The best of Irish theatre: this year’s nominees

Announcing the ’Irish Times’ Irish Theatre Awards shortlist for 2013. Terrible financial circumstances did not limit the diversity of productions, from knockout operas to one-man shows

Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 13:00

Skip to page 2 for list of nominees

For the judges of the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards, 2013 has not quite ended. “You’re not supposed to see this,” Emilie Pine tells me as they huddle over a long list of names, annotated with pencil. This list is the distillation of 12 months’ viewing professional theatre around the country. Pine, a lecturer in drama and Irish studies at University College Dublin, leads a brisk, incisive conversation as she and her fellow judges, the actor Fergus Cronin and the journalist Alan O’Riordan, attempt to narrow it down.

Two things are remarkable. Firstly, after a year of such conversations, they still seem to get on. Secondly, having seen upwards of 150 productions between them, they still love theatre. “It’s a miracle,” says Pine.

One of the inevitable consequences of determining a shortlist of the best achievements in Irish theatre is that the judges are full of conversation about what’s not on it. “It’s the teacher in me,” says Pine, “but it’s like giving feedback only to people with an A grade. If you had a much longer list or brought in new categories, it would be much more inclusive and perhaps more reflective of what has been an incredible diversity of productions made under really terrible financial circumstances. We wanted to celebrate that diversity.”

To take the shortlist as a survey of theatre in Ireland in 2013, you might draw some broad conclusions. With 11 nominations, it was an exceptional year for the Gate Theatre, whose production of A Streetcar Named Desire is cited in six categories. With just three nominations, the Abbey had a less successful year, with Owen Roe and Hugh O’Conor recognised for their performances, and Gaby Rooney for her costumes, in King Lear, but no other work at the theatre – and, significantly, no new play – featuring elsewhere in the nominations.

Pan Pan leads the independent sector for its bold production of Beckett’s Embers, and its director Gavin Quinn is nominated for two shows: Embers and Opera Theatre Company’s Carmen. Although there are deserved nods for Bush Moukarzel’s Lippy, Rosemary McKenna’s direction on Way to Heaven, and Joanne Ryan’s performance in What Happened Bridgie Cleary, the list is dominated by more established theatre companies. Does that reflect the year accurately?


Integrity, ambition and talent
O’Riordan describes the discrepancy between theatre produced at different levels, those with meagre resources that succeed modestly “but nonetheless with integrity, ambition and a lot of talent”, and big-budget traditional theatre. This underlines the widening gap between younger companies and established stalwarts in an era of dwindling resources and increasing resilience.

Were companies less inclined to take risks this year? “The Abbey did three new plays on the main stage,” says Pine. “They were sticking their necks out. That’s not reflected in the shortlist because they weren’t enormously successful.” O’Riordan says: “We’re saying that they’re taking a risk, but they should lessen the risk by involving more in the creative process leading towards production.”

What defined theatre in 2013 in their eyes? “I thought, during the first half of the year, if I saw another one-man show I was going to have an epic fit,” says Pine. This, they agree, is a consequence of economics – solo shows are thriftier and more portable – but the monologue, the dramatic form of isolation and resilience, might reflect an embattled time. One such play is Mikel Murfi’s The Man in The Woman’s Shoes, which is nominated for best new play. “One of the greatest experiences for me was to see the incredible warmth that it generated between audience and performer,” says O’Riordan. “So there may be life in the one-man show after all.”


Masses of prejudice?
Judges, it is often suspected but rarely admitted, are individual masses of prejudice thinly disguised as objective assessors. Cronin, Pine and O’Riordan are refreshingly frank about their own tastes and how they challenge and complement each other. Yet they are in perfect accord when asked about the state of opera in Ireland. “The sense of theatricality was very strong, and the direction of the productions we’ve nominated was particularly powerful,” says Pine.

The Judges’ Special Award generally serves to acknowledge efforts that might otherwise go overlooked. It’s significant that the New Theatre has been nominated, more for its mission than its individual productions, which the judges admired for consistently producing new work. Together with recognising the canny nationwide tours of Decadent Theatre Company, the form-pushing agenda of Anu Productions and the academic engagement of Carysfort Press, it recognises particular resilience.

