Taking part in the next great drama, The Rebirth of a Nation


THe speeches on the evening touched on turmoil and triumph, writes PATSY McGARRY

Despite the recession there was a decided note of optimism at the presentation of The Irish TimesIrish Theatre Awards 2010. As Jack Gilligan recalled, he, and fellow judges Bernadette Madden and Christine Madden, had seen 170 productions throughout last year, an increase of 10 on 2009. They had also seen 35 Fringe Festival productions.

“From Belfast to Cork, from Galway to Dublin,” the judges had been “encouraged by the amount of new work”, they had seen, he said, and were “impressed by the way the sector has risen to the challenges”. He expressed disappointment, however, at the decision of Dublin’s Gate Theatre to absent itself from the 2010 Awards. He also said he was “concerned about the state of opera, which is generally unrepresented in this country. That this will be even more so in 2011 is very regrettable.”

He also felt there had to be “a total reappraisal of funding for the sector” and “would like, as a former public servant to see local authorities playing a greater role in arts development.” The arts, he said “must be seen as a quality of life issue” as well as being important for tourism and jobs, but the latter was “not the full story. People have a right to have access to a wide range of art forms. Large sections of the country should not be kept in the dark, culturally.” Ireland should be proud of its people in the arts, he said. “You can hold your heads with anyone, anywhere in the world. Increasingly, you have done your country proud.”

Tania Banotti of the National Campaign for the Arts said they had met 50 per cent of TDs prior to the general election in an attempt to get a commitment from the political parties that the new Government would have “a full Minister for the Arts at the Cabinet table”. The campaign, however, “needs to raise €30,000” to continue its work, she said. It also needed more people to lobby and to help with publicity.

Referring to Hard Times, Irish Timesmanaging editor Gerry Smyth quoted from Dickens to underline his view of the resilience of Irish theatre. He recalled that “Dickens once said that it was a hopeless endeavour to attract people to a theatre unless they could be first brought to believe that they’d never get in.” Everything about Irish theatre in the past year pointed “to anything but hopeless endeavour,” he said. He referred to the “garlands of critical and popular success” placed on Irish theatre companies, and to those productions that travelled abroad.

In the context of the broader national drama still unfolding, he said that “as Yeats and Lady Gregory and other cultural figures, through the founding of the Abbey, and in bringing a sense of national purpose to their work, were midwives to the birth of the nation, today’s cultural figures have a role to play in the next great drama, ‘The Rebirth of a Nation’.”

On a more sombre note he referred to recent deaths. Remembering David Nowlan, “the newspaper’s veteran drama critic”, who died last December, he recalled the words of Joycean scholar Richard Ellman that “criticism prevents art from forgetting, prevents it from sinking into conformity”. About the late Mick Lally, whom he described as one of theatre’s “great stalwarts and voices”, he recalled how Lally, commenting on another actor’s scathing attack on a production, had responded “Ah, don’t be too hard on them, they didn’t set out to make it bad.” And there was TP McKenna with his “distinctive voice” and “that commanding stage presence”. Also remembered were the late Brian McGrath, Pat Bracken and Eugene Lambert.

Smyth also thanked all associated with the awards, including the judges, The Irish Timesmanaging director Liam Kavanagh and editor Geraldine Kennedy “for their continued faith”, colleagues Louise Creedon and Katie Molony, and ceremony hosts Michael James Ford and Mark O’Regan. In particular he expressed “great appreciation” for the support of TG4’s Maggie Breathnach and Paschal Cassidy of Imeall.

Watch The Irish TimesIrish Theatre Awards on TG4 at 10pm on Thursday night, March 3rd