Ballyduff Drama Group from Co. Waterford got the 62nd RTE All-Ireland Drama Festival underway last night with their production of Curse of the Starving Class by Sam Shepard.

Centred around a dysfunctional family locked into their fate by poverty and the mentality that accompanies it, the weighty play made for a challenging evening’s theatre for the first-night crowd.

However, in the first of his nightly post-show critiques, the adjudicator, Dr. Russell Boyce, was generous in his praise of the production. He admired the four central performances, describing Richie Walsh’s turn as pater familias Weston as a seriously good piece of acting. Boyce thought that Valerie O’Leary brought some nice changes in characterisation to the role of Ella, going from uncaring mother to middle-aged vamp. He felt that Aoife Walsh played daughter Emma with a genuine internal energy and sense of youth, and commended both Courtney Canning’s accent and his bravery in his turn as son Wesley (a role that demands some full-frontal nudity), but would have liked to see more masculinity in his movement.

Boyce also felt that Canning handled the very difficult monologues very well and pointed out that it’s in these awkward monologues that we see the strength of Geraldine Canning’s direction. Rather than highlight the Absurdist elements within the text, she chose to lean towards naturalism which helped the actors develop truthful characterisations, which was a very good directorial choice, in the adjudicator’s opinion.

Boyce admired James Ahearn’s set in which everything was a bit off-kilter, reflecting the dysfunctional lives of the family within it. He also loved the set changes, which were tightly choreographed and carried out in silhouette in a nod to the Absurdist style of the play.
In summary, he described the opening play as a first class first course to the feast of theatre ahead. 

The RTE All-Ireland Drama Festival runs at the Dean Crowe Theatre in Athlone with nightly plays until Friday, May 9th and culminates in a gala ceremony on Saturday, May 10th, when the new champions, as chosen by adjudicator Russell Boyce, will be announced.

By Karina Buckley

For more on the All-Ireland Drama Festival check out here.