John McCullagh March 29, 2004

It is seldom that my critical review coincides so exactly with that of the Drama Festival adjudicator, so I am particularly pleased this year.  I predicted 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the correct order and that Barbara Jeffers would pip our own Patricia McCoy to the best actress award. 

Best actor was harder to predict as, unusually, there was a dearth of strong male roles throughout the nine productions.  No one could quarrel, however, with Donn McMullin’s awarding of that accolade to Conn McAlister of Belfast’s CB Players for his role as Detective Sergeant Simpson in Gary Mitchell’s powerful ‘The Force of Change’.  I admit to difficulty with discerning between the play and their interpretation of it, for I found it fascinating enough to view a perspective so different from my community’s [and especially my own] view of the partiality of the RUC – that is, religious and community, rather than specifically gender.  Perhaps even more interesting was acknowledging how much has changed, as this most current of all the nine nights’ productions, already felt so dated!

Newpoint picked up eleven awards altogether, which I felt – despite my strong partiality in favour of the ‘home’ team – was somewhat over the top.  A huge amount of effort on the part of many amateur thespians went totally unrewarded and I fear some might be dissuaded from further thankless effort in future years.  I would not wish any one to be promoted over more worthy rivals but surely there were many close calls where teams other than the host would have been worthy winners.  By way of example, allow me to suggest Best Lighting might have gone to Sundrive:  Best Moment of Theatre to Lurig for the uncovering of the dead body and either best supporting actor/actress [rather than both to Newpoint] to some player from one of the teams that won nothing else [or one award only]:  Mark Irvine of Rosemary and Michael Heffernan of Gorey are two possibilities for the former; Laura Ivers [Bangor] and Stephanie Leeman [Rosemary] for the latter.  I wish in no way to undermine my friends Mark Hughes and [his real-life sister-in-law, on stage wife Denise Taylor-Hughes!] whose performances were exceptional, but they are about to be further rewarded with appearances at the Opera House, Athlone and perhaps – if sponsorship be forthcoming – the British Amateur Finals again, and their talents fully rewarded there.  The others I mentioned return to the relative obscurity of civilian life for at least another year, and perhaps for ever.  I’m not happy that that is deserved!  Though I was delighted with Donn McMullin’s performance as adjudicator – and would strongly urge the Drama Festival Committee to invite him back next year [he has clearly indicated his willingness to return] I offer these few observations as positive and constructive criticism.  It must for example be disillusioning – if not incomprehensible – for a group on two successive final nights [Portadown and Newry] to win the top award in one, and literally nothing in the other!  I’d take Donn before that other, but, to get nothing for one’s efforts over months is undeserved!

It was a great festival.  I loved it all.  My dear wife, who looks forward to these nine nights of great drama every year almost as much as I do, was ill and attended only the final two nights.  Still, now there’s Warrenpoint and the All-Ireland (Confined) Finals.  Also Sean Treanor and his great team will go on to further success.  It may be further presumptive of me but I’m on a predictive roll.  They’ll win Ulster and perhaps even the All-Ireland at Athlone [by the way, they haven’t yet even definitely qualified for the latter!] 

Latest:  As expected, Newpoint have qualified for All-Ireland Finals.  As a treat, two performances are now scheduled for next mid-week [end of April] in Auditorium of Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, in preparation for Ulster Finals in early May.  If you haven’t seen Portia Coughlan I recommend you use this opportunity.

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