The best of Irish theatre: this year's nominees

Sat, Jan 12, 2013, 00:00

Announcing 'The Irish Times' Irish Theatre Awards shortlists for 2012

‘It was an amazing year for opera,” Sinéad Mac Aodha says , as she and her fellow judges, Damian Downes and John Fairleigh, discuss the shortlist for the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards for 2012. The evidence is the unprecedented number of nominations this year for Irish opera companies across the categories. Not including the four nominations for best opera – “and it was a struggle to whittle them down”, Mac Aodha says – opera is strongly represented in the technical categories.

“People can forget that opera is essentially a theatrical medium,” Fairleigh says. “That was the reason it was first brought into the awards, and we saw such quality in every category – cutting-edge sets, brilliant direction – so of course we weren’t going to segregate it.”

The strength of the opera tradition in Ireland was one of the big surprises for the judges this year, especially in light of the ongoing controversy about the restructuring of funding mechanisms for the medium. “There may be less [opera],” Downes says, “but it is of a very high standard. From what we saw, it is not in crisis; it is thriving.”

If the shortlist for 2012 reflects anything, it is the vibrancy of theatre and opera throughout the country in a climate where arts funding is shrinking in all contexts. Fairleigh and Mac Aodha have both judged the awards before, when the arts were more generously funded, but, regardless of the recession, they agree there is probably more work to see now. “Sometimes it is of varying quality, much of the time it is on a smaller scale, but overall the volume of high-standard work is still probably the same, ” says Mac Aodha.

For Fairleigh, “it was particularly heartening to see the explosion of new work by young companies,” in the years since he last sat on the judging panel.

“What is clear is that there is a new confident generation who are aspiring not to join the mainstream but to forge their own path. These are making work about their own lives, and they are talking to each other, people who you might not see in a conventional theatre.”

The work did, however, suffer from a lack of technical expertise. In that context, “there was no sense of this work being funded, but you got the sense that the telling was its own reward.”

The strength of emerging talent, however, presented the judges with a problem: “how to compare something with a budget of €20,000 or €30,000 with something that is being produced with limited resources,” as Downes says. “We saw some great short pieces and a whole bunch of new work that was really polished and well attended, but these types of awards don’t really cater for them. It really highlighted for us the vibrancy away from the mainstream, and if we were to leave any legacy in our handover [to the new judges] it would be to lobby for the creation of a new category to acknowledge emerging work.”

In the bigger theatres the year was marked by several “faithful and invigorating productions of brilliant plays. It just goes to show how a modest approach to directing classic work can be so illuminating,” Fairleigh says.

Lack of new plays

They were disappointed, however, by the lack of new plays being produced by the major theatres. While acknowledging that “the notion of the play as central to the theatre has diminished in Ireland over the last few years”, Fairleigh maintains that a paucity of new work is coming through in the mainstream, despite heavy investment in development processes by the larger theatres and companies. “So little of that work actually gets to the stage. Instead you get new versions of Shakespeare or new translations of classic texts or adaptations of work by big names,” he says.

“It’s not a crisis, but it is definitely a cause for concern,” Mac Aodha says.

“Perhaps there might be room somewhere for a dedicated space where new work could find a sympathetic audience,” Fairleigh suggests.

Several other things stood out for the judges when evaluating the year in theatre as a whole. For Mac Aodha it was “the astonishing breadth of talent among our actors and the lack of good roles for women actors in mid-career”.

For Downes it was “the energy in Belfast. They have two amazing new spaces, and, though the work is not quite there yet, you can see the trajectory it is going to take in the future.”

And for Fairleigh it was “seeing how invested the people involved in the work were. The reception we got everywhere was remarkable,” he says. “And it served only to reinforce a sense of ownership of the work and how much they valued their freedom to do it.”

This year’s Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards will take place at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on Sunday, February 24th

The awards and the judges

The judges:

Sinéad Mac Aodha is the director of Ireland Literature Exchange, the Government-funded organisation that promotes Irish literature abroad, primarily in translation. A former literature officer at the Arts Council, she is on the boards of Irish Theatre Magazine and the Franco-Irish Book Festival.

John Fairleigh is an honorary director of the Stewart Parker Trust and of the Ireland Romania Cultural Foundation, and a member of the advisory council of the Abbey Theatre. He is also editor of two Methuen anthologies of contemporary Irish plays.

Damian Downes is the registrar and secretary at the National College of Art and Design. Prior to that, he was the chief executive of Kilkenny Arts Festival from 2007 to 2011. He has previously worked for the Irish Film Institute and the Helix.

Best production

Alice in Funderland

Written by Phillip McMahon, composed by Raymond Scannell and directed by Wayne Jordan for the Abbey Theatre and thisispopbaby.

Pinter X 4

Four short plays by Harold Pinter, directed by Peter Reid for AC Productions

DruidMurphy

Plays by Tom Murphy, directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre Company.

Farm

Directed by Sophie Motley for WillFredd Theatre and Absolut Fringe Festival

Best actress

Cathy Belton

As Mary in The House Keeper, written by Morna Regan and directed by Lynne Parker for Rough Magic Theatre Company

Caitriona Ennis

As Young Girl in The Boys of Foley Street, directed by Louise Lowe for Anu Productions and Dublin Theatre Festival

Catherine Walker

As Maeve Brennan in The Talk of the Town, written by Emma Donoghue, directed by Annabelle Comyn for Hatch Theatre Company, Landmark Productions and Dublin Theatre Festival.

