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!

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