Dancing with the devil – in Cavan

SMASH-HIT play The Devil’s Céilí comes to the Black Box Theatre next weekend, fresh from a sell-out run at Dublin’s Peacock Theatre, and from winning the 2014 RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival in Athlone.

The Devil’s Céilí is written by NUI Galway MA in drama and theatre graduate Philip Doherty and Republic of Telly’s Kevin McGahern and produced by Leitrim’s Corn Mill Theatre Company. It’s a dark and uproariously funny comedy, much of which unfolds in a 1960s Cavan dance-hall, as three old men relive a fateful night that changed their lives and propelled them on a trip they would never forget - a night when the devil seemed to appear among them. Director Ronan Ward takes up the story.

“When Philip and Kevin wrote the play in 2012, the Fleadh Ceoil was on in Cavan town,” he tells me. “They wanted to merge this supernatural story with Irish trad and take this familiar theme of a visitation by the devil and set it in a dance-hall in Cavan.

“The play centres on three individuals - a womaniser, a parish priest, and an arrogant footballer. A mysterious stranger comes among them and, unbeknownst to them, slips some LSD into their drinks. The three of them have a trip during which they are confronted by all sorts of unusual creatures and people, and are made to confront their own inner demons. It’s partly a morality tale but first and foremost it’s an entertaining comedy.”

Ward is the artistic director of Corn Mill and first acted with the group as a 12-year old in 1986. He is following in the footsteps of his father Gus who has been an acting and directing stalwart of the company since the 1970s. Father and son both feature in The Devil’s Céilí as the older and younger versions of Iggy, the aforementioned womaniser.

“We meet the three main characters in the present day, as their older selves, then we are brought back in time to the 1960s dance-hall where we see them as young men,” says Ward. “The devil character’s name is Billy O’Leary. He is getting retribution on the others because of their past, so we see them before and after his intervention and how that night affected them.”

The Devil’s Céilí was crowned Abbey Theatre Award winner which afforded the play four performances at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin, all of which sold out in under six hours due to public demand. Among those who attended the Peacock run was Leinster and Ireland rugby star Sean O’Brien who was so impressed by the show he promptly took to Twitter to sing its praises.

“Everyone who has seen it has been blown away,” Ward declared. “When we won the All Ireland the adjudicator, Russell Boyce, who has judged festivals throughout Ireland and UK, said it was a tour de force and the best show that he had ever seen.”

The Devil’s Céilí is at the Black Box on Friday June 13 and Saturday 14 at 8pm. Tickets are €20/18 through 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie The play is not suitable for under-16s.

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