After an absence of 52 years, Ballyshannon Drama Society returned to the Athlone stage last night, performing Neil Simon’s dark comedy, The Gingerbread Lady at the RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival.

The play revolves around the central character of Evy Meara, a washed-up cabaret singer recently returned home from rehab. Her two friends and anxious daughter rally around her, but their troubled lives and her own insecurities soon threaten Evy’s fragile sobriety.

The adjudicator, Dr. Russell Boyce was impressed by the way the cast attacked the play and kept the momentum going, particularly in the first act. He reserved particular praise in this regard for Rachel O’Connor in the role of Evy, saying that she had the ability to drive the play on, but what he liked most about her performance was that she made the part her own to such an extent that he couldn’t imagine anyone else playing it.

In a script that crackles with one-liners, Boyce admired Richard Hurst’s timing in the role of Jimmy, and also felt that he pitched the character (who the playwright describes as probably homosexual) just right. He found Trisha Keane’s turn as Toby nicely natural, and thought that she handled the mixed emotions within the part beautifully.

Boyce also commended the way the emotional changes within the play were managed by director Anne McHugh, and felt that she made the play relevant for today's audience. He liked the spacial awareness she displayed, putting the right amount of physical distance between the characters throughout the play.

The adjudicator described John Travers’ and Sinéad Luke’s set as clever, saying its layout created identifiable acting areas that were used well. He also found the set to be gloriously old-fashioned but gloriously right for this play, and asked the audience to consider the work that had gone into it.

Boyce thought that, with their production of The Gingerbread Lady, Ballyshannon Drama Group shattered the myth that Simon doesn’t work on this side of the Atlantic.

The RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival continues tonight with Leitrim’s Corn Mill Theatre Company and their production of The Devil’s Céilí by Philip Doherty and Kevin McGahern.

The RTÉ 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 click here.