Gala awards ceremony culminates memorable week of amateur drama in Dean Crowe Theatre

Commitee members are pictured at the gala awards ceremony in the Radisson Blu Hotel Athlone to mark the conclusion of the nine day All-Ireland Drama Festival.  From l-r, Billy Knot, Ronan Bushell, Doreen Holloway, Ray Collins and Joe MacCarrick

Commitee members are pictured at the gala awards ceremony in the Radisson Blu Hotel Athlone to mark the conclusion of the nine day All-Ireland Drama Festival. From l-r, Billy Knot, Ronan Bushell, Doreen Holloway, Ray Collins and Joe MacCarrick

The 70th All-Ireland Drama Festival concluded on Saturday night last, when, in the surrounds of the Radisson Blu Hotel Athlone, a gala awards ceremony was hosted in reflection of the participating amateur drama groups whom, for nine successive nights, entertained capacity audiences with their productions on stage at the Dean Crowe Theatre.

Numerous accolades were presented during the gala ceremony, most notably the perpetual trophy which was awarded to Ballyduff Drama Group for their performance of 'Rabbit Hole'. The play, directed by Ger Canning, achieved All-Ireland Drama Festival champions status with 'The Good Father' performed by Bunclody/Kilmyshall Drama Group and 'Chapatti', performed by the Palace Players, placed second and third respectively.

Ballyduff Drama Group have performed on the three act circuit for over 30 years. They are directed by Ger Canning, who also won the 'Best Director' award.

The Adjudicator, Michael Poynor, commended her for ‘extracting all the humour and pathos from the play and inspiring a remarkable ensemble performance for the group’.

The group previously won the All Ireland back in 2004 with Marina Carr's ‘On Raftery's Hill’. In addition to 'Best Director' award they achieved accolades for 'Best Stage Management', 'Best Stage Setting' and one of their actors, Ronan Bennett, who played Jason in the play, won the ADCI/DLI Summer School scholarship.

The gala ceremony completed a memorable week of theatre in Athlone with familiar faces returning en masse to the town following a two year pandemic related hiatus to witness the very best of amateur drama on display in the newly refurbished Dean Crowe Theatre.

"This year has been such a challenging time for all of our drama groups, our festivals and for our adjudicators with play readings and rehearsals practiced over zoom and even outdoors in splendid isolation.

"The pure love, commitment and dedication of the amateur drama movement in Ireland has made the festivals happen right across the country in such a short space to deliver the magic that is theatre with superb productions on stage.

"Festival week was a great success with a lively and entertaining Festival Club taking place each night following on stage performances and an expanding and diverse Festival Fringe attracting much attention from all those who flocked to Athlone, our town being showcased at its finest with themed window displays, flags and flower arrangements," Ms Regina Bushell, All-Ireland Drama Festival Director, stated.

Ms Bushell expressed her sincere gratitude to the festival’s main sponsors, RTÉ, for their continued support of the prestigious event and the extensive coverage the festival had received for this, its 70th year.

She also thanked the nightly sponsors and the local and national media for getting full-square behind the festival and contributing to the successful event it has truly become.

"I also wish to express my gratitude to Athlone Credit Union for their continued support of the Festivals Schools Playwright competition which grows from strength to strength," Ms Bushell remarked.

The Festival Director further thanked the new co-directors from the Abbey Theatre, Caitríona McLaughlin and Mark O'Brien for their support and their generous invitation to the winners of the 2022 Abbey award, to perform on the Peacock stage next month.

Before announcing the winners they stated that "it was really important that amateur drama groups are giving young people and people who aspire to being in the industry professionally, a place to discover theatre and a place to discover the skills and the storytelling - and what it means to be an artist".

Announcing Ballyduff as the winners of the Abbey award they noted that they "loved the ambition, the uniformity of the quality of acting and the ensemble - there was great commitment to the emotional arcs in the play and we really enjoyed the detail in such a naturalistic set".

Speaking on behalf of RTÉ, former Head of Radio, Tom McGuire, noted that RTÉ’s role in the drama festival was important because the festival was not just about fostering the arts, it was also about "tapping into local communities in every corner of this island. And that's why RTÉ needs to be here today."

First time adjudicator at the festival was Mr Michael Poynor, President and Chair of ADA, and an award winning director and lighting designer.

"This year we have seen an extraordinarily accomplished collection of plays, the standards of acting and direction reaching new heights. I wish to highlight the collective effort of all the groups involved, the nine competing companies involving 190 personnel comprising 139 stage management technicians/designers, 42 actors and nine directors," Mr Poynor concluded.


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