THE Sliabh Aughty Players has been in existence for 20 years. It was formed late in 1989, when it was decided to reform and re-establish a drama group in the Mountshannon area.
Its predecessor, The Mountshannon Players, was originally founded in the late-1960s, performing both one-act and three-act plays in Mountshannon hall. Despite the long-running tradition of drama in the area, the group became inactive throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with members joining the Scariff Drama Group.
In 1989, the old Mountshannon-based group was re-formed under the name Sliabh Aughty Players, with Maud Nash again at the helm. Maud was one of the founding members of the group and one of the few remaining continuous links with the group to this day. Maud’s name was synonymous with drama and she was the backbone of the group for many years.
The group’s first production was John B Keane’s The Field, which was to prove the perfect vessel to sail the Sliabh Aughty Players to notoriety and to success. The play went on to take first place in the three festivals it entered around the country, earning the players a place in the All-Ireland Confined Finals, where they lost out on a win by half a mark.
Over the next 10 years or so, the Sliabh Aughty Players became a force to be reckoned with on the confined circuit, with such productions as The Honeyspike, The Highest House On The Mountain, The Power of Darkness and I do Not Like Thee Dr Fell.
There was plenty of silverware during this time, with the group winning many awards for directing, acting, stage management, set and lighting and this was undoubtedly the group’s finest period.
Having joined the group at just 16, Johnsie Allen recalls his involvement over the 20 years that the players have been in existence.
“I joined the group during the production of The Field. I was just asked to help backstage and I’d no great interest in drama before that, but when I saw the production I was hooked from then on. We did really well on the circuit too, so it was a dream start really and there was a great buzz around the community. The group had a large following,” he recalled.
The group’s production of The Power of Darkness was especially groundbreaking, as the subject matter would have been quite taboo at the time. The play follows the central character, Nikita, who seduces and abandons a young girl, Marinka. Anisija murders her husband to marry Nikita but Nikita then impregnates his new stepdaughter and under his wife’s influence, murders the baby. Many people in the community were shocked by the play, Johnsie remembered.
“In my own view, plays that bring people out of their comfort zone are particularly interesting but also so are those where the audience can leave with a smile on their face and that’s worth more than anything.
“The Power of Darkness was definitely one that brought people out of their comfort zone. It is well named and it is dark. I think we did it in 1993 and I remember at the time many elements were taboo subjects and there were a lot of people who were uncomfortable with it,” Johnsie outlined.
Asked what he has got out of the drama group, Johnsie revealed, “The buzz from competition is number one and then I always found that drama is a powerful medium to get a message across”.
“I think one of the best plays we did over the years was The Lonesome West. I think the two brothers played by Noel Hogan and Fr Brendan Quinlivan just clicked with each other on stage and portrayed the characters very well,” he added.
Johnsie produced The Lonesome West and has been involved in the production side of things in recent times.
“Of course, there’s a great social aspect to the group. When we started up first I’d say we had around 30 members, including backstage crew. We’re still at around the same membership but there are a lot of new faces. There’s a wide mix of people too from all walks of life, ranging from those in their 20s to those in their late 60s,” Johnsie added.
The drama group has expanded its productions from the competition circuit to include pub theatre. In 2007, the group began performing one-act plays at the Mountshannon Hotel as a fundraising initiative and to attract new members.
One of the group’s members has also been recognised internationally at a professional level. Siobhán Donnellan won the Outstanding Actor Award 2007 in the New York Fringe Festival for her role as Jo in a play called Married to the Sea. Her father, Seán, starred in Sliabh Aughty’s first production The Field, but he passed away in 1995.
To celebrate the 20 year milestone, the group will be holding a social night on January 9 at the Mountshannon Hotel, where the group will present a slide show of past productions. Music and entertainment will also be provided and all are welcome to attend.
Johnsie is also encouraging past and present members and the community to pass along any memorabilia they might have of the group’s productions.
Johnsie can be contacted on 087 794568 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.