‘A breakout year for the arts was on the horizon and audiences were waiting’
IT was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Covid came. And went. Well… sort of. In the betweentimes, the arts went underground and online with performances from many performance groups to remind us all that the arts speak for us in a way that no one else does. It’s that indomitable spirit of performance art that cannot be denied, as plays, concerts, recitals, lectures played to us in our own home sitting rooms. But Covid was not to last forever; a breakout year for the arts was on the horizon and audiences were waiting.
Cue 2022 and a breakout revival was everywhere producing another bumper year for the Arts in Waterford with new writings, new plays, revived choirs, fascinating exhibitions, sell-out concerts and huge musicals drawing large attendances. Add in the Spraoi Festival of Street Theatre, Immrama Festival, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival at Lismore Castle, SETU Music Week, the Well Festival, the Imagine Festival Writers Weekend and you get an inkling of a crammed calendar of creative collective artistic work that is hardly replicated anywhere else in the country.
I’m often asked if I get tired of attending arts events. And, yes, there are nights when I would probably have rather stayed at home but I never leave an event without taking something from it. And I never attend an event without wanting it to succeed. When all is said and done, there is really no substitute for a live performance. It isn’t always good; but when it is, it’s magical and you will never leave a live performance without being a participant in a creative process. We each carry that piece of magic with us when we leave because the creative moment always lives in the memory. All performance is really collaboration between writer, performer and audience; each is an active participant in the creative performance and that is why no two performances are ever the same.
2022 was an exceptional year for drama with new plays and some powerful revivals. Garter Lane hosted a number of top-class performances. Amy Conroy reminded us of everything we have to be grateful for in her one-woman performance of “Every Brilliant Thing” back in February. Patrick O’Sullivan Theatre Maker trialled a new play about the Mount Sion Choir with issues on diversity and integration to the fore in the Little Space at Garter Lane 2.
Writer/performer Katie Honan drew good houses as she debuted her fascinating new play “How to fall flat on your face” and later on in March Jack Cunningham Productions packed out with the ever-popular tear-jerker “Steel Magnolias”.
Waterford Youth Arts had two splendid productions down in O’Connell St. “REMOTE” first staged at Garter Lane before the group took their production to the Lyric Theatre Belfast where they joined youth theatres from all over Ireland. Later on Waterford Youth Arts’ “I’m just a girl… what the f**k would I know” packed out Garter Lane for a hilarious off-the-wall romp that was a delight. The company also found the time to present an outdoor production of “The Fir Grove” at Wyse Park in midsummer.
Red n’ Blue Theatre Co., founded by Jenny Fennessy from Ballysaggart and husband Dylan Kennedy from Cork, opened their Irish tour of their superb production of “The Flags” here in June before moving on to the Everyman in Cork.
Stagemad’s stunning production of the Edward Albee blockbuster “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” held Garter Lane audiences gripped by the intensity of the drama and a Four Rivers Production of Wexford author Hannah McNiven’s debut play “Lights Out”, directed by Ben Barnes, closed out the drama season at Garter Lane.
Drama shone brightly at the Theatre Royal with some scintillating productions. Joycean scholar Robert Gogan was “Strolling through Ulysses” in February and the ever-popular Pat Kinevane returned with the excellent “Before” in April.
David Walliams’ children’s play “Awful Auntie” played to packed-out houses in April, as did Four Rivers Co.’s delightful revival of Bernard Farrell’s “Happy Birthday Dear Alice”. Pat Daly’s thrilling new play “The Attack” starred Waterford actor Michael Power in August and was later revived at the same venue, while Jon Kenny and Norma Sheahan brought a welcome return of the ever-popular John B Keane play “The Matchmaker” in October.
Later on that month, Little Red Kettle staged this year’s Leaving Cert play “Macbeth” with a host of local stars, before Fishamble’s intriguing “Heaven” from the pen of Eugene O’Brien closed out the month. We had some rubber glove love with crossed lines in “Dirty Dustin’” that delighted the almost exclusive female audience – I counted five men! – and an excellent debut production from Tramore’s Theatre Vamps Co. of “Educating Rita” played at the Tramore Coastguard. The demand for a proper theatre grows in the seaside town that now has an estimated population of more than 13,000 residents and Stagemad’s tip-top sell-out outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Japanese Gardens in Tramore really hammered the point home.
The Museum Talks are undoubtedly the best value in town at a fiver and it was great to see their return. Dr Eugene Broderick is everyone’s favourite historian and he packs his lunchtime talks on the Irish State with a showman’s grand sense of humour and irony. The museums continue to be a huge attraction both for locals and visitors and, in April – we anticipate – the Museum of Death will open its vaults to the public. Let’s hope that we’re not exhibits!
Next week we’ll be looking at the Music Review of 2022.
Shure there’s never anything on in Waterford. Happy New Year everyone!