Warrenpoint All-Ireland Confined

I’ve seen before just three of the nine dramas to be staged on consecutive nights [8 p.m. nightly from Fri 23 April to Sat 1 May] in Warrenpoint Town Hall in the 52nd [same number as Newry Drama Festival celebrated this year!] All-Ireland Confined Drama Finals.  All three are great entertainment – Newpoint’s very first triumph ‘Our Town’ by Thornton Wilder[Wed 28]: Bernard Farrell’s ‘Kevin’s Bed’ [Fri 23] (I saw this at Lislea last year) and the fantastic Marie Jones’ ‘Women on the Verge of HRT’ on the final night.  The latter is sure to be a sell-out.

In addition, we are to be entertained to ‘Bent’ by Martin Sherman [24 Apr], ‘Eclipsed’ by Patricia Brogan [Sun 25] [the play that recently eclipsed the home team at Lislea – see story here], ‘Stolen Child’ by Yvonne Quinn [26 Apr], ‘Cash on Delivery’ by Michael Cooney [Tues 27], ‘The cripple of Innismann’ by Martin McDonagh [Thurs 29] and ‘Thy Will Be Done’ by Michael Carey on the penultimate night.

Amazingly the Silken Thomas Players, Kildare are presenting TWO full length plays here [Bent and HRT].  I’ve no idea how but it’s a story worth learning!  I’ll do my best for you! Wexford is represented by two groups [Ballycogley, Kevin’s Bed and Bridge Drama Society, Innismann].  Phoenix, Sligo are doing Our Town:  Creggan, Tyrone, as previously recorded here, are giving us Eclipsed:  Another Tyrone outfit, Backburners are presenting the Carey play:  Bridgeview, Waterford are giving us Cash on Delivery:  and Skibbereen are giving us Stolen Child.  A hearty welcome, congratulations and thanks to each and every team in advance.  We are honoured by your presence among us!

The Plots? 

Friday, Kevin’s Bed:  Kitchen of a house in West of Ireland today and 25 years ago, Doris and Dan’s Golden and Silver Wedding Anniversaries.  They try to come to terms with their sons’ [Kevin and John] hapless lives.

Saturday, Bent:  1930’s Nazi Germany:  Max and Rudy, his homosexual flatmate begin a nightmare odyssey across Germany.  Max refuses to abandon Rudy and they are soon caught.  En route to Dachau Rudy is killed and Horst, another homosexual prisoner warns Max to deny Rudy which he does.  Max opts for the label Jew rather than Queer, but through Horst he is forced to reveal the truth.

Sunday, Eclipsed.  With a present-day prologue and epilogue, the play is set in a convent laundry in 1963 showing how the ‘penitent’ girls cope with the life that society has condemned them to.  Topical!

Monday, Stolen Child:  humorous and moving.  An adopted woman investigates her origins.  Like the above, it soon becomes a fascinating exploration of a dark chapter in recent Irish history.

Tuesday, Cash on Delivery:  About a social welfare swindler who gets caught – hilarious!

Wednesday, Our Town:  Early 20th century Grover’s Corner, NH, USA is gradually revealed through its inhabitants.

Thursday, Cripple of Innismann:  Billy the cripple of Innismann [1934] lives with his foster aunt and gets the unexpected chance to star in a film ‘Man of Aran’.  Will he make it to Hollywood?

Friday, Thy Will Be Done:  Brothers in rural Ireland, living together, haven’t spoken to each other for 40 years.  Bridie the home-help, with a little divine help, resolves the dilemma.

Saturday, Women on verge of HRT:  Dublin women in Donegal, faithless men – ah, just go and see it yourself!!!

Tinderbox’s Revenge

Tinderbox is the only local drama touring company ever to bother to grace us with their presence and by virtue of that alone, deserves our support.  I am confident that this new play by Michael Duke, ‘Revenge’ is worth seeing.  I suppose it is unfortunate that Newry Town Hall is booked at the moment for the Feis, causing this drama to be staged instead in the less-suitable Warrenpoint Town Hall [the same reason that the All-Ireland Confined Amateur Drama Finals also went to Warrenpoint]. 

{Yes I know the Feis is popular, long-running etc. but it’s also eminently suited to Warrenpoint Town Hall, as these others are not!  Also schoolchildren and parents would relish the trip to ‘The Point’ and so their participation – and the all-important memory of the occasion – would actually be enhanced! }

Why the problem?  Well, Revenge is an epic story of love and loss, played out on a spectacular scale.  A bold, theatrically vivid production, it is performed by a fourteen-strong professional cast alongside community choruses.  See the professionals this Monday night and the amateurs all next week.  A crash course in learning to be a theatre critic!

