Bringing Friel's Translations back to a Kilkenny audience

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Bringing Friel's Translations back to a Kilkenny audience

The Barnstorm-Watergate joint production of Brian Friel’s Translations is gearing up for its opening on 27 April.

Director Philip Hardy had just founded Barnstorm Theatre Company when he directed the play on the Watergate stage in 1994, the year the theatre opened. The 1994 programme features an introduction from Ger Cody, Manager of the Watergate, welcoming the production which featured cast from Kilkenny: Ber O’ Hara, Helen Walsh, Ann Widger, Niall Fitzpatrick and Liz Fitzgerald. At that time, Philip Hardy wrote that “the Watergate theatre is a symbol of the ongoing commitment to developing theatre in Kilkenny. “ How prescient!

This 2016 production of Translations features actors from the south-east, many of whom are familiar faces from plays presented over the years by KATS Theatre Group, Devious Theatre, Watergate Productions, Barn Owl Players, New Theatre Group and Kilkenny Musical Society, to name but a few of the companies and collectives operating in Kilkenny over the last 25 years. The set is designed by Harry Harris, who also designed 1994’s production.

Meet the Cast

In the first of our Meet the Cast features, three of the 10 actors from Translations give us insights into their acting experiences, their earliest visit to the Watergate Theatre and recall of Leaving Cert plays they studied, some more recent than others! Translations is a comparative text on the Leaving Certificate English curriculum.

Alan Butler

Alan plays Lieutenant George Yolland. Alan describes him as a “doomed romantic, very passionate and idealistic and very much a soldier by accident. Yolland always has the best intentions at heart but perhaps sees the world though rose-tinted glasses – which in the tumultuous setting of 1833’s Donegal in 1883 is not conducive to self-preservation.”

Alan grew up in Owning, near Piltown and made his stage debut, as a very unsure 22-year old, as Christy Mahon in Shruggawada Players production of the Playboy of the Western World.

Since then he has been involved in many productions, both on stage and back stage – most recently directing Shadow of a Gunman for KATS Theatre Group. “My first time on the Watergate was in Watergate Productions’ Wild Harvest written by Kilkenny resident Ken Bourke. In another theatrical connection Barnstorm produced Wild Harvest on the Watergate stage back in 1994, when it was directed by Vincent Dempsey, Barnstorm’s current manager.

Alan can’t recall the first play he attended at the Watergate but he is a now a regular theatre-goer. “I came late to acting but feel we’re lucky in Kilkenny to have so many fantastic local productions – not to mention the touring companies – and we’ve had some really brilliant plays on our doorstep for years now.”

He recalls studying Macbeth for the Leaving Cert and says “I loved it! The complexity of the characters, the dynamics of their own individual struggles and how much a broad and and complicated situation can be driven by, essentially, base emotions. I was lucky to have a hugely passionate English teacher. No wonder I went on to study English and to act.”

Maria Murray

Maria Murray has been embedded in the Kilkenny theatre scene from a young age, having worked with Kilkenny Musical Society, Kilkenny Youth Musical Productions, Dreamstuff, Devious Theatre, Little Theatre Company, Equinox Theatre, Trasna Productions . She has appeared in films produced by Mycrofilms and Young Irish Filmmakers.

In Translations Maria plays Bridget. Maria says Bridget is “a bit wild. She is always ready to laugh and joke and is comfortable with Doalty, her partner-in-crime, to play tricks on the English soldiers. She loves to hear and tell all the gossip but sometimes she speaks with thinking. While she might be a bit naïve she has no problem going toe-to-toe with the exuberant Doalty.”

The first play that Maria saw at the Watergate was Silly Bits of Sky, a Barnstorm play for children written by Maeve Ingoldsby but it wasn’t the best introduction to theatre as Maria was sick that day and “had to sit at the back, and wait to be collected.” It did not put her off, and Maria remembers later being very taken with Kilkenny Musical Society’s The Mikado in 1996.

