Gala world of make-believe celebrates the winners


The men and women of make-believe had dressed up to celebrate. They applauded the winners of The Irish Times/ESB Irish Theatre Awards with gusto - some shouting, stomping and hooting. They showed no restraint. Silks, black kilts (yes!) and velvet dickie bows featured at the gala dinner: it's a dressy affair. The men were in black - mostly - and the women were in reds, wines, pinks and purples - mostly.

The chromatic Terminator/Starsky & Hutch music was perfect to create a Hollywood vibe. Before and after each list of nominations and the announcement of the winner, a brilliant fanfare blasted through the banquet hall.

The judges had "great fun" choosing the final list, according to Fergus Linehan Snr. His fellow judges were Rose Parkinson and Una Carmody.

"We worked long and hard to cut down a long list to a shorter list. We travelled all over Ireland. We saw some really terrible stuff," he said, but there was "brilliant theatre" as well.

One of the youngest playwrights, Michael West, sat listening to the speeches - a proud father, beaming and at peace. His one-week old son, Thomas Henry West, was born on the night Michael's play, Foley, began its nationwide tour in the Civic Theatre in Tallaght. Mother, Annie Ryan, and baby, are doing fine, he said.

But back to business: Jenny Huston, manager of the Corn Exchange Theatre Company, added that Foley, which played at Dublin's Fringe Festival last year, will go on to London and then Edinburgh after its tour here.

Stephen Brennan, who took the "best actor in a supporting role" award, thanked the ESB - "more power to you" - and The Irish Times for "all the kind words and all the cross-words". He leaves for London's West End this week to take part in the new Conor McPherson play, Port Authority. His daughter, Sarah Brennan, who accompanied him to the awards ceremony, is about to begin her own stage career. Youghal man, Peter Gowen, accepted his best actor award. Another Cork actor, Fiona Shaw, was best actress. She is currently in London in the grips of Medea and was unable to attend.

Ali White, from Belfast, who was nominated in the best actress in a supporting role category, is currently writing her own television series. Will she be the next Lynda La Plante? "It'll be much tackier than that," she quipped. There was a glow about Eamon Kelly, who is ardsagart na haisteoireachta at the great age of 86. He and his wife, Maura O'Sullivan, attended the ceremony. They first met on the set of The Playboy of the Western World back in the early 1950s, where they fell in love - he was the Playboy and she was Pegeen Mike.

The Scots woman, Suzanne Robertson, was named best actress in a supporting role. She was surrounded by a posse of men in black kilts, who had travelled from Edinburgh to cheer her on. She's up for a part in a new Scottish drama series, Rosie's Patch. Those with her included her father, Billy Robertson and brother, Billy Robertston, as well as her cousin, Mark Fraser, her boyfriend, David Johnston and friend, Lisa Cannon. They were ready to do a highland fling when their girl took the trophy. Liam Cunningham, the earthy love interest in A Love Divided, the Deirdre Purcell story which was filmed in West Cork, also attended. He plays a baddy in Abduction Club, which is currently in postproduction. The period feature film, which was filmed in Ireland and made by Pathe, is due out shortly.

Actor Peadar Lamb was looking forward to playing in Joe Steve O Neachtain's play, Nior Mhaith Linn Do Thriobloid, which will go "ar chamchuairt ar fud na tire agus amach go Boston" this summer. His wife and fellow actor, Geraldine Plunkett, said there was a certain sadness about finishing in Glenroe, after 18 years.

Also present was Sheila Pratschke, who takes up her new job as director of the Annaghmakerrig Centre in Co Monaghan next week. She's leaving the Irish Film Centre in the hands of Grainne Humphreys, who is in charge until Cork man Mark Mulqueen arrives next month as its new director.

Everybody salsas late into the night to the strains of the Night in Havana Orchestra, which goes heavy on the Tito Fuente mambos, as musician Gerry Godley warned. Pity then RTE radio newscaster Brian Jennings, who had to go home early, like Cinderella, to be up at 5.30 a.m. yesterday. Not so the rest of us.