This selection is necessarily eclectic, with apologies for the many omissions. There were three very good new plays: Tom Murphy's The House at the Abbey, with its sorrowful yet rich sense of place and displacement; Marina Carr's On Raftery's Hill, staged jointly by Druid Theatre and London's Royal Court, with its unnerving acceptance of social obscenity as a norm in an Irish midlands farming family; and Conor McPherson's Dublin Carol at the Gate, an unerringly accurate portrayal of some of the effects of alcoholism.

There was also Jimmy Murphy's The Kings of the Kilburn High Road, staged by Red Kettle in Waterford and at Dublin's Tivoli, which complemented the Murphy play nicely by showing powerfully the plight of Irish emigrants abroad (as opposed to "at home" on a summer holiday). Gary Mitchell's Marching On at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, offered a rare insight into the complexities of the minds of differing Orangemen on July 12th. And Mitchell had another good new play, at London's Royal Court, in The Force of Change, an exploration of conflicting loyalties in a changing Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The year also offered the debut performances of plays by two striking and potentially exciting new playwrights, with Druid's production of Michael Collins's daft, dark comedy The Hackney Office and Passion Machine's staging of Joe O'Byrne's It Come Up Sun. These are two unique voices which promise to have a lot more to say in the theatre of the next few years. There was much excellent direction to be seen during 2000. Conall Morrison's staging of The House not only did full justice to the author's rich text, but drew tremendous ensemble acting from the entire cast. Deborah Warner's direction of Medea (also at the Abbey) was radical both in its conception and execution and was movingly effective. Jim Nolan's direction of The Kings of the Kilburn High Road was so intimately and effectively engaged with the substance of the play that it was almost unnoticeable, while Ben Barnes, in the first full year of his tenure as the Abbey's artistic director, produced two as-near-as-dammit definitive productions of Hugh Leonard's A Life and Brian Friel's Translations.

There was a multitude of excellent performances, too. Fiona Shaw's portrayal of Medea was stunningly original and telling. John Kavanagh's Drumm in A Life and his John Plunkett in Dublin Carol offered rare verities delivered with superb technique. Garrett Keogh provided the most credible Hugh yet seen in his portrayal of the hedge-school master in Translations, as well as a deviously devilish Fuso Negro in Frank McGuinness's version of The Barbaric Comedies, also at the Abbey. And Peter Hanly delivered a subtle and substantial characterisation as Walker in Rough Magic's production of Three Days of Rain at the new Project, a theatre space which, like the new Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire, deserves welcome as an addition to the burgeoning theatre fabric of Ireland.


The lowlight which springs immediately to mind was Stephen Rea's unfortunate misinterpretation of Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars at the Gaiety.

David Nowlan