The story?  It’s Halloween night when the worlds of the living and the dead meet.  And it’s the last night for one young couple before their long-awaited wedding.  Even as they stand on the threshold of this new life together, the shadows of absent friends return to engulf them.  Before the night is over, there are vows of remembrance and vengeance that must finally be settled.

The tour is presented with support from the Victims Strategy Implementation Fund, a venture itself worthy of support.  I know I’m asking a lot recently even of drama enthusiasts like myself, but it’s a long time till this time next year – when such choice comes round again.  Give it a birl!

Monday 19 April – One Night Only – 8 p.m. Warrenpoint Town Hall

Happy to report [Mon night] that Revenge was well-attended and well-played.  Local girl Gemma Burns, as Mae, on her first professional appearance excelled.

The play itself is dark, psychological and disturbing.  Not, in my opinion, to be recommended for ‘victims’ – the group it especially portrays. 

History of Newpoint Players

Newpoint Players [Newry and Warrenpoint] were formed in 1946 shortly after the war.  For most of those years since, the drama group has produced at least one full-length play a year, frequently several other productions and has boasted a strong team of actors, producers and back-stage players.  This is our most long-lasting, consistently successful and highly talented arts group, bringing fame and world renown to this little corner of the earth.  The number of actors and actresses of stage and screen who owe their first chance to Newpoint is legion.  Among the successful, talented and famous of the moment are John and Susan Lynch, Gerard Murphy, Sean Kearns, Peter Balance, and Gerard Rooney but there are many more. This short piece merely notes some milestones in Newpoint’s illustrious history.

Without doubt a talented, driving director is central to any amateur group.  He/she will gather together kindred spirits and initiate a number of thespian projects.  Before the triumph of television this was the only available form of public entertainment for the masses of people.  Sadly the audience numbers has dropped over the years and the age profile has considerably advanced.  However we had a few hundred season ticket holders this year – in line with recent years – and a full house for the home team.  Newry’s audience is famous for its critical discernment and its warm welcome to visiting teams.  Such an audience is central to success. 

It is fitting before reviewing its almost sixty year history, to acknowledge that Newpoint today is stronger perhaps than at any time in its past.  This is the more remarkable for the loss in recent years of stalwarts like Regina Hanratty and her husband, Owen Mooney, Derry Murphy and especially Sean Hollywood.  The reason of course is that under the powerful tutelage of the latter a number of excellent people including Sean Treanor, Donal O’Hanlon, Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Declan McDaid, Susan Lynch, Pauline Lynch, Laurie Hodgett and Patricia McCoy have developed their talents in a variety of ways and directions.  A few patrons including your humble scribe, were concerned about the group’s will to go on after Sean’s untimely death.  We ought not to have worried.  It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that Newpoint has gone from strength to strength, almost inspired to greater efforts by the absence of their former mentor.

Founder member and first director – an acclaimed actor and stage designer – was Livy Armstrong.  His early team included Nancy Murphy, Ken Kenny, Marie Shortall, Jim Murphy, Mona Garland and Patrick Carey.  Most of this successful crew was long-serving.  Many early productions were Shakespearian – acknowledged as among the most difficult productions to undertake.  In 1949 they played A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  From 1950, under Patrick Carey’s direction – which was to dominate the Society for fifteen years – they produced Hamlet, Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice [Shakespeare], The Devil’s Disciple and The Doctor’s Dilemma [Shaw]  Relative Values and Hay Fever [Coward] and many more.  T P Murphy [of GAA, Shamrocks and HE fame] was club treasurer from the beginning up to 1960.  Unbelievably Charlie Smyth started his Newpoint career more than 50 years ago, as did Owen Mooney.  The wonderful Sam Russell from Banbridge, who recently featured in The Rose [Siobhan O’Duibhan] and who sadly died during last year’s festival, started too in the fifties and played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in 1958.  Dr Ted Wilson became Newpoint Chairman in 1957 and his wife Nora remained our leading actress for many years.  From 1956 and for five years Mary Andress alternated with Patrick Carey as Newpoint producer.  In 1958 Newpoint’s Arms and the Man won the Athlone based All-Ireland festival for the group for the first time.  Mary also produced The Quare Fella [Behan]  Playbill [Rattigan] and You Never Can Tell [Shaw]. 

