Athlone is an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of place: it’s either a matter of nothing ever happening, or everything happening at once. May, for example, is a month when absolutely everything happens in Athlone, in the heart of Ireland, often at exactly the same time on the same day.
This, in many ways, reminds me of my home town, Trieste, in the North East of Italy, another ‘all-or-nothing’ place. Trieste, by the way and in case you didn’t know is near Venice, in Italy, and is also the place James Joyce chose to live in for 15 years between 1904 and 1920 with his wife Nora Barnacle, as well as the place where he wrote parts of ‘Ulysses’.
Now, let’s travel back to Athlone, shall we? Athlone sits firmly on the arts map thanks to the RTE All Ireland Drama Festival, happening every year at the Dean Crowe Theatre for a week in May under the auspices of Amateur Drama Council of Ireland. It showcases new productions and culminates in a glamorous gala dinner at the Radisson Blu Hotel overlooking the River Shannon.
Rabbit Hole Wins Big and Chapatti Makes an Impression
‘Rabbit Hole’ scooped the majority of the awards. Awards for ‘Rabbit Hole’ by Pulitzer award winner David Lindsay-Abaire included best stage management collected by Noel Hayes for the Ballyduff Drama Group, which were crowned the overall winners and best director for Ger Canning, who was praised for her work to highlight the more light-hearted elements of the play.
Because the Ballyduff Drama Group won the Abbey Theatre Award they got to perform ‘Rabbit Hole’ at the Abbey Theatre’s Peacock stage.
This year I only managed to see ‘Chapatti’, the comedy about a widower dog owner and a “crazy cat woman”. The production was sold out and staff at the ticket office told me it was a mission impossible to even get last minute tickets or returns. They suggested to turn up 10 minutes before the start of the show and try my luck with returns. However I did not want to wait for nothing and I tried buying my ticket online a few hours before the show and thankfully I succeeded. Therefore I would suggest to anyone who is planning to see plays during the festival to plan ahead and book a few tickets, but only if you know you will be able to attending on the day.
For ‘Chapatti’ the winner was Mary Colbert for best actress and she earned a standing ovation from the dressed-up audience at the Radisson: as adjudicator (and artistic director of the Ulster Theatre Company Michael Poynor put it, Mary Colbert portrays a “feline fancier who falls for an old dog and saves him from himself”.
You can watch the live stream recording of the awards ceremony on YouTube.
Before the awards were given to the winners there were speeches from all those people who have been working to put the shows together. Key highlights from the speeches were the fact that the audience keeps theatre alive in Ireland, the importance of factors such as stage design and lighting when adjudicating. The festival celebrates amateur drama, but it is without doubt that each production has demonstrated a high level of professionalism.
2022 marks an important milestone as it is the 70th anniversary of the drama festival after two tough pandemic years. The organisers are planning even bigger and better things for 2023 so let’s watch this space.