The RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival passed the halfway point last night when The Moat Club from Naas in Co. Kildare made their 31st appearance on the Athlone stage, performing The Steward of Christendom by Sebastian Barry.
The play’s main character, Thomas Dunne, is loosely based on the playwright’s own great grandfather, who was the last chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. It’s 1932 - ten years after he handed over the mantle of power to Michael Collins at Dublin Castle - and Dunne is a broken man, confined to the county home, trying to come to terms with his own history and that of his country.
In his post-show adjudication, Russell Boyce pointed out that the play will stand or fall by the performance of this one character, describing the role of Thomas Dunne as a massive part for an older actor to play. He congratulated Pádraig Broe on his performance in this crucial role, saying that he held the audience’s attention throughout, even in the monologues which could have been so depressing. He also admired how Broe’s controlled movement communicated a broken man in a broken body, but transformed in the flashback sequences, and paid him perhaps the highest possible compliment, saying that the playwright’s great grandfather was onstage last night.
Boyce also had words of praise for the supporting cast, saying that Sarah Gallagher brought a delicate level of deformity to the role of Dunne’s polio-afflicted daughter, Annie. He loved the humanity that Eugene Delaney managed in the role of gruff carer Smith and noted that Ann Hurley handled her onstage business very well as the carer and sometime seamstress Mrs. O’Dea.
The adjudicator commended Barbara Sheridan’s good, clever piece of directing, saying not only did she tell the story of the play, she also paced it well throughout. He liked the way she grouped the actors onstage, saying that the forms were almost sculptural at times, but picked out one sequence with straight lines and strange crossovers that he found rather odd. However, he felt that her directorial choices created real atmosphere right from the opening sequence.
Boyce described the set as absolutely right and also commented on the nice costuming, but last night he singled out lighting as a particular triumph. He applauded Lianne O’Shea on her splendid work, saying that her design made the set look good, but also gave good working lighting on the actors’ faces. He also congratulated her on the precision of her focusing, cueing and fading.
The adjudicator remarked that it was obvious that an enormous amount of work had gone into this production and pointed out that this play also makes the audience work, but concluded that it was worth all the work.
Tonight the first of the top three qualifiers take the stage in Athlone, when Thurles Drama Group perform A View From The Bridge.
By Karina Buckley
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