Lilslea Drama Festival 2007


The 26th Lislea Drama Festival will run from Saturday 24th February to Sunday 11th March, with eight productions, all of them staged on weekend evenings (curtain up: 8.30, except final night 7.30): with the exception of one on Wednesday 28th February which sees the staging of Kilrush Drama Group’s Antigone by Jean Anouilh.   I feature it first for this is one I will not miss!!

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Valene Kane

Best-known for playing kidnap victim Rose Stagg in The Fall, Newry-born actress Valene Kane holds all the power in her latest role as an ‘alpha female’ barrister in legal drama Counsel. This drew her back to Northern Ireland for the pilot project and she has hopes of it being made into a series.

Valene Kane Actress
Newry actor Valene Kane plays barrister Olivia Harley in BBC One drama Counsel

YOU could say Valene Kane is an actress prone to perilous situations – being kidnapped by a crazed Jamie Dornan in The Fall is only one of them – but in her latest role, the Newry-born star of Thirteen and Rogue One: A Star Wars Stor’, faces danger of a different kind.

Valene Kane in BBC drama Counsel
Valene Kane in BBC Drama Counsel

In new BBC one-off drama Counsel, Kane steps into the killer heels of “alpha female” Olivia, a barrister who complicates her professional and personal life when persuaded to take on the case of a schoolboy client played by newcomer, Adam Gillian.

“On the surface, Olivia has it all: a powerful career and a husband [Declan Conlon] who is in the running for Lord Chief Justice – but she is growing tired of playing second fiddle…” teases the actress, speaking down the line from London where she lives with husband and fellow actor, Ed Cooper Clarke.

“When we meet Olivia, she’s sort of at a crossroads and doesn’t realise she is a little bit dead inside, so, when she meets this young boy, he ignites this free spirit inside her; a free spirit she didn’t realise existed.”

Valene Kane Is a Rising Star

The actress, who is currently filming HBO crime series Gangs of London and recently walked the red carpet at the Sundance Film Festival in the US – for the premiere of her latest movie, Sonja: The White Swan – was delighted to be back in Northern Ireland for the project, commissioned through the BBC’s New Perspectives initiative.

Penned by newcomer David Allen and directed by Declan Recks (The Truth Commissioner), Counsel showcases the emerging talent of Gillian as 18-year-old Gareth Fleming, a motherless young student whose educational future hangs in the balance after his father suffers a stroke and is unable to pay mounting school fees.

“It was so good to be back home again and involved in this project,” Kane enthuses. “Everyone working on the drama wants to see more work like this – we were so excited because we all grew up here and felt very connected, whether we come from Northern Ireland, or from the south.

“I’ve read a lot of scripts recently with good female leads, but not female-centric stories. Why I loved Olivia’s character in Counsel is essentially because it’s her story… it’s the confusion that a woman of a certain age faces when she hits a certain point in her life – her career’s going really well, but does she want kids? What’s next? Those questions relate to everyone, I think, and that’s what drew me to it.”

Describing herself as “a bit Type A personality, a bit of an alpha female” herself, the London Central School of Drama-trained daughter of former Down county Gaelic footballer and coach Val Kane says she understood that part of Olivia – even though she is “more disorganised, messy and bohemian” in real life.

But, understanding the role from the inside out is something the actress, who also starred in recent BBC drama Death and Nightingales – again with Jamie Dornan – takes completely to heart.

She makes ‘mood boards’, puts together Spotify playlists and keeps a scrapbook to help identify with her character long before the cameras start rolling.

“I use artistic mood boards for every character and I’ll keep a scrapbook with pictures and textures to help me feel what they feel,” Kane explains. “For the role of Olivia, I also worked very closely with the costume designer because I had a clear idea of how I thought she would dress and want she would want to wear.

“My father-in-law is a High Court judge and so I asked him lots of questions too… it’s a world I’m fascinated in anyway, the legal world. I think Counsel has great legs; it definitely has the potential to be made into a series.”

But even with such fastidious preparation, born out of love for the craft she has pursued since teenage years with the National Youth Theatre, the now 32-year-old is still reluctant to watch herself on screen.

“I find it very difficult, especially the stuff in which I have the lead in,” Kane reflects. “I find it hard not to critique myself and then I lose the enjoyment of just watching it. I usually get my husband to watch if first and then he tells me what he thinks…

“He’s more of a writer [than an actor] now, which is better for us, as he’s the person in one place, writing, and I’m the one who travels. It helps, I think, that we’re in the same profession, as he understands how I have to drop everything sometimes when an acting job comes up.”

Kane, who suddenly found herself reading for high profile roles following her compelling portrayal of Rose Stagg, the ex-girlfriend of serial killer Paul Spector (Dornan) in Allan Cubitt’s The Fall, is delighted that now her dream career – in defiance of the initial wishes of her parents who wanted her to attend university and study law for real – is taking off.

As well as Sonja: The White Swan – a film about Sonja Henie, Olympic figure skater and later Hollywood actress – Kane is also awaiting the general release on another movie, Profile, in which she plays a British journalist who dons a hijab to investigate the phenomenon of young women being radicalised online.

Based on the 2015 non-fiction bestseller, In The Skin of Jidhadist, by a French journalist who now has round-the-clock police protection, Profile won the Panorama Audience Award at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival and has been her “biggest highlight” thus far.

“It’s based on a true story about a journalist who had a fatwa out on her head after her story broke so, initially, my agents were kind of wary,” Kane tells me. “But, I trusted the director, the producer and in the whole process.

“We ended up writing a lot of the script together and it was a very involved process in the editing suite afterwards. It felt very much like a producer’s role – and that’s something I think I’m heading towards in the future.