So has it been a good year for theatre? There is a moment’s hesitation. “I don’t think it was a brilliant year,” says Cronin, finally. “The writing, without being cliched, is down in a major way.” “The talent is there,” counters Pine. The four pieces nominated for Best New Play, for instance, “are very contained. They really achieve what they set out to achieve and they know where their boundaries are.”

Awards are, inevitably, a recognition of the best an art form has to offer in a given year, and in theatre they are a record of a year in an ephemeral business. But, win or lose, they can also be something more useful: an encouragement to do better still.

This year’s 'Irish Times’ Irish Theatre Awards take place on Sunday, February 23rd, at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, in Dublin. The judges are:

Alan O’Roirdan is the editor of Playography Ireland at the Irish Theatre Institute and a journalist at Storyful. He has written extensively about theatre and the arts for Irish newspapers.

Dr Emilie Pine lectures in modern drama at University College Dublin. She is the author of a book on Irish theatre, culture and performance. 'The Politics of Irish Memory: Performing Remembrance in Contemporary Irish Culture’, and is assistant editor of the Irish University Review.

Fergus Cronin works with arts, media and community organisations and is a former theatre practitioner

 

The Nominees

Best actor

tomTom Vaughan-Lawlor 
In Howie the Rookie, written and directed by Mark O’Rowe for Landmark Productions.
 
Ryan McParland
As Isaac in Summertime, written by David Ireland, and directed by Michael Duke for Tinderbox Theatre Company.
 
 
Simon Callow
In The Man Jesus, written by Matthew Hurt, and directed by Joseph Alford for the Lyric Theatre, in Belfast.
 
Owen Roe
As Lear in King Lear, written by William Shakespeare, and directed by Selina Cartmell for the Abbey Theatre.
 
 
Best Actress
 
olynOlwen Fouéré
In Riverrun, written by James Joyce, and adapted by Olwen Fouéré and directed by Olwen Fouéré and Kellie Hughes for the Emergency Room and Galway Arts Festival.
 
Joanne Ryan
As Bridgie Cleary in What Happened to Bridgie Cleary, written by Tom MacIntyre, and directed by John Murphy for Bottom Dog Theatre Company.
 
Lia Williams 
As Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, written by Tennessee Williams, and directed by Ethan McSweeny for the Gate Theatre.
 
Orla Fitzgerald 
As Clare in Digging for Fire, written by Declan Hughes, and directed by Matt Torney for Rough Magic Theatre Company.
 
 
Best costumes
 
seoFrancis O’Connor
For Mrs Warren’s Profession, written by George Bernard Shaw, and directed by Patrick Mason for the Gate Theatre.
 
Antony McDonald 
For The Importance of Being Earnest, written by Oscar Wilde, and directed by Antony McDonald for NI Opera and Wide Open Opera. 
 
Saileóg O’Halloran 
For Thirteen, directed by Louise Lowe, Will Irvine and Bairbre Ní hAodha for Anu Productions Productions and Dublin Fringe Festival. 
 
Gaby Rooney
For King Lear, written by William Shakespeare, and directed by Selina Cartmell for the Abbey Theatre. 
 
 
Best director
 
roseEthan McSweeny 
For A Streetcar Named Desire, written by Tennessee Williams, and produced by the Gate Theatre.
 
Annie Ryan 
For Desire Under the Elms, written by Eugene O’Neill, and produced by the Corn Exchange. 
 
 
Rosemary McKenna
For Way to Heaven, written by Juan Mayorga, and produced by Rough Magic.
 
Gavin Quinn 
For Embers, written by Samuel Beckett, and directed by Gavin Quinn produced by Pan Pan Theatre, and Carmen, produced by OTC.
 
 
Best lighting
 
lighMark Howland 
For The Man Jesus, written by Matthew Hurt, and directed by Joseph Alford for the Lyric Theatre.
 
Aedín Cosgrove
For Embers, written by Samuel Beckett, and directed by Gavin Quinn for Pan Pan Theatre.
 
Sinéad McKenna 
For Howie the Rookie, written and directed by Mark O’Rowe for Landmark Productions.
 