Eileen Walsh

As Betty in A Whistle in the Dark, written by Tom Murphy and directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre Company.

Best actor

Aaron McCusker

As Algernon Moncrieff in The Importance of Being Earnest, written by Oscar Wilde and directed by Graham McLaren for the Lyric Theatre, Belfast.

Marty Rea

As Michael in A Whistle in the Dark, written by Tom Murphy, directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre Company

Declan Conlon

As Christy in The House, written by Tom Murphy, directed by Annabelle Comyn for the Abbey Theatre

Garrett Lombard

As Tom in Conversations on a Homecoming, written by Tom Murphy and directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre Company.

Best supporting actress   

Jacqueline Boatswain

As Mrs Muller in Doubt - A Parable, written by John Patrick Shanley and directed by Andrew Flynn for Town Hall Theatre, Decadent Theatre Company and Everyman Palace Theatre.

Marie Mullen

As Missus in Conversations on a Homecoming, written by Tom Murphy and directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre Company.

Eleanor Methven

As Mother in The House, written by Tom Murphy and directed by Annabelle Comyn for the Abbey Theatre.

Grace Kiely

As Millie in The Mai, written by Marina Carr and directed by Róisín Stack for Mephisto Theatre Company.

Best supporting actor

Owen Roe

As Shelley Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross, written by David Mamet and directed by Doug Hughes for the Gate Theatre.

Gavin Drea

As Des in A Whistle in the Dark, written by Tom Murphy, directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre Company.

Aaron Monaghan As Liam in Conversations on a Homecoming, written by Tom Murphy and directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre Company

Lorcan Cranitch

As William Shawn in The Talk of the Town, written by Emma Donoghue and directed by Annabelle Comyn for Hatch Theatre Company, Landmark Productions and Dublin Theatre Festival.

Best new play

Quietly

Written by Owen McCafferty and directed by Jimmy Fay for the Abbey Theatre.

The House Keeper

Written by Morna Regan and directed by Lynne Parker for Rough Magic Theatre Company.

Halcyon Days

Written by Deirdre Kinahan and directed by David Horan for Tall Tales Theatre Company and Solstice Arts Centre

The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle

Written by Ross Dungan, directed by Dan Herd for 15th Oak Productions and Absolut Fringe Festival

Best opera production

Flåtpäck

Composed by Tom Lane and directed by Conor Hanratty for Ulysses Opera Theatre

The Turn of the Screw

Composed by Benjamin Britten and directed by Oliver Mears for Northern Ireland Opera

A Village Romeo and Juliet

Composed by Frederick Delius and directed by Stephen Medcalf for Wexford Festival Opera.

Pagliacci

Composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo and directed by John O’Brien and Michael Barker-Caven for Everyman Palace Theatre and Cork Operatic Society.

Best costume designer

Peter O’Brien

For The Talk of the Town, written by Emma Donoghue; and for A Woman of No Importance, written by Oscar Wilde and directed by Patrick Mason for the Gate Theatre.

Richard Kent

For Titanic (Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioners Enquiry, 1912), written by Owen McCafferty and directed by Charlotte Westenra for The MAC and Patrick Talbot.

Lisa Zagone

For Pagliacci, composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo, directed by John O’Brien and Michael Barker-Caven for Everyman Palace Theatre and Cork Operatic Society.

Best sound designer

Little John Nee

For Sparkplug, written and directed by Little John Nee for Absolut Fringe Festival.

Tom Speers

For Macklin: Method and Madness, above, written by Gary Jermyn and Michael James Ford and produced by Antelope Productions and Bewleys Cafe Theatre.

Carl Kennedy

For Doubt - A Parable, written by John Patrick Shanley and directed by Andrew Flynn for Town Hall Theatre, Decadent Theatre Company and Everyman Palace theatre.

Best set designer

Jamie Vartan

For A Village Romeo and Juliet, composed by Frederick Delius and directed by Stephen Medcalf for Wexford Festival Opera.

Naomi Wilkinson

For Alice in Funderland, written by Phillip McMahon, composed by Raymond Scannell and directed by Wayne Jordan.

Joe Vanek

For Orfeo, written by Claudio Monteverdi and directed by Ben Barnes for Opera Theatre Company.

Best lighting designer


Nick McCall

For The Great Goat Bubble, written by Julian Gough and directed by Mikel Murfi for Fishamble and Galway Arts Festival.

Thomas Kluth

For The Barber of Seville composed by Gioacchino Rossini and directed by Dieter Kaegi for Lismore Festival.

Simon Corder

For L’arlesiana, composed by Francesco Cilea and directed by Rosetta Cucchi for Wexford Festival Opera.

Best director

Oliver Mears

For The Turn of the Screw, composed by Benjamin Britten, produced by Northern Ireland Opera.

Annabelle Comyn

For The House, written by Tom Murphy and produced by the Abbey Theatre.

Andrew Flynn

For Port Authority, written by Conor McPherson and produced by Decadent Theatre Company.

Louise Lowe

For The Boys of Foley Street, produced by Anu Productions and Dublin Theatre Festival.

Judges' special award


Tom Creed and the city of Cork

For the original and dynamic use of local spaces during Cork Midsummer Festival.

Karl Shiels

For his selfless commitment to the development and promotion of new talent in Irish theatre.

Stephen Rea

For keeping alive the Field Day tradition of developing and presenting new Irish plays in Derry.

Blue Teapot Theatre Company

For giving a voice in theatre to actors with intellectual disabilities.