It has been a year of operatic highs for Gerry Godley, Nicholas Grene and Lorelei Harris, the judging panel for this year’s Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards, which recognise productions staged in 2022. Scanning the shortlist for this year’s awards, it becomes quickly apparent that Irish theatre has developed an interdisciplinary thrust that is pushing the boundaries of theatrical production to embrace a full breadth of performance styles and genres. Category upon category pays tribute to a wealth of talent showcased on traditional and non-traditional stages, in theatre, dance theatre and, especially, opera.
For the second time in the awards’ history, a nomination for best actor is drawn from the cast of an opera, with Lorcan Cranitch celebrated for his performance in Lalla-Roukh at Wexford Festival Opera in October 2022. Meanwhile, three of the nominations for best director come from that discipline too, with Cameron Menzies’s production of Into the Woods for Northern Ireland Opera and Patrick Mason’s production of Semele for Opera Collective Ireland being singled out alongside the work of Orpha Phelan, who is nominated for her role in bringing the operas Lalla-Roukh and Don Pasquale to life on the stage.
“We did think quite deeply about the representation of opera across the categories,” Grene says as the panel meet to discuss their nominations. “In one sense it may seem anomalous,” he continues, “but we are asked to look at opera from all angles, not just within its own category, and this year there happened to be exceptionally gifted directors [involved in opera], who created some of the best productions we saw all year.”
Godley agrees, observing how the prominence of opera across the categories makes a resounding statement about the growing status of the art form in the country. He says: “It really reflects the resources available to opera in Ireland today, which is markedly different from a decade ago, where opera directors would have really struggled to make work at this level. The kind of wider traction that opera has within the awards this year,” he elaborates, “is reflective of what is happening in Ireland overall. The work that Irish National Opera has been doing to make opera accessible, the way that the Arts Council has chosen to fund it: the piety has been taken out of opera in Ireland and the result is vibrant and dynamic.”
Godley also identifies contemporary opera’s cross-pollination with leading theatre companies and directors as part of its strength. “Opera requires a critical mass of resources that is unique to it,” he argues, “from the scale of the chorus to the demands of set design. Now you have some of the best theatre makers in the country bringing the excellence and high standards of their core discipline to opera as well.”
The Lir has made a huge difference in terms of training in this country over the last 10 years. You see the quality of the actors coming through, but also in stagecraft, movement, dramaturgy. And that has raised standards across the board in this country in terms of training— Nicholas Grene
Harris, who, along with Grene, concludes a three-year term on the judging panel this year, agrees. “Even since Nicky and I started as judges [three years ago], Irish theatre has become noticeably more interdisciplinary.” Harris cites the several choreographers, including David Bolger, Kevin Coquelard and Philip Connaughton who are celebrated in the shortlist for their work in non-dance-centred shows, as well as the dance theatre productions celebrated for their elements of design. The judges admit, however, that the increased interdisciplinarity can be a challenge.
“Historically it has been problematic, the question of how to define the differences between dance theatre and dance,” Harris says by way of example. “I suppose what we were looking for in that case is work where the narrative arc or shaping principle of a show is not just movement. Sometimes you don’t even know until you see it. For example, we saw some shows that we decided were not eligible, even though they were really good, but we came to the conclusion that they were categorically closer to dance.” Godley says that the vigorous discussion the judges had as they made their decision about shows that blurred the disciplinary boundaries is a positive thing: “robust conversation is what companies are trying to have with their audiences.”
The judges explain that these sort of animated discussions developed in relation to individual categories as well as particular productions. Godley elaborates. “A category like movement, for example. When we say costume: what we mean by costume is very self-evident. But movement? How long is a piece of string?” By way of example, Godley describes the movement work done by Rachel Parry for Raymond Keane’s production of Christian O’Reilly’s play No Magic Pill, about disability activist Martin Naughton.
“The movement was remarkable,” he says. “It was graceful and had a factual element to it, but it didn’t need to be seen through the prism of actors being in wheelchairs. And the set design facilitated that: it was exceptional in the way that it took a ramp and gave it a new dimension, so that the movement on the ramp could be a theatrical device as well.” “Sound too was a category we discussed in a similar way,” Harris interjects. “Ten years ago you would probably just be talking about music or score, but now we are talking about a whole new language in theatre.”
In both instances, the panel attributes the complexity of work on show in these distinct disciplines to the growing sophistication of training opportunities in Ireland. Indeed, the judges were so struck by the breadth of this newly-trained talent on the Irish theatre landscape that they have paid tribute to the work of Loughlin Deegan, outgoing director of The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art, in the Special Award category. As Grene explains, “The Lir has made a huge difference in terms of training in this country over the last 10 years. You see the quality of the actors coming through, but also in stagecraft, movement, dramaturgy. And that has raised standards across the board in this country in terms of training.”
Godley says the work coming from young theatre makers this year was exciting thematically too. “One of the reasons I was drawn to being part of the process [of judging for the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards] is that I was interested in learning a bit more about what is in mind of young Irish writers and creators and it has really been enlightening,” he says. “Our established companies and venue-based organisations: we rightfully expect them to produce the goods consistently. But what’s happening in the pipeline beneath them is a very dynamic place and it’s a privilege to be in the room to see what those young makers are doing.”
The individual creators of this wonderful work are still wretchedly rewarded in terms of money – they earn a pittance really – and if we had a magic wand that is something we would change— Nicholas Grene
Another tribute to the interdisciplinary strength of Irish theatre in 2022 comes through in one of the other nominations from the Special Award category: the commendation of Ulysses 2.2: a multipronged conversation with James Joyce’s Ulysses that took the form of 18 different artistic experiments, produced by ANU, Landmark Productions with MoLi: Literature Museum Ireland. The judges pay tribute to some of the remarkable productions that came out of it in the individual categories for the Awards, which include several nominations for CoisCéim Dance Theatre’s sensuous dance theatre piece Go to Blazes.
However, as Harris explains, the year-long project – which encompassed dance, opera, theatre, and film projects – “really showcased the amazing possibilities of creative partnerships, and showed us what can be achieved when an organisation like MoLi, for example, engages with artists that are not just literary. [The partnership with Landmark Productions and ANU] created a new space for theatre and performance to move into, and I think was fruitful for MoLi too, in terms of engaging with a new type of audience for what they usually do.”
The downside to all this creative flourishing on show throughout 2022, if there is one, Grene concludes, is that “Irish theatre will need more and more resources to fulfil its ambitions, in terms of the range of elements it is using now at such a high level: video, film, movement, music. Theatre is doing well in terms of Arts Council support – and we saw a certain vibrancy of work served by things like funding from Decade of Centenaries this year – but Irish theatre will need more. The individual creators of this wonderful work are still wretchedly rewarded in terms of money – they earn a pittance really – and if we had a magic wand that is something we would change.”
The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards will be presented on Sunday, March 26th.
They will include an audience-choice award, voted on by the public.
Everyone who submits a vote for the audience-choice award will be in with a chance to win a night’s bed, breakfast and dinner, for two people sharing, at Butler House, in Kilkenny, courtesy of Ireland’s Blue Book, and a festival pass for Dublin Theatre Festival 2023 for the winner and their guest.
You can read more about the audience-choice award, and vote for who you think should win it, here.
Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards for 2022: The nominees
- Owen Roe, The Steward of Christendom, the Gate Theatre
- Sean T Ó Meallaigh, Minimal Human Contact, Aisling Ghéar Theatre Company
- Andrew Bennett, Heaven, Fishamble: The New Play Company
- Seán McGinley, A Whistle in the Dark, the Abbey Theatre
- Denise Gough, Portia Coughlan, The Abbey Theatre
- Charlotte McCurry, Lie Low, supported by the MAC Theatre, Belfast, developed at FRINGE LAB and presented in association with An Táin Arts Centre.
- Janet Moran, Heaven, Fishamble: the New Play Company
- Eleanor Methven, The Tempest, Rough Magic and Kilkenny Arts Festival
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- Marty Rea, Portia Coughlan, The Abbey Theatre
- Rory Nolan, An Octoroon, The Abbey Theatre
- Lorcan Cranitch, Lalla-Roukh, Wexford Festival Opera
- Manus Halligan, Lost Lear, Dan Colley with company, Riverbank Arts Centre and Mermaid Arts Centre
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- Anna Healy, Portia Coughlan (the Abