Awards pay tribute to ‘vital, electrifying’ world of Irish theatre

Actors Janet Moran and Nyree Yergainharsian host 22nd Irish Times Theatre Awards at NCH

Caitríona McLaughlin won best director for Raftery’s Hill at The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards in the National Concert Hall on Sunday. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Caitríona McLaughlin won best director for Raftery’s Hill at The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards in the National Concert Hall on Sunday. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

 

Some 700 people from the Irish theatre world took over Dublin’s National Concert Hall last night for the 22nd edition of the annual The Irish Times Theatre Awards.

Their hosts, the actors Janet Moran and Nyree Yergainharsian, did a nice line in faux sniping at each other, jokingly describing themselves as in the tradition of great comedy duos, from Morecambe and Wise to Vladimir and Estragon... and Murray and McLaren.

“What? We mean the motorsports giants,” they said, all innocence (clearly not the Abbey co-directors of the same name, currently in the news).

Echoing last year’s awards in the midst of Gate Theatre controversy and featuring a giant inflatable elephant, this year Moran and Yergainharsian were drowned out by stampeding elephants on a screen behind them.

Among the award winners, designer Francis O’Connor was grateful for the opportunity “to work here for 30 years”, he said, as “a Brit, hugely embarrassed and humiliated by what’s going on in my homeland”.

Monica Frawley, who won the judges’ special award, sent a message as she has not been well, deeply appreciating the kindness and support of her “theatre family”.

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Best director Caitríona McLaughlin said winning meant “I’m finally part of this community. It has taken a while to get here”. Raftery’s Hill was “a real collaboration. I will be eternally grateful to Neil [Murray]and Graham [McLaren, Abbey directors] for giving me that chance”.

‘Tears streaming’

Sarah Morris won best actress for Nannie in The Lost O’Casey, a “damaged woman but a vibrant character on the streets of Dublin”. Her thanks included “the residents of the Dublin flats where we lived for 10 weeks”.

There was a well-judged ensemble speech from the Midsummer Night’s Dream ensemble. As one of them said, “it’s like prayers of the faithful”.

Producer Anne Clarke spoke about the audiences’ choice award winner, Asking For It, and watching those audiences coming out, “tears streaming” with shock, hurt and rage.

Gate Theatre director Selina Cartmell spoke about actor Owen Roe, recipient of this year’s special tribute award. She described Roe as “a deeply sensitive actor, poet, Shakespeare guru and rap artist, a great mentor of younger actors, a voice as rich and velvety as the best hot chocolate, collaborator, innovator and company man”.

She said: “He transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary and is an artist in the truest sense of the word. He wears his heart and soul on his sleeve, and with this he brings great unpredictability, danger, dignity and humanity to everything he touches.”

Highs and lows

Roe graciously recalled how fortunate he was in his early career. He said for younger actors, some of those opportunities may not be there now, and he called for more doors to open, “including the one with ‘casting’ written on it”.

Awards judge Paula Shields, on behalf of fellow judges Ella Daly and Catríona Crowe, described seeing 140 shows where female experience came to the fore, and where rape and consent issues on stage “showed how vital, electrifying and of the moment theatre can be”.

Irish Times arts and culture editor Hugh Linehan acknowledged that coming from a theatre family, he knew “the highs and lows, the hits and misses, the enduring friendships – and the occasional bitter rows”. It was, he said,“important that conversations are now happening about creating an environment in which talent can flourish, historic imbalances can be redressed and where people can get a living wage for their work”.

Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan, after improvising when her speech was momentarily mislaid, acknowledged “the many challenges the theatre sector has faced, particularly over the last 18 months”.

The awards, in association with TileStyle, are “timely and important. They celebrate all that is overwhelmingly good and positive in this industry”.