Revisiting the winter of ’69

Tess Felder

Tess Felder

AH, the wisdom of hindsight. If only we knew then what we know now.

This is the case, in more ways than one, with Willie Egan’s play The Winter of ’69, which is being staged in the Watergate Theatre from April 27-30.

For one thing, it’s an updated version of the Mullinahone playwright’s work that was staged in the Watergate five years ago.

“The essence of the play has not changed. What has changed is the number of characters and the number of settings,” he says. “When I wrote the play in 2004, I wasn’t aware of how a theatre like the Watergate worked, and so we found it nearly impossible to put it on – I had too many sets.”

However, he says, “I have learned a lot since then.”

The cast has also changed with time, including Paula Drohan from the original production, plus some of the Watergate’s most familiar faces and a few newer ones.

“It has often been said that the best piece of acting in Kilkenny for many years would have been The Kings of the Kilburn High Road and we have three of the five of those – and that is a good starting position,” Mr Egan said.

In all, the cast includes Sean Gaffney, Colin Dempsey, Paula Drohan, Paul Phelan, Paddy Behan, Terry Brennan, Tom O’Loughlin, Sean Hackett, Laura Finlay and Brendan Corcoran, who is also directing. It’s notable as well that the characters are wide ranging in age, from 13 and 17 up to nearly 60.

The story centres on the Sweeney family, rural farmers who have always lived in the “safe, sheltered world of religious influence and guidance”. Thirteen-year-old Mark is encouraged to leave his home and enter the Chapel Hill House of Prayer for the start of a vocational life.

When his uncle Jack arrives, back from “exile in London for the ultimate betrayal of joining the British Army”, he is able to look back and offer a differing perspective on the situation.

Life has, of course, changed over the years, and part of this is reflected in the fact that the monastery, like several across Ireland, has since been turned into a hotel.

For a look back, and a reflection on the present and future, The Winter of ’69 is in the Watergate next week.

‘The Winter of ’69’ is onstage from April 27-30 at 8pm. Tickets are e15/e12.50 from 056 7761674.