In the early sixties Seamus Mallon [still today our M.P.] joined, as Mary Andress left Newry for good.  Seamus directed Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, a production still remembered fondly by some members and patrons.  It won everything, including the society’s second All-Ireland title.  Thelma Marley became then, and for a long time remained the group’s leading lady.  Other directors of the late sixties included Joan Cassidy [Poker Session and The Birthday Party] and Olga O’Callaghan [The Heart’s a Wonder].  The latter in 1965 saw Gerard Murphy’s debut.  Liam O’Callaghan, our star from 1952, left and turned professional in 1968. 

There was a Newpoint hiatus in the early seventies until Sean Hollywood was elected artistic director in 1976.  The flowering that followed was truly stunning and space does not permit me here to list all his achievements.  Suffice to say that this writer agrees with the general consensus that Sean Hollywood was our Man of the Century up until his untimely death.   Drama was merely the first and chief one of his many accomplishments but in this field alone he became feted not just throughout Ireland and Britain but even wider afield.  I knew of American parents who sent their children during vacation to Newry to join in Hollywood’s Youth Drama group!  That of course, was merely his summer sideline.  It was in his blood.

Sean had acted in Philadelphia Here I Come [1969] and others.  Over the next decades some of his personal triumphs included Habeus Corpus [Bennett] 1979, John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert [Russell] and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest 1981, Under Milk Wood [Thomas] 1982, Darkness At Noon [Koestler] 1984 – the latter being an amateur premier and a career highlight.  Blood Brothers [Russell] celebrated Newpoint’s fortieth birthday.  He formed the Youth Group in 1980 and dedicated much of the rest of his life to its development.  It staged numerous successes.  In 1991 Dundalk International Festival was won by Newpoint’s Brighton Beach Memoirs [Simon].  In the following year Marat-Sade [Weiss] won Ulster and, for the third time, the All-Ireland titles for Newpoint.  Gerry McNulty designed the award-winning set, and remains at the heart of Newry’s musical and drama scene today, again designing the ‘Portian Coughlan’ set this month.

The following notes are based on Drama Festival programmes of former years exhumed from my personal collection.

24 years ago the Drama Festival Committee looked not unlike that of today, except for former members who have passed on.  Included in their number were Violet Durkan, Eileen Mooney, Gerard McNulty, Ann Boyle, Margaret Nolan, Charlie Smyth, Sean Hollywood and Mr & Mrs Wilson.  On stage Scott Marshall gave none of his ten awards to Newpoint who performed Hugh Leonard’s Summer.  I remember this production well and enjoyed it.  Derry Murphy shared the stage with seven other Newpoint players including Sean Hollywood, Kate Fearon, Joe Duffy and Donal O’Hanlon.  Bart, under Alan Martin won with Ayckbourne’s Confusions. 

Derry Murphy won best actress at Newry in 1981 with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – but shortly after died in a freak motor accident.  The team came third.  Sean Kearns and John Lynch, soon to turn professional, were on stage too, as were Patricia Hollywood and Joe Duffy and a host of others.  Alan Nicholl gave the premier award to 33 Players for Kennedy’s Children [Patrick].

In 1986 Newpoint had no entry in Newry Drama Festival, won by Guinness Players with A Streetcar Named Desire [Tennessee Williams].  By 1994 Newpoint was back to winning ways with Waiting For Godot [Beckett].  Declan McDaid, Joe Smyth, Sean Hollywood, Gareth O’Hare and Gerry Daly formed an exceptional, winning team.  Bart came second.

This year [2004] in addition to awards already recorded, Newpoint won Best Sound [Michael Murphy] and best Stage Manager Trassa Davey.  The group was also credited for most ambitious choice.  We are labouring under a distinct embarrassment of riches! The future looks bright!

Lislea: View from a Bridge

The Carrick Players of Tyrone, with their performance of ‘Eclipsed’ [life in the laundry for 1960’s unfortunate girls] won the recent Lislea Drama Festival and qualified for the All-Ireland Confined Finals to be held in two weeks time in Warrenpoint.  We will wait to see their achievement there before reviewing it.  Enough now to say that it must be very good indeed to have bettered the home team’s performance of Arthur Millar’s ‘A View From The Bridge’.  Mind you, only one point separated these two teams!