Stephen Dodd
For Riverrun, written by James Joyce, and adapted by Olwen Fouéré and directed by Olwen Fouéré and Kellie Hughes for the Emergency Room and Galway Arts Festival.
 
 
Best new play
 
shoesThe Games People Play 
Written by Gavin Kostick,and directed by Bryan Burroughs for Rise Productions.
 
The Man Jesus
Written by Matthew Hurt, and directed by Joseph Alford for the Lyric Theatre.
 
 
Guaranteed!
Written by Colin Murphy, and directed by Conall Morrison for Fishamble: The New Play Company.
 
The Man in the Woman’s Shoes
Written and directed by Mikel Murfi for Hawk’s Well Theatre and Sligo Arts Service.
 

 

Best Opera


operThe Importance of Being Earnest
By Gerald Barry, directed by Antony McDonald for Wide Open Opera and Northern Ireland Opera.

L’Elisir D’Amore
By Donizetti, directed by Oliver Mears for Opera Theatre Company and Northern Ireland Opera.

Cristina, Regina di Svezia By Jacopo Foroni, directed by Stephen Medcalf for Wexford Festival Opera.

Carmen
By Bizet, directed by Gavin Quinn for Opera Theatre Company.

 

Best production

lippLippy
By Busk Moukarzel and Mark O’Halloran, directed by Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel for Dead Centre.

A Streetcar Named Desire
By Tennessee Williams, directed by Ethan McSweeny for the Gate Theatre.

Howie the Rookie
Written and directed by Mark O’Rowe for Landmark Productions.

The Threepenny Opera By Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, directed by Wayne Jordan for the Gate Theatre.


Best Set

mLee Savage
For A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, directed by Ethan McSweeny for the Gate Theatre.

Andrew Clancy
For Embers, by Samuel Beckett, directed by Gavin Quinn for Pan Pan Theatre and the Samuel Beckett Theatre.

 

Owen MacCarthaigh For A Skull in Connemara, by Martin McDonagh, directed by Andrew Flynn for Decadent Theatre Company.

Colm McNally
For Distance from the Event, by Eoghan Quinn, directed by Dan Colley for Collapsing Horse Theatre.


Best sound

almaPhilip Stewart
For An Enemy of the People, by Ibsen, adapted by Arthur Miller and directed by Wayne Jordan for the Gate Theatre.

Alma Kelliher
For Riverrun, directed by Olwen Fouéré and Kellie Hughes for the Emergency Room and Galway Arts Festival.

Jimmy Eadie For Embers, by Samuel Beckett, directed by Gavin Quinn for Pan Pan Theatre.

Adam Welsh
For Lippy, by Busk Moukarzel and Mark O’Halloran, directed by Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel for Dead Centre.


Judges’ special award


estCarysfort Press
For its commitment to broadening theatre and performance scholarship and the publication of Irish plays.

New Theatre
In recognition of its commitment to providing a home for new work.

Decadent
For its enduring and dynamic commitment to creating theatre for touring nationally.

Anu Productions
To mark its work commemorating the Dublin Lockout, using the city as its set, and its reconfiguration of the audience as citizens.

 

Best supporting actor

aTadhg Murphy
As Lucky in Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett for the Gare St Lazare Players Ireland.

Denis Conway
As Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, directed by Ethan McSweeny for the Gate Theatre.

Sean O’Callaghan
As Ivan in The Seafarer, by Conor McPherson, directed by Rachel O’Riordan for Lyric Theatre and Perth Theatre.

Hugh O’Conor As Fool in King Lear, by Shakespeare, directed by Selina Cartmell for the Abbey Theatre.

 

Best supporting actress

aislingAisling O’Sullivan
As Anne in The Colleen Bawn, by Dion Boucicault, directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre.

Ruth McGill
As Lucy in The Threepenny Opera, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, directed by Wayne Jordan for the Gate Theatre.

Fiona Bell
As Catherine in An Enemy of the People, in Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Ibsen, directed by Wayne Jordan for the Gate.

Catherine Walker
As Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Ethan McSweeny for the Gate Theatre.

 

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