The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards: all this year’s nominees

Il Bravo: nominated for best opera and best costumes. Photograph: Clive Barda/ArenaPal

A stunning, shape-shifting lament with a bravura star performance. A room-spinning take on an unstaged Samuel Beckett novel. A vivid mingling of forgotten Dublin characters and the fraught contemporary city. A hypnotic take on gaudy tyranny and gulled collusion.

But the judges of the 22nd Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards don’t want to talk immediately about their best-production nominations for 2018 – Enda Walsh’s adaptation of Max Porter’s novella Grief Is a Thing with Feathers; Gare St Lazare’s How It Is; Anu and the Abbey’s The Lost O’Casey; and Druid’s Richard III.

Instead Paula Shields, Catriona Crowe and Ella Daly’s conversation brims with positive mentions for shows not featured on their list: standout moments, among the more than 130 shows they saw last year, that somehow got away.

“The first obvious thing was the female voice, the female point of view,” says Shields, this year’s chair, considering the theatre of the year against its political context. “We had more female directors, too.” Indeed, three of the four best-director nominees are women. “Given that we had the referendum [to repeal the Eighth Amendment] in May, and the trickle-down effect of Waking the Feminists and movements like #MeToo, we often encountered themes of sexual violence – in new plays like Porcelain, by Margaret Perry [at the Abbey]; Asking for It, the Louise O’Neill novel, adapted by Landmark; and a smaller play like Home, by Megan O’Malley, at the New Theatre. Those themes were more to the fore this year.”

A once fairly innocuous comedy such as The Snapper acquired darker undertones of coercion and consent in a production staged by the Gate Theatre

That also invited fresh appraisals of plays that now resemble ignored prophecies. If On Raftery’s Hill, Marina Carr’s play involving incest and trauma, once seemed overheated, a bracing new production by the Abbey Theatre, nominated in several categories, wisely encouraged another look. A once fairly innocuous comedy such as The Snapper, meanwhile, acquired darker undertones of coercion and consent in a production staged by the Gate Theatre.

“I think that revision of older work in this moment was more successful than trying to rush towards rapid reactions,” Daly says. For example, Sive, John B Keane’s rural tragedy from 1959, “got a superb production from Druid”, Crowe says, “making it more identifiable as a play about patriarchy, exclusion and greed as applied to young women”. Such appreciation suggests a high bar for consideration this year, because Sive is nowhere among the nominations.

That hardly suggests a bad year for Druid. The Galway-based company leads the field with nine nominations. Besides being a contender for best production, Richard III also features for best director (for Garry Hynes), best actor (for Aaron Monaghan), best set (for Francis O’Connor) and best costume (for O’Connor and Doreen McKenna). Four more nominations in acting add to Druid’s tally: Rebecca O’Mara and Aisling O’Sullivan – a divinely comic pairing – are each nominated for best supporting actress for Sonya Kelly’s Furniture; while Lauren Larkin and Mark Huberman are shortlisted for best actress and best supporting actor for Cristín Kehoe’s play Shelter.

To do the tot a little differently, however, the year has been a soaring success for the Abbey, whose six nominations for in-house productions expand to 16 nominations when coproductions and works in association with Druid and Anu are included. After a fortnight when the national theatre’s programming policy has been in the headlines, generating both criticism and support, such a balance has become a controversial topic. On one level, at least, it has also been very successful.

Yet the concentration of nominations among the longest-established and best-funded companies this year may not quash any misgivings. With 14 nods for the Abbey, nine for Druid and eight for the Gate – the heavy-hitting Landmark Productions and Anu receive seven and five nominations, respectively – it seems to have been a very good year for major players but a fall for the small.

Daly, completing a record-setting three-year stint as a judge, is the person most accustomed to my blunt statistical analysis. She offers one interpretation. “I think we definitely felt this year that it was a return to the main stage. Last year, with so much upheaval at the Gate and the Abbey, that allowed for more Fringe work to become present.” This year, as both found their stride, she says, that had an impact. “Druid have a full-time ensemble. The work they can make is excellent. Few other companies can compete with that.”

Taken together with the precarious conditions for freelance artists underlining the Abbey debate, it leads Daly to a call for action. “We have to fund companies to be able to fund ensembles.”

The way Louise Lowe manages to connect modern urban life with a fragment of a Seán O’Casey play is just extraordinary

Full-time ensembles, a staple of mainland European theatre and a rarity elsewhere, are complicated entities to sustain. The nominations for best ensemble – a recently introduced category to recognise group achievement – suggests they may also be tricky to evaluate.

Rough Magic’s temporary ensemble are nominated for their work on A Midsummer Night’s Dream but not on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; the intimate trio of Landmark’s The Approach feature against the vaster, discrete performances within Anu’s The Lost O’Casey; and Agro Grimace, a breakaway group from Druid, are nominated for Thirst (and Other Bits of Flann) while the widely celebrated Druid ensemble is not.

The judges are a kind of ensemble themselves, having served together for two years. That, they agree, has made their debates more vigorous but their deliberations quicker. What did they learn from theatre this year?

“I think I always learn something from Anu,” Crowe says. “The Lost O’Casey, for me, was really one of the high points of the year, both parts of it.” (The judges saw two related but dissimilar versions of the production during the year.) “The way Louise Lowe manages to connect modern urban life, in this case, with this fragment of a Seán O’Casey play is just extraordinary.”

Gare St Lazare and Everyman’s How It Is also took a refreshingly unconventional approach, leading the audience on to the stage and scattering performances through the auditorium. “It upended things at every point, from lighting to sound to performances, in the most pleasurable way,” Shields says. Traditional configurations can still have great impact, as with Richard III and Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, she points out, while Crowe applauds a kind of continuity in Phillip McMahon’s Come on Home, nominated for best new play. “It was really interesting, in the year that we lost Tom Murphy, to get what could have been a new Tom Murphy play from Philly McMahon.”

That was not the only play to deal with family secrets and unresolved pain, and performances about mental health and homelessness abounded.

Not all of it was gruelling. The judges all point to an impressive first year for Irish National Opera, nominated for both The Tales of Hoffman and Bluebeard’s Castle, crowning a buoyant year for the art form. But in theatre, as Shields puts it, “you felt the seriousness of the times”.

That, they say, could be exhilarating for other reasons. “I think there’s a real confidence in the skill that exists in this country of drawing these really beautiful lives and sharing them, either through writers or in performance or through ensembles,” Daly says. “And in bleak times that’s what we need. We need to remember our humanity. Our theatre is absolutely serving up humanity in spades.” – Peter Crawley

Here are all the nominees, section by section, for this year’s Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards. The ceremony, in association with TileStyle, is at the National Concert Hall, in Dublin, on Sunday, March 31st.

BEST PRODUCTION

Best-production nominees (clockwise from top left) Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, How It Is, The Lost O’Casey and Richard III
Best-production nominees (clockwise from top left) Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, The Lost O’Casey, How It Is and Richard III

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
A Complicité and Wayward Production. Co-produced by The Barbican, Cork Opera House, Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Playhouse, St Ann's Warehouse and Warwick Arts Centre. In association with Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival

How It Is
A Gare St Lazare Ireland production

The Lost O’Casey
An Anu and Abbey Theatre production with ICTU, FORSA and SIPTU

Richard III
A Druid Theatre production of Shakespeare’s play, in association with the Abbey Theatre

BEST OPERA PRODUCTION

Best-opera nominees (clockwise from top left) Bluebeard’s Castle, Il Bravo, The Tales of Hoffmann and Dinner at Eight
Best-opera nominees (clockwise from top left) Bluebeard’s Castle, Il Bravo, The Tales of Hoffmann and Dinner at Eight

Il Bravo
A Wexford Festival Opera production of Saverio Mercadante’s work

Dinner at Eight
A Wexford Festival Opera production of William Bolcom’s work, coproduction with Minnesota Opera and Atlanta Opera

Bluebeard’s Castle
An Irish National Opera production of Bela Bartok’s work

The Tales of Hoffmann
An Irish National Opera production of Jacques Offenbach’s work

BEST DIRECTOR

Best-director nominees Garry Hynes, Róisín McBrinn, Caitríona McLaughlin and Enda Walsh
Best-director nominees Garry Hynes, Róisín McBrinn, Caitríona McLaughlin and Enda Walsh

Garry Hynes
For Richard III 

isín McBrinn
For The Snapper, a Gate Theatre production

Caitríona McLaughlin
For On Raftery’s Hill, an Abbey Theatre production

Enda Walsh
For Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 

BEST NEW PLAY

Best-new-play nominees (clockwise from top left) The Lost O’Casey, Northern Lights, Come on Home and The Approach
Best-new-play nominees (clockwise from top left) The Lost O’Casey, Northern Lights, Come on Home and The Approach

The Approach
By Mark O’Rowe. A Landmark Production

Come on Home
By Phillip McMahon. An Abbey Theatre production

The Lost O’Casey
An Anu/ Abbey Theatre  production with ICTU, FORSA and SIPTU

Northern Lights
By Stephen Jones. An Awake & Sing and Theatre Upstairs co-production

BEST ACTOR

Best-actor nominees Aaron Monaghan, Cillian Murphy, Declan Conlon and Stephen Dillane
Best-actor nominees Aaron Monaghan, Cillian Murphy, Stephen Dillane and Declan Conlon

Declan Conlon
For his role as Brian in Come on Home 

Stephen Dillane
For his role in How It Is 

Cillian Murphy
For his role as Dad in Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 

Aaron Monaghan
For his lead role in Richard III 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Best-supporting-actor nominees Peter Coonan, John McCarthy, Owen Roe and Mark Huberman
Best-supporting-actor nominees Peter Coonan, John McCarthy, Owen Roe and Mark Huberman

Peter Coonan
For his role as Ded Raftery in On Raftery’s Hill 

John McCarthy
For his role as Valene Connor in The Lonesome West, by Martin McDonagh, an Everyman Theatre production

Mark Huberman
For his role as Polish Tom in Shelter by Cristín Kehoe, a Druid Theatre production

Owen Roe
For his role as Claudius in Hamlet, a Gate Theatre production

BEST ACTRESS

Best-actress nominees Sarah Morris, Maeve Fitzgerald, Lauren Larkin and Hazel Clifford
Best-actress nominees Sarah Morris, Maeve Fitzgerald, Lauren Larkin and Hazel Clifford

Maeve Fitzgerald
For her role as Dinah Raftery in On Raftery’s Hill

Hazel Clifford
For her role as Sharon Rabbitte in The Snapper 

Sarah Morris
For her role as Nannie in The Lost O’Casey

Lauren Larkin
For her role as Majella in Shelter 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Best-supporting-actress nominees Rebecca O’Mara, Aisling O’Sullivan, Aoife Duffin and Zara Devlin
Best-supporting-actress nominees Rebecca O’Mara, Aisling O’Sullivan, Aoife Duffin and Zara Devlin

Zara Devlin
For her role as Sorrel Raftery in On Raftery’s Hill

Aoife Duffin
For her role as Ophelia in Hamlet 

Rebecca O’Mara
For her role as Dee in Furniture, by Sonya O’Kelly, a Druid Theatre production

Aisling O’Sullivan
For her role as Stef in Furniture 

BEST SET

Susan Hilferty
For Hamlet 

Francis O’Connor
For Richard III 

Jamie Vartan and Will Duke (video projection)
For Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 

Paul Wills
For The Snapper 

BEST LIGHTING

Aedín Cosgrove
For Eliza’s Adventures in the Uncanny Valley, a Pan Pan Theatre production

Paul Keogan
For Hamlet 

Sarah Jane Shiels
For Frnknstn, a Theatre Lovett production, adapted by Michael West from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein

Kris Stone
For How It Is 

BEST COSTUME

Costumes by (clockwise from top left) Victoria Tzykun, Katie Davenport, Paul Wills, and Francis O’Connor and Doreen McKenna
Costumes by (clockwise from top left) Andre Barbe, Katie Davenport, Paul Wills, and Francis O’Connor and Doreen McKenna

Katie Davenport
For the Irish National Opera production of The Tales of Hoffmann, by Jacques Offenbach

Francis O’Connor and Doreen McKenna
For Richard III

Andre Barbe
For the Wexford Opera Festival production of Il Bravo

Paul Wills
For The Snapper 

BEST SOUND

Mary Coughlan, Mongoose and Valgeir Sigurdsson
For Woman Undone, a Brokentalkers production

Joe Hunt
For The School Days of Thaddeus K, a Blue Raincoat production

Mel Mercier
For How It Is

Teho Teardo and Helen Atkinson
For Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 

BEST MOVEMENT

Justine Cooper
For The Misfits, a Corn Exchange Theatre production

Eddie Kay
For Woman Undone 

Sue Mythen
For The Lost O’Casey 

Catherine O’Malley
For Eliza’s Adventures in the Uncanny Valley 

BEST ENSEMBLE

Best-ensemble nominees (clockwise from top left) A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Approach, The Lost O’Casey and Thirst (and Other Bits of Flann)
Best-ensemble nominees (clockwise from top left) A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Approach, The Lost O’Casey and Thirst (and Other Bits of Flann)

The Approach
 

The Lost O’Casey
 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A Rough Magic Theatre/Kilkenny Arts Festival production

Thirst (and Other Bits of Flann)
An Agro Grimace production

JUDGES’ SPECIAL AWARDS

Edward Beckett
Edward Beckett has scrupulously, fairly and flexibly stewarded the theatrical legacy of Samuel Beckett, his uncle, since his death, maintaining a delicate balance between his uncle’s requirements and companies’ desires to reinterpret some of his great works.

John Fairleigh
John Fairleigh has made a wide-ranging contribution to new Irish writing for the stage, in his unstinting support of playwrights, through the Stewart Parker Trust, which he founded in 1989 and of which he remains chair, in the fields of editing and publishing, and also in his championing of international cultural exchange.

Monica Frawley
Monica Frawley is one of Ireland’s most innovative and original theatre set and costume designers. She has worked with all the major Irish companies over 30 years and has made memorable work for the plays of Tom Murphy, Marina Carr, Brian Friel and Frank McGuinness, among others.

Chris Morash and Nicholas Grene
Chris Morash and Nicholas Grene have made an immeasurable contribution to academic writing on theatre in general and contemporary Irish theatre in particular. They have produced many of the core text books on the subject, including The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre.

SPECIAL TRIBUTE AWARD

Owen Roe photographed by Aidan Crawley
Owen Roe photographed by Aidan Crawley

Owen Roe
This year’s award goes to Owen Roe for his distinguished body of work in many roles, particularly for Rough Magic and the Gate Theatre. One of Ireland’s most skilled and versatile actors, he has been at the heart of much of the most memorable Irish theatre of recent decades, combining nuance, insight and delicacy  with a powerful onstage presence.

Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly named the costume designer nominated for his work on Il Bravo. He is Andre Barbe.