Irish Times Theatre Awards in Focus

January 21, 2011


And so here it is, that time of year again, the time theatre folk live for and nobody else cares about, The Irish Times Theatre Awards, whose nominee’s were revealed this past weekend. Taking place in Dublin on February 27th, three people took in 170 shows and divied up the spoils between 22 production companies-just not the old lady in the Gate, who took her pretty frocks and refused to come to the ball… yet again. It’s a fair, if flaky, list where the judges have admirably not shot their load over “the new” and “the innovative”, choosing instead to reward finished articles over works (and artists) in progress.

It is a testament to the strength and vitality of the festival circuit that all four Best Production nominees debuted at either the Absolut Fringe (Medea, Worlds End Lane) or the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival (Phaedra and Rehearsal, Playing the Dane). The Dane is almost certainly going to walk away with the prize but I’d love to see the experiential World’s End Lane get the acknowledgment it was robbed of in September, where it lost out on Spirit of the Fringe and Best Production and was handed the Best Off Site Production(?) as compensation. And while Medea is worthy of its nod I can’t help but mourn Phaedra’s inclusion over the vastly superior, Vincent River, No Escape and Berlin Love Tour.

It’s been a terrific year in terms of direction with Tom Creed, Sophie Motley, Donnacha O Briain and Jose Miguel Jimenez all coming into their own with imaginative approaches to traditional texts, forms and presentation. None of them were rewarded this time out, though one of their ilk, Wayne Jordan, was. His invigorating choreographed take on Thomas Kilroy’s heinous Christ Deliver Us script lifted what amounted to a litany of our inherited ills over an exploration of them so that it sparked our eye if not quite our mind. He’s up against Jo Mangan for Slattery’s Sago Saga who took a text started by Flann O’Brian and finished by Arthur Riordan and created a gleefully wicked production, a state of the nation piece in panto form. Selina Cartmell (Medea) and Rachel O Riordan (Over the Bridge) complete the quad.

In a year that was marred by unremarkable performances it was a shock to see some genuinely poor ones turning up in the acting categories. Karen Ardiff, a theatre awards stalwart, is included for her hammy support in The Colleen Bawn at the expense of Sarah Greene in Phaedra, Katie Rose O Brien in Plough & Mary Murray in Off Plan. She was directed by Jimmy Fay who also directed the Scottish play for which, Andrea Irvine, has been included. An affecting portrayal of Lady MacDuff, it was weakened by Fay drowning out her terrified screams with Billy Bragg’s Jerusalem at the end of her only scene.

This makes Best Supporting Actress a two horse race between two brilliant turns in two bungled productions. Brid Brennan as Madge Mullhearn in Philadelphia, Here I Come was devastating, bringing audible gasps from the Gaiety audience while filling the loaded silence between father and son. My money- and my heart- however is on Eleanor Methven’s Miss Prism from The Importance of Being Earnest. Her performance was true, it was heartfelt and she took a genuine delight in being Prism that rose above mugging.

Conor Mac Neil as Lyokha in Corcadorca’s Plasticine is the only acting honor dispersed outside the Pale(and one of only 5 for productions originated outside the capitol) and by all accounts he provides the strongest threat to Joe Hanley’s Fluther from The Abbey’s Plough and the Stars for Best Supporting Actor. Laurence Kinlan has been rewarded for the wrong show, his Ronan in Between Foxrock and a Hard Place was comedic gold and a nomination would have been a nice acknowledgment of the commercial sector. Instead its Christ Deliver Us that gets the accolade. And while Ronan Leahy was solid for sure in Medea, Garret Lombard would have been a shoe in as Biff in the Gates Death of a Salesman had Michael Colgan permitted it.

Little can be faulted about the choices for Best Actor or Actress. Olwen Fouere, Aoife Duffin, Hillary O Shaughnesey and Eileen Walsh delivered four of the strongest performances, regardless of sex, in 2010 and I didn’t envy the judges their task of choosing between the men of Penelope who could all easily have been nominated and not a word of complaint would have passed anyone’s lips. As it was they went for Karl Shields who faces firm competition from Louis Lovett’s magnificent duel roles in B is for Baby, Marty Rea who reclaimed the monologues in Second Age’s Hamlet and Malcolm Adams(Slattery Sago Saga) who I feel is here at the expense of Aaron Monaghan(The Silver Tassie).

So. Final thoughts? The judges did a good job. Some of their choices in the acting categories raised an eyebrow or two but with so small a panel such discrepancies are always going to arise. (After all my own personal choice for Best Actor would be Jonathan Capdevielle for Jerk and you’d be hard pushed to find anyone to agree with me on that). I’m also surprised by how few nominations Druid’s Penelope received, that The Abbey’s amazing production of No Escape was shut out and that Berlin Love Tour, Vincent River and The Parting Glass went pretty much unacknowledged.

But it’s been a good year in general for Irish theatre with (almost) everyone getting some due here.

BEST PRODUCTION

Should Win: World’s End Lane

Will Win: The Rehearsal, Playing The Dane

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win: Jo Mangan

Will Win: Selina Cartmell

 

BEST ACTOR

Should Win: Marty Rea

Will Win: Louis Lovett

 

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win: Olwen Fouéré

Will Win: Olwen Fouéré

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win: Joe Hanley

Will Win: Joe Hanley

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win: Eleanor Methven

Will Win: Eleanor Methven

 

BEST NEW PRODUCTION

Should Win: Slattery’s Sago Saga

Will Win: Slattery’s Sago Saga

 

 

 

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