A STAR-studded line-up of Taibhdhearc performers from past, present – and future - come together for the gala celebration [email protected] tomorrow, Friday October 26, and Saturday October 27, to mark the 90th birthday of ‘the grand old dame of Middle Street’.
Actors Bríd Ní Neachtain, Macdara Ó Fátharta, Eoin Geoghegan, Sorcha Ní Chéide and Séamus MacCuinneagáin will perform excerpts from productions staged by An Taibhdhearc over the years,including Macdara O Fatharta’s adaptation of Máirtín Ó Cadhain's Cré na Cille, Mise Raiftearaí an File by Críostóir Ó Floinn, and San Siobhán (George Bernard Shaw’s Joan of Arc ), while the future generation of An Taibhdhearc actors will stage an extract from musical Annie.
More than 30 members of Cantóirí na Taibhdheirce, under the baton of Paddy Daly, and accompanied by David Grealy will revisit highlights of the Taibhdhearc’s rich tradition of musicals and operas, many of which were translated by Máire Stafford, and directed by her husband Seán. Fittingly, [email protected] is being directed by Máire and Sean’s son, Maeliosa Stafford [pictured below], who has come home from Australia for the event. During a brief break in rehearsals he chatted with me about the show and the Taibhdhearc’s history, beginning with his own memories of the venue.
“I remember seeing lots of shows there as I was growing up. Ag Fanacht le Godot was one that really impressed me which is why I’m doing a scene from it, and Mise Raifteirí an File was another - and I always loved the pantomimes. I also enjoyed operas like Cosi Fan Tutte and of course it meant a lot to me coming back to the theatre later in my career to direct Ag Clai Na Muice Duibhe and I’m doing a scene from that as well. Other memories I have would be the personalities about the place as well, growing up watching people like Coiril Ó Mathúna. I was too young to have seen Siobhan McKenna there of course though I heard a lot about her but I did see the early Mick Lally!”
Given both his parents were stalwarts of An Taibhdhearc, it is no surprise Maeliosa featured in many shows there himself. “I did a lot as a child, I was in quite a few pantos," he says. "In the 1970s while I was in UCG, I did a few shows; I remember the 50th anniversary in 1978 when I acted in Lig Sinn I gCathu and Cluichí Cleamhnas.”
'I’m certainly enjoying it, it’s nice being back in An Taibhdhearc and going home in the evening and sharing stories about the place with dad and a lot of the musical translations were by my mother so for me it is a personal thing to do as well'
“I’ve been asked to cover some of my own memories and my sense of the history of the place and the older people who were involved in it including my parents,” Maeliosa continues. “As the first theatre to open its doors in Galway that was doing regular shows, even though it was often on an amateur basis, An Taibhdhearc was important culturally, especially with its championing of the Irish language - which also connected Galway with Connemara. It has a very important place in the history of Irish theatre.”
It was during a visit home earlier this year that Maeliosa was invited to direct [email protected] “It was already planned to include eight or 10 songs covering a capella, opera, musicals, children’s musical," he says. "There is a musical director and a 33-person choir, an a capella group and 10 kids from Scoil Iognaid doing a piece from Annie. So that was about an hour and I said I could add another hour comprising six or seven excerpts from famous plays, so I’ve been working with the actors and co-ordinate it all in a visual and aural way and getting it all to work on a small stage with a lot of people on it! I’m certainly enjoying it, it’s nice being back in An Taibhdhearc and going home in the evening and sharing stories about the place with Dad, and a lot of the musical translations were by my mother so for me it is a personal thing to do as well.”
I ask about the design and visual element of the show. “Dara McGee has painted scenery with iconic faces from iconic shows on the set,” Maeliosa reveals. “There’s the Taibhdhearc logo, and images of old Galway so there is plenty to see. Seán Ó Coileáin, from TG4, has helped me put together some televisual segments, photos from operas and so on, so the Taibhdhearc history is represented in that way as well, as the various songs are being introduced. The whole evening a big trip down memory lane.”