It was not long before she was on the stage with KMS in her debut, Carousel. Maria is no stranger to the Watergate stage since, as she followed that performance with KYMP’s Oklahoma, Calamity Jane and Little Shop of Horrors; Shruggawada Players’ Colleen Bawn, Romeo and Juliet, 3 Musketeers, Zorro and latterly with Devious Theatre’ s Cannibal the Musical, Trainspotting, Stags and Hens and Night of the Living Dead.

Maria works with Equinox , an inclusive theatre company in Callan and toured recently with their play, Memory Box. As she had the joy of sitting the Leaving Cert twice, Maria had a good run at the Shakespeare; Macbeth the first time, followed by Hamlet. “I found both interesting because both plays had characters that I wanted to play. I loved the idea of reading dialogue that actors had been reading for centuries, but I found just sitting while reading quite boring. My English teacher did well as he kept it interesting. He is a theatre buff too. Hello Mr O’ Leary!”

Paul Derby

Although living in Thomastown now Paul Derby, who plays Owen Mór, has connections with a few places; he was born in Cork and grew up in Cashel Co Tipperary.

Paul’s acting experience in Kilkenny kicked off with the two-year Adult Theatre Club programme at Barnstorm and he then he went on to join Barn Owl Players. The first plays he performed in were the Barn Owls’ productions of Someone to Watch Over Me and Anybody for Tea. He has performed with KATS Theatre Group several times: playing Forrest Gump in the production Spoiler Alert and then, in his Watergate debut, he played Aide Warren in KATS’ One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“The first play I saw in the Watergate was in 2013, and it would have been because of the Barnstorm Theatre Club. The Watergate often offered a group rate to drama groups in Kilkenny and we received information about upcoming plays at the venue. The first one I saw was a touring company called Theatre Témoin with their play, The Fantasist. It was a very physical performance, combing puppetry with acting, using puppetry in a different way to what you would expect. It was interesting.”

In a unique take on preparation of the Leaving Cert English text, Paul’s teacher got the class to record a radio play of Philadelphia Here I Come, another Friel play. Paul played Gar O’ Donnell’s father, SB O Donnell, who is referred to as “Screwballs” in the play. Paul says, “I loved the play. The teacher was very inspiring. He was interested in getting a good performance out of everyone. It really gave me an appreciation for the material.”

It has served him well, this exploration of Brian Friel’s material. Paul describes his character in Translations. “Owen Hugh is the son of the hedge-school master, Hugh Mór, and is returning home after a six-year absence. He has been living in Dublin and appears, on the face of it, to have made something of himself. He returns under the auspices of working as a civil interpreter for the Royal Engineers who are mapping the island, starting with Ballybeg, Owen’s home place. Owen speaks Irish and English fluently, and so he acts as a go-between when communication is required between the locals and the British soldiers.”

Séamus Greene lives in Freshford. Séamus is from Dublin oringially and started acting at school there. For his Leaving Cert he he studied Othello and Sean O’Casey’s Juno and The Paycock. “My English and drama teacher, Martin Kelly, was brilliant. His classes and rehearsals were always challenging and great fun. I remember thinking that Mr Keating in the film ‘Dead Poets Society’ must have been based on him.”

Séamus has taken on the role of Joxer in the O’Casey play but he says of Othello, “I was fascinated by Iago, such a deceitful manipulative character. I would love to play him some day.”

Séamus joined Dramsoc in UCD and that was where he really fell in love with acting.

He was an active member of St Patrick’s Dramatic Society, Dalkey after college and eventually found his way to Barnstorm’s Adult Theatre Club after he moved to Kilkenny.

The first play Seamus saw on stage at the Watergate was John B Keane’s The Field. In Translations he plays Manus, the school-master’s eldest son, who is “effectively an unpaid assistant who runs the hedge-school. He’s a good teacher who cares about his students, particularly Sarah. He loves Maire and they appear to have an understanding, but his sense of obligation to Hugh ruins any hopes of a life with her.” This will be Seamus’ first performance on the Watergate stage.

Translations at Watergate Theatre: Wed 27 to Sat 30 April; nightly at 8pm with performances for schools at 11.30am on Thursday and Friday. More information Box Office: 056 7761674