Leading lights

Tue, Mar 1, 2011, 00:00

The state of Irish theatre is in robust good health, if comments by some of its top names are anything to go by, writes PATSY McGARRY

It could hardly be expected that any event celebrating Irish theatre these days would escape the political drama at national level. So it was no surprise that the election outcome animated so much conversation at The Irish TimesTheatre Awards in Vicar Street.

Playwright and Wexfordman Billy Roche, for instance, was delighted at the performance of Independent Mick Wallace, who topped the poll in that constituency, calling it “great . . . and refreshing”. In general, Roche said “recession was good for the arts”, and that people in the sector were used to challenge.

He was particularly enthused about Mosshouse, the new company he has founded with old friend, actor, and fellow Wexfordman Gary Lydon “to bring my plays to my own people” and elsewhere. Lydon and he go back to the late 1980s, when the actor began his career in A Handful of Stars, one of Roche’s earliest successes.

The Mosshouse company will bring Roche’s latest play, Lay Me Down Softly, to the Project in Dublin from March 8th, after a successful run at the Wexford Arts Centre. Set in the 1960s, it is the highly colourful story of Delaney’s Travelling Roadshow.

Someone else not intimidated by the recession is Lynne Parker, one of Ireland’s most successful theatre directors, who said that “we will, all of us, as ever meet the challenges”. And Rough Magic, the company she helped found, “has no intention of dying now” but has exciting plans for the future. “Obviously there are challenges, but sometimes I feel recessions bring out the best in people. Besides, we never really benefited from the boom.”

Playwright and broadcaster Vincent Woods is working on a new collection of poetry, and a new play which is “political, but in the broadest sense”. As with much of his previous work, the poems are set in his home ground of Leitrim. Woods is a believer “in going back to that well again, where any writer will find the door to which only he/she has the key”.

Actor Rosaleen Linehan has enjoyed a successful run at London’s Young Vic playing Mag Folan in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Linehan has been nominated for an Evening StandardBest Actress Award for her London performance, in which the part of the daughter Maureen was played by Susan Lynch. Linehan will reprise her role when it transfers to Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre in May, with Derbhle Crotty taking over the role of Maureen.

Ingrid Craigie, who is simply wonderful in a hilarious double act with Dearbhla Molloy as sisters Kate and Eileen in Druid’s current production of McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaanat the Gaiety, began the current international tour with the play in Roscommon last January. They have since been to Boston and Washington and return to the US before concluding the tour in Inish Meáin next June.

Craigie said she was delighted with the reception the play received, including a standing ovation in allegedly cooler Washington. (There were reportedly six standing ovations in Boston.) That’s just the way they are in Washington, it seems. She was “thrilled with the reception there, too”.

RTÉ’s Susan Jackson said she and husband, Lorcan Cranitch, have attended every one of The Irish TimesTheatre Awards these past 14 years. “It is such a fantastic night for the theatre community and is the only time when they can all get together,” she said. Cranitch is currently rehearsing at the Abbey for a forthcoming production of Pygmalion, in which he plays Alfred Doolittle.

For Cranitch, Shaw’s polite comedy is somewhat at a remove from No Escape, a dramatisation of the Ryan Report at the Peacock last April. Counsellors were on hand, with “a few stops”, he said, as actors dealt with their own emotional responses to the material, he said. During it, Cranitch had “the great privilege” of meeting Judge Seán Ryan, who presided over the commission that prepared the Ryan Report.