Gary Power Productions, in true show-business fable, turned a small setback into becoming the success story of Theatre in 2009 and he did it without Arts funding – I don’t suppose he even bothered to approach the Arts Council. But he gave the public what the public discovered they wanted. He had a smash hit with a difficult, big cast play – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and brought it back to meet genuine public demand. Then he had the hit of the season at the re-opened Theatre Royal with Stags And Hens, which extended its run and will return for more in 2010.
Who would have said that two plays with local casts would be the talking points of theatre in Waterford. I wouldn’t have, until I saw them for myself and I experienced the best of acting and performance.
Garter Lane Arts Centre continued to give great value and diversity and surprised and wowed people with Faulty Towers – a hilarious dinner/theatre experience at Dooley’s Hotel. Lily O’Reilly, deputising for Caroline Senior, supported the fledgling Stagemad Theatre who reprised Adam Wallace’s Catch The Wind, Anna Jordan’s Misery, James Cheasty’s Prisoner Of Silence and a new American play Sandbox, during the Imagine Festival.
Christ Church Cathedral developed a fine programme of Coffee Concerts under Lynn Cahill’s stewardship and she has also and more importantly developed a steady audience in that slot, on very modest subsidy.
Waterford City Council, through its Arts Officer Conor Nolan, spread small money further than I thought possible and he actively supported fledgling events and more importantly was the major port of call for individual artists, musicians and young dreamers. In the last three years, he has diversified the remit right across the board, with a young bank making it onto The Late Late Show, a film festival, a new professional dance company, artists studios and yes, there were shambles like Soma Gallery – seldom open – and he supported visual artists who didn’t want publicity.
Yes, the Theatre Royal re-opened with a re-dedication production but I’m not sure who or what it was re-dedicated to. There was no tangible marking on the passing of Anna Manahan or the life-long work of Larry Fanning and fine words butter few parsnips.
Yes, the refurbishment is beautiful, the art gallery area is good. I like the cafe ambiance but iconic buildings need more life blood, need more investment and much more activity, otherwise it will become a museum, not the peoples theatre.
Red Kettle Theatre struggled against adversity and reduced funding to go out and deliver on their dream with sensible people-friendly prices of €10 a seat in a tent beside the People’s Park – A Midsummer Nights Dream, that brought the public back and gave a new public an event to enjoy.
The big achievement in 2009 was the amount of youth events and the enterprise, the quality and the daring of these productions. Push Pull Productions impressed at Garter Lane with An Audience With . . . to introduce a public to the visionary writings of Jamie Flynn, Alan Cuff and the acting and writing skills of Dean Sullivan. I expect great things from this ambitious group. Dean Sullivan starred with Waterford Youth Arts in Diversions 2 and with Waterford Dramatic Society in a Sive revival.
In face, the Robert Browne organised Diversions 2 at the Court House, was a highlight of the Imagine festival who are just €100,000 short of being a major festival. If the Opera Festival does return in November 2010, it surely must be linked to an Imagine programme.
WAY also had the most disappointing production of Playboy Of The Sunny South East, despite having a professional director.
The Presentation Secondary School sang and danced up a low budget dayglo storm with a fine Godspell with Leah Kiely to the forefront with an exuberant performance. Richie Hayes Stage School not only moved to an impressive location at Six Cross Roads, but they brought a classy showcase to Garter Lane with a most memorable Luminous Instruments sequence featuring Florian Howlett.
Gary Power powerhoused up again to direct De La Salle College’s show, Little Shop Of Horrors, with amazing performances from Glenn Murphy as Musnick and Ann O’Riordan as Audrey. Ann was also the young star of Red Kettle’s Dream.
But it was the David Hennessy Junior Stage School that just wowed me for depth of cast, quality of set at a budget, inventiveness and for taking major risks with not one, but two new youth shows. Their Back To The 80s was rocking and entertaining with Glenn Murphy as a dynamo and a star fully formed.
Then at the closing of the year, the same company took on Hairspray and wow, and double wow, and star bursts of stars – at least eight principal parts and some new faces, who just shone. I floated out after this production and knew that youth had come up trumps. I had seen the future in a year I had seen Des Manahan impress in Candide and Dream. Seamus Power and Nick Kavanagh shone in that Dream in a tent, be in raptures about Michael Quinlan in Cuckoo’s Nest and Stags And Hens but it was youth that invigorated me and told me that theatre and the arts were in younger safer hands.
I saw three fine pantos from Portlaw produced by the doyen, the don, the duke – Nicky Cummins; a Dick meany Halloween panto in Carrick and a glitzy Waterford Panto from Bryan Flynn. Saw Flynn’s Michael Collins again and enjoyed Liam Butler who played Tevye in Carrick’s Fiddler On The Roof. Enjoyed a New Ross award winning Some Like It Hot. Loved Katie Honan in Navan’s premiere Jane Eyre and was wowed by Birr’s premiere The Likes Of Us. Des Manahan was powerful in Cork Opera’s Candide and was disappointed by the New Ross Into The Woods.
And I saw Quadrophenia in Blackpool and it made my year complete.
This was the year for photography and highlights were Sandra Thomson at the Coast Guard Centre, T V Honan at Christ Church and student Brendan Jackman at WIT City And Guilds show. Jackman has a solo coming in early Jan. 2010 at Index Gallery, Lady Lane Library.
Berna Lawton wowed me with her Greyfriars Exhibition and at the Index, Jackie Raftery’s The Ship Of Fools, was splendid.
Highlight was the Youghal reading of Russian legendary poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko. John Ennis stood head and shoulders above any competition with his third volume of Irish, Newfoundland and Canadian poetry. A major achievement. Michael Coady also completed a Gallery trilogy with the amazing Going By Water.
It had apparently become customary for readers to expect my Best Of lists for each year and while I don’t want to disappoint these loyal readers, I feel reduced to think these trophy-less awards can mean so much to people. Perhaps it’s the demise of the WLRfm Bausch And Lomb Arts And Entertainments Awards that creates interest in my list.
Well, this time, I went with an honest emphasis on youth and innovation.
Best Male Performer Glenn Murphy
Best Female Performer Ann O’Riordan
Best Company Gary Power Productions
Best Play : Stags And Hens
Best Musical : Hairspray
Best Set : Paul Barry
Best Make-up : Melanie O’Driscoll
Best Youth Performer Sarah Power
Best Spectacle : A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Best Literature : John Ennis
Best Art : Berna Lawton
Best Play Actor : Liam Meagher