As a ‘lap of honour’ and to raise very necessary funds for the Hospice, Lislea enacted two performances, last Friday and Saturday evenings.  First let me complement the community for their wonderful support.  Unlike Newry, all ages turned out in force.  As usual Lislea reserved the first four rows for school-going children [they were evening performances so no teachers were there to enforce discipline].  Their self-control and level of interest were a joy to behold.  The sophistication of the audience for this quite complex drama was evident in the reception.  All who spoke from the stage did so with confidence and competence without the aid of a microphone.  As visitors we were well received.  But this is South Armagh.  I’d expect nothing less.


I’ve seen this Miller favourite many times, both professionally and on the amateur stage.  Lislea’s performance could match any.  A few players stood out.  Pius Tierney’s masterful performance must have lifted every other member of cast.  Liam Hannaway as Eddie was exceptional too.  I note quite a number of players of this name.  It’s true that often a few families form the backbone of local amateur dramatic groups.  14 people are named in the lead parts and at least that number again take the stage in support roles.  Then double your answer to include the back-stage players.  And remember that Lislea isn’t even a village, but a small, widely-disperse community.  My admiration knows no bounds.


The play is presented through the eyes of Alfieri [Pius] a local lawyer.  His view of life in Red Hook from Brooklyn Bridge [view from the bridge] as it affects these people, is told in a series of flashbacks.  Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman of Italian extraction, works on the docks.  He agrees to shelter his wife’s cousins Marco and Rudulpho, illegal immigrants from Sicily.  Troubles begin when his wife’s niece Catherine is attracted to the younger brother, Rudulpho.  Eddie’s confused jealousy culminates in an unforgivable crime against his family and the Sicilian community.  The play examines and exposes human weaknesses but also reveals the deep-lying emotions that exist within every human being.


I’d like to congratulate and thank Joe Murphy and every one of his magnificent team for a wonderful performance.  There wasn’t even a hint of jealousy that this fine production had failed to make it through their own festival.  But these people are the cream of South Armagh.  Why should I be surprised about that?!   

Drama: Newpoint

From last year’s Newry Drama Festival programme, I note for the first time a warning of ‘plays that contain strong language’.  I think any one exposed to TV is by now inured to all that.  However if your sensibilities are easily injured you ought to know that Newpoint’s contribution this year (Festival begins on Friday 19 March) falls clearly into that category!

Your local director is again Sean Treanor, who carried last year’s Trojan Women by Euripides not just to provincial, but to national [international?] success when the group was offered a ‘wild card’ British national entry – and scored an outstanding success in England.  We are informed in the pre-production flier that Portia Coughlan has a ‘richly textured dialogue’.  That at least!

The perennial critics [I include myself!] who complain that the programme never includes a sufficient number of dramas by Irish authors will now be silenced.  Besides Newpoint’s Irish entry, there are works by G B Shaw [Arms and the Man, an early comedy] Hugh Leonard [The Poker Session and Love in the Title] and Brian Friel [The Loves of Cass McGuire].  Then there’s the N Ireland drama The Force of Change.  Other plays on offer in this nine-night feast of drama are My Three Angels (comedy), Ladies who Lunch (witty) and The Living Room.

As if all that were not enough, we have the All-Ireland One-Act Drama Finals in Warrenpoint from 23 April-1 May.  I need a lie-down just thinking about it all.

But we will be there, each and every night.  See you.

Lislea Drama Festival

It is an enormous credit to the vibrancy of the community of Lislea, a fabulously picturesque district on the way from Camlough to Crossmaglen, that they are currently celebrating their 23rd Drama Festival.  I recently skimmed through again Tom Keane’s booklet of the history of the area [now an unbelievable 30 years old!] and was enormously impressed.  Newry library has no copy and neither have I.  Any chance, Tom?

Last time I attended a play, it was standing room only.  These thespians could teach Newpoint – or any one else, for that matter – a lesson.  I’ll be among you for a number of your forthcoming dramas.  Meanwhile, for those interested, the programme includes:

Callaghan’s Place – a play that examines the effects of isolation in remote rural areas. It is performed by St Dympna’s Dramatic Society.

Philadelphia, here I Come – the Friel classic, by Castle Players, Tyrone.

Playboy of the Western World: Singe; Wayside Players, Wexford.

Girls in the Big Picture: Belfast’s fabulous Marie Jones; Pomeroy Players, Tyrone.

Eclipsed: Drama Circle, Creggan.  1960s convent laundry (yes, you’ve guessed!)

View from a Bridge: Millar classic:  Lislea Dramatic Players

They all need and richly deserve your support.  You’ll be made welcome!