“There was a long period when I was really struggling, so it’s great to be living in London and able to work there as well now on Gangs of London. It’s the first time in my 10 years of acting that I get to stay in my own house and go to my own bed. That makes me happy.”

Results: 2012 Newry Drama Festival

The opinion of the Adjudicator seldom tallies with my own – and so it is again.  I will report however, without comment, the final results from the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Newry Drama Festival.
Premier Award : Rosemary Drama Group, Belfast : When we are married
Runners-up: Ballyduff, Waterford: The Crucible
Third: Silken Thomas: Jerusalem
Fourth: Newpoint: Beauty Queen of Leenane

Most Ambitious Choice: Silken Thomas : Jerusalem
Best Producer: Rosemary
Best Actor : Liam Quinlivan as Rooster in Jerusalem
Best Actress: Eithne Bell as Mum in Beauty Queen of Leenane

Best young actor: Rosemary
Audience Award : Rosemary
Best Stage Manager: Ballyduff
Best Decor: Ballyduff
Best Lighting: Ballyduff
Best Moment of Theatre: Silken Thomas
Best Music and Sound: Ballyduff
Best Costumes: Ballyduff
Best Technical Production: Silken Thomas
Scholarship: Rosemary

A long week’s rest is called for.

It won’t happen!

2012 Drama Festival closes …

To write a New Age English allegorical drama so radical as Jerusalem – as Jez Butterworth has done – with a degenerate drug dealer as hero and with all its attendant  violence and foul language, and almost instantly enjoy huge success with it in New York and London, and have it acclaimed as a modern classic, is quite an achievement.  Yet it was more than much of our audience last evening could stomach and many left, while a section of those who remained expressed grave reservations,though admiring the cast for its consummate performance.

Every one to his or her own taste.  I, for example will not attend tonight’s Palace Players performance of Night, Mother because I could not cope with the subject matter (the calm, planned suicide of a daughter before her mother).  Yet this play won a Pulitzer Prize.

I thought Silken Thomas’ Jerusalem was magnificent: a triumph in every field of dramatic endeavour.  Too good – I suspect – for Newpoint’s sake, who may have to settle for runners-up spot, or less.  I have about 14 hours to be proved wrong.

The Kildare team will most assuredly win Most Ambitious Choice and, I suspect, best set.  They may take far more accolades than that!

It has been a good festival all round with packed houses and full attendance at the Fringe Events too.  With the single reservation of such an inappropriate and dreadfully morbid choice of play for Final Night, I warmly commend the Newry Drama Festival Committee for their efforts on the occasion of their Diamond Jubilee.

… end …

Eithne Bell for Best Actress?


There was high praise indeed, and rightly so, last evening from our adjudicator Walter Ewart for Newpoint’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.  I believe he was greatly impressed with every aspect of this interpretation, from the stage crew to the set, to the lighting, sound script, props, costume, the directing and most especially the acting performance.

Eithne Bell came in for especial mention for a scintillating performance as the old mother.  It was a flawless and courageous portrayal of a scheming, selfish old woman (Declan, her husband confided to me that she wasn’t acting!) and I suspect she will win the Best Actress award.

I have been in general agreement all week with Walter Ewart, and again, when the only reservation he expressed was about a slight lack of menace and impending madness earlier on in the play.  Patricia McCoy (as the Beauty Queen) was her usual impressive self and played perfectly off the mother character.   The two men, Donal O’Hanlon and Donal Kearney also strongly played their respective roles.

For Ewart, the best moment of theatre was the emptying of the p**s-pot into the sink.  We loved it.  But for me, it was her fall, as a lifeless corpse, from the rocking chair to the floor.  Brilliant!  And very courageous!  As was her struggle on the floor, when she was again attacked by her mad daughter.

I had a few minor quibbles (Eithne’s very synthetic grey wig, torrential rain, but no wet on characters entering the house, reference to muddy boots but no mud, no background rain sound when TV/radio switched on, Kennedy portrait rocking perilously on wall at each entrance/exit) but I hope the team will prevail to go to the Ulster Finals.

I have not seen it yet but I suspect the main threat will come from Silken Thomas who tonight give us Jerusalem.  This is the performance I have been most eagerly anticipating.

Don’t miss it.

Newpoint: Beauty Queen of Leenane

I know you really will want to go to the Town Hall tonight at 8.00 pm to support our local Newpoint Players who are performing Martin McDonagh’s Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Eithne Bell and Patricia McCoy have already shared the “Best Actress” award for their roles and Sean Treanor has won a Best Producer award.  They all (Donal O’Hanlon and Donal Kearney are also on stage) could do with another win to help them to the Ulster and perhaps the All-Ireland Finals.

Your support would be much appreciated!

Witches and Ghouls: Newry Drama Festival


Tonight, Saturday it’s the turn of Waterford’s Ballyduff with the classic ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Millar.
The classic parable of mass hysteria draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch hunt and the McCartheyism of ’50s America.

The play is a savage attack on the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusation – anywhere and any time!

Tomorrow night we have a new and very shocking version of R L Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  It is played by Nenagh, Tipperary, who are very welcome to Newry after their very long journey.

Turn out to greet them.


Rebels and Loyalists in Carlingford


The next in the Young Ireland: Rebels and Loyalists series of political addresses is on Thursday evening (8.00 pm) of this week in the Heritage Centre Carlingford, where the speakers will include Tim Pat Coogan, James Quinn, Brendan O Cathaoir and John Dunlop, each of whom in his own way is an authority on the life and times of the leading figures from that most  influential period of Irish history.

Read moreRebels and Loyalists in Carlingford