Druid theatre company has won a prestigious Scotsman Fringe First Award for its production of The Last Return by Irish writer Sonya Kelly at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Kelly’s sharply written, blisteringly funny play had its world premiere at Galway International Arts Festival last month, where it played to packed, enthusiastic (side-split) houses at Druid’s home, the Mick Lally Theatre. It is currently running at the Traverse Theatre in the heart of Edinburgh, and returns to Ireland to play at Dublin’s Gate Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival in October and November.
Directed by Sara Joyce, The Last Return is a comedy about conflict, peace and the pursuit of territory at any cost. Set in a theatre foyer as five people queue for a ticket to the hottest show in town, it escalates into something more complicated and surreal. Reviewing it in The Irish Times, in July, Sara Keating described how this “shocking and very funny play” with “endless surprises” explored how “the pursuit of a high-quality cultural experience turns political”.
News of the Scotsman Fringe First Award for The Last Return follows rave reviews, including five-star ratings from What’s On Stage, The Arts Desk and The Wee Review, and praise such as “pitch-black comic mayhem” from The Guardian and “wonderful” from The New York Times.
This is Kelly’s second Scotsman Fringe First, previously winning in 2012 for her play The Wheelchair on My Face. Druid has won numerous awards at Edinburgh’s Fringe over the years, including in 1980 for two plays: Island Protected by a Bridge of Glass and The Pursuit of Pleasure (both written by Garry Hynes); in 2007 for The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh; and in 2008 for another Enda Walsh play, The New Electric Ballroom.
Designed to encourage performers to bring new work to Edinburgh in the spirit of adventure and experiment, the Fringe Firsts are internationally recognised and are the most prestigious theatre awards at the Fringe, this week returning after two years of lockdown.
On Friday morning, after the first week of the festival, the judging team of critics from the Scotsman newspaper announced its first six awards, which also included: Breathless by Laura Horton; And Then The Rodeo Burned Down by Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland; The Beatles Were a Boyband by Rachel O’Regan; Happy Meal by Tabby Lamb; and Masterclass by Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan and Adrienne Truscott.
Joyce McMillan, chairwoman of the judging panel and the Scotsman’s chief theatre critic, said about The Last Return: “Sonya Kelly’s gorgeously stylish new 90-minute play for Druid Theatre is set in the queue for returned tickets at a posh European opera house and is in some ways fairly predictable thin-veneer-of-civilisation stuff, speculating on how easily even the quest for solace (or status) through art can escalate towards aggression and violence.
“In Sarah Joyce’s elegant and powerful production, though, it’s all so beautifully delivered, by a terrific seven-strong cast led by Fiona Bell as an aggressive ticket-seeker, and Anna Healy as a magnificent ticket lady, that the whole farce and tragedy becomes irresistible; and if the play’s final scene seems like something from a dream — well, it’s clear that realism is running out of options, when it comes to describing the way we live now.”
This week’s Fringe First winners will be presented with their awards at the Pleasance Courtyard at a ceremony hosted by Camille O’Sullivan, a long-established star of both the Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival, back in Edinburgh this year with Dreaming at the Underbelly.
Read The Irish Times review here