THE stage has been set for the 67th annual Clare Drama Festival, which gets underway in Scariff next week, showcasing some of the best amateur drama in Ireland.
Founded in 1946 the festival has gone from strength to strength taking place over the course of ten nights from Thursday March 20 to Saturday March 29 at Scariff Community College Hall.
Opening this year’s festival is Fr Brendan Quinlivan PP Scariff who is no stranger to the Scariff stage. Fr Quinlivan picked up a promising young actor award in his teenage years at the drama festival and has appeared on numerous occasions with the local Sliabh Aughty Drama Group.
Festival chairman, Alan Sparling says this is a unique opportunity to enjoy ten very different plays, and this year promises the audience in Scariff eight completely new productions to this local stage.
Opening night sees Sliabh Aughty Drama Group present Unforgiven by John McDwyer, which earned them their first win on this year’s drama circuit at the West Clare festival in Doonbeg. This play centres on bachelor brothers P.J and Seamie who are waiting for their sick father’s death for different reasons. Meanwhile, neighbour Mary is nursing her ill mother towards death under the watchful eye of P.J, who has big plans in the wake of the deaths. When the brother’s father dies, another brother’s arrival from America for the funeral could wreck P.J’s plans.
Also taking to the Clare Drama Festival stage is Mayo based Garrymore Drama Group who will perform John B Keane’s Moll. The play tells the story of a priest’s housekeeper, who takes over a parish house and indeed the parish with a divide and conquer strategy. She wraps the Canon around her little finger, feeds him well while starving the curates.
Skibbereen Theatre Society from West Cork brings Nancy Harris’s smart and endearing No Romance to Scariff. This play deals with what once were delicate taboos, putting front and centre issues of sexuality and desire in an Ireland that has, needless to say, changed utterly in the past few decades. Harris gives us three very different, but thematically linked, stories that deal with the unearthing of devastating secrets that characters have been keeping from their loved ones.
Yellow Moon Theatre Company from Wexford performs Any Given Day, written by Linda McLean. The play delivers what we most hope for in the theatre: a full emotional roller coaster ride from delighted joy to shocked horror and despair and back again. An astonishing range of human experience is encountered in this simple tale of a day in the lives of two couples.
The Outgoing Tide by Bruce Graham is the Nenagh Players production for this year’s festival. The shock of a loved one turning into a bewildered stranger is the curse of Alzheimer’s disease. This new work like the wrath of God visits this small family, but it could easily be anyone’s story in the audience. That’s one reason The Outgoing Tide is as much a rehearsal for the future as theatre can offer.
Doonbeg Drama Group brings their performance of The Cavalcaders by Billy Roche. This play explores the lives and loves of a community of characters in small-town Ireland. Set in an old fashioned cobbler’s shop, this is the story of a group of men who spend their days mending shoes and their nights as a barbershop quartet. Their musical harmonies, however, are not reflected in their private lives.
Another Clare group also takes to the festival stage as Corofin Dramatic Society present The New Electric Ballroom, the first of two Enda Walsh’s plays to be staged at the drama fest. This production centres on sisters Clara and Breda who some years ago went to a dance at the New Electric Ballroom, to hear The Roller Royle and his showband. While Clara innocently hoped of getting her first real kiss from The Roller after the show, she entered his dressing room to find him kissing her sister. Many years later, Breda and Clara sit holed away with their younger sister Ada, endlessly re-enacting that tragic night, first from Breda’s perspective, then from Clara’s. Only visits from Patsy, the lonely fishmonger who has hopes of courting Ada, break up the constant routine. When Patsy gets roped into their re-enactment, his pursuit of Ada becomes poisoned by their twisted memory games, and she becomes in danger of losing her chance to find happiness in the outside world.
Brideview Drama Group from Waterford brings a rather topical and current French play 13 Rue de L’Amour to Scariff. This play is full of interesting characters, featuring one philandering husband, his virtuous wife set on revenge, a doctor determined to be her instrument of revenge, the husband’s friend who is eager to trap his spouse in flagrante delicto and a young nephew with a cocotte to round out his education. They are all thrown together at 13 Rue de L’Amour where a loved starved German countess enters the mix as the concierge, a befuddled police inspector and a perky French maid add to the ensemble.
Kilmeen Drama Group which has won the All Ireland Drama finals for the last three years will perform the second Enda Walsh play The Walworth Farce. The first several minutes of the play are acted in silence while the audience sits trying to figure it out this odd triptych. Very slowly and well into the play, Walsh begins to serve up the missing pieces. A father and his two sons have left Ireland and live in a council flat in London. Only one of them goes out for the shopping. Their lives are mostly structured around telling stories or acting out about their lives and family members back home. On this day, Hayley from the local Tesco arrives on their doorstep with a forgotten bag of groceries and upsets the delicate fiction the father has been weaving all these years.
The final night which has an earlier start at 7.30pm features Bradán Players from Kildare with Edward Albee’s 1962 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. This play examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. After a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests late one evening and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship. The title is a pun on the song Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Londoner Tony Rushforth will adjudicate the festival. He studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, acted with the Harrogate Repertory Company and also directed productions at the Bradford Playhouse, the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon, the Georgian Theatre, Richmond and at the Edinburgh Festival. For 20 years he was Head of the Drama Department at St Mary’s University College in Strawberry Hill. Over the past decade he has been busy directing and also teaching Theatre Workshops in the U.K. and in Europe and for the Drama League of Ireland including two Summer Schools at Maynooth.