Haunting dance, scabrous comedy: the ‘Irish Times’ Irish theatre award winners

The major prizes at this year’s event were shared among a varied set of productions

There were no clean sweeps or unifying themes at this year's Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards at the National Concert Hall in Dublin on Sunday.

Instead, the awards celebrated the diversity of performance during a searching, if inconclusive, year.

The major prizes were shared between a haunting piece of dance theatre, Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, Druid Theatre's classic and not-yet-classic revivals of plays by Samuel Beckett and Martin McDonagh, and a sensitive piece of musical theatre and a scabrous political comedy from the Abbey Theatre.

Before this year’s ceremony, which was the awards’ 20th anniversary, two productions had led the nominations.


The Abbey Theatre's musical play Town is Dead was recognised in five categories, while Michael Keegan-Dolan's dance theatre production Swan Lake/Loch na hEala appeared in four.

The controlled spectacle of Keegan-Dolan’s reworking of the classic ballet, transplanted to a septic and corrupt Irish midlands, won Best Production, as well as the Best Costume award for Hyemi Shin’s design work.

Deserved recognition

Elsewhere, it was a night in which artists who have been nominated frequently in the past finally claimed their prizes.

Although she had won before at earlier incarnations of the theatre awards, it was Barbara Brennan's first time to win an Irish Times Irish Theatre Award.

She was voted Best Actress for her role as Ellen, the spirited protagonist of Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell's Town is Dead.

Stephen Rea, the recipient of 2015's Special Tribute Award, returned to take Best Actor for his performance as Belfast loyalist Eric Miller, who believes that Gerry Adams has disguised himself as his newborn granddaughter, in Cyprus Avenue.

The tragicomedy by David Ireland, co-produced by the Abbey and London’s Royal Court, was also the winner of Best Play.

Druid Theatre, whose regal staging of the Henriad, DruidShakespeare, swept the boards last year, again received the award for Best Director, as Garry Hynes claimed her second win in two years.

On this occasion, the director was recognised for her work on two wildly dissimilar productions: an electrifying reappraisal of Samuel Beckett's masterpiece Waiting For Godot, and the 20th-anniversary revival of Martin McDonagh's festering comic melodrama The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Rory Nolan secured Best Supporting Actor for his riveting portrayal of Pozzo in Druid's Waiting for Godot, while Ali White won Best Supporting Actress for her various roles in Rough Magic's production of Northern Star.


Four companies can claim to have won Best Set Design in the shape of a single recipient – Jamie Varten.

He was recognised for his work on Blue Raincoat's Shackleton, Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival's co-production of Arlington and Wide Open Opera's The Barber of Seville – which also won Best Opera.

Zia Bergin Holly won Best Lighting Design for her work on Pan Pan's The Importance of Nothing, while Best Sound Design went to Ben Delaney and Raymond Scannell for their work on Town is Dead.

Meanwhile, Anu Productionssecured the approval of both the judges and the public, winning the Judges' Special Award for its works responding to the 1916 Rising, while also sharing the Audience Choice Prize with CoisCéim Dance Theatre for These Rooms.

The Irish Times Special Tribute Award went to Jane Daly and Siobhán Bourke for their long-standing work with the Irish Theatre Institute, a champion of new work, a robust archive and a force in connecting art and audiences.

The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards 2016 WINNERS

Best Production

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala A Michael Keegan-Dolan, Sadler’s Wells Theatre London, Colours International Dance Festival, Theaterhaus Stuttgart, Dublin Theatre Festival, and Theatre de la Ville, Luxembourg co-production.

Best Director

Garry Hynes For the Druid productions of Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett and The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by Martin McDonagh.

Best new play

Cyprus Avenue By David Ireland, produced by the Abbey Theatre and Royal Court Theatre.

Best Actor

Stephen Rea For his role as Eric in the Abbey Theatre and Royal Court Theatre co-production of Cyprus Avenue, by David Ireland.

Best Actress

Barbara Brennan For her role as Ellen in the Abbey Theatre production of Town is Dead, by Phillip McMahon, music by Raymond Scannell.

Best Supporting Actor

Rory Nolan For his role as Pozzo in the Druid production of Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett.

Best Supporting Actress

Ali White For her roles in Rough Magic Theatre Company’s production of Northern Star, by Stewart Parker.

Best Set Design

Jamie Vartan For the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company production of Shackleton, the Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival production of Arlington [A LOVE STORY], by Enda Walsh and the Wide Open Opera production of The Barber of Seville, by Gioachino Rossini.

Best Lighting Design

Zia Bergin-Holly For the Pan Pan production of The Importance of Nothing, after Oscar Wilde adapted by the ensemble.

Best Sound Design

Ben Delaney, Raymond Scannell For the Abbey Theatre production of Town Is Dead, by Phillip McMahon, with musical director Cathal Synnott.

Best Costume Design

Hyemi Shin For the Michael Keegan-Dolan, Sadler’s Wells Theatre London, Colours International Dance Festival, Theaterhaus Stuttgart, Dublin Theatre Festival, and Theatre de la Ville, Luxembourg co-production of Swan Lake/Loch na hEala.

Best Opera

The Barber of Seville Wide Open Opera’s production of Gioacchino Rossini’s work.

Judges’ Special Award

ANU Productions For sustained imaginative engagement with the commemoration of 1916 throughout the year.

Audience Choice Award

These Rooms by Anu and Coisceim Dance Theatre

Special Tribute Award

Siobhán Bourke and Jane Daly for their outstanding contribution to Irish theatre, as co-directors of the Irish Theatre Institute (ITI), a resource organisation for Irish theatre. It researches and promotes the Irish repertoire through Playography Ireland, an online searchable catalogue of new Irish writing, and provides extensive programmes for supporting artists and developing work, including the Show in a Bag and Six in the Attic programmes.