Students at play


THE over riding principle of the Irish Drama Association Festival which ended in University College Cork on Sunday night, was the emphasis on the word "festival". Whatever else was achieved during the six days 20 plays, workshops, competitions and club events the entire event, hosted by University College Cork's Dramatic Society and sponsored by Murphy's Stout the air, atmosphere and attributes of a student festival resounded throughout the week.

While Cork was staying away in its thousands from the Royal National Theatre production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at the Opera House, it was hugely encouraging to sit in a packed theatre (admittedly a small one) in which the average age of the audience was about 19. The energy and commitment of all the competing groups could be measured by the complete hold everyone had on their lines tracts of Wilde, O'Casey, Berkoff, Churchill, Anouilh and Brenton were delivered without hesitation and usually with both style and conviction.

Although one company saw nothing wrong with improving O'Casey's lines (adjudicator Derek Chapman almost levitated) and another came to grief on its determination to expose the sexual undergrowth of The Importance of Being Earnest, the greatest differentiation between the productions was one of resources. It was perfectly plain during this week that while some institutions encourage their young thespians (and it wasn't always the ones which might be expected to do so) others don't pay much attention or offer much in terms of funds or support systems.

Yet these young people battled on, staged their choices as best they could some, even if not among the eventual winners, doing so very well indeed and then turned up for the response of the adjudicators (five in all, including Dan Donovan, a founder member and Director of Theatre of the South and Everyman Theatre, lighting expert Ray Casey. Daniel Reardon of the radio drama department of RTE, and actor/director Capman) and the ensuing discussion with as much goodwill and honesty as if nothing but plaudits were to be handed out.

Beckett, Brenton and Berkoff are a godsend to student productions and figure among the successes, but the most enlivening and hopeful ingredient of this year's ISDA festival was the amount, and quality, of new writing. The two discretionary awards at the disposal of the adjudicators went to mark the importance of this aspect and were won by Queen's University Belfast for the comedy Fiducci's Corpse by Tom Kline, and by newcomers to the event, D.I.T. Aungier Street, for Play Replay by Marc Ivan O'Gorman.

Ronan O'Brien of DCU with Black Rainbow Jeremy Dawson of Queen's with Icarus and the Toolbox. Ken Slattery of TCD with The Lads, and Matthew Hamilton of the University of Limerick with Hold On were the other writers and figured both in the nominations and awards in different categories. Both ambitions and expectations were high, and some presentations revealed production standards of an almost professional sophistication, and performance standards which don't even need to be qualified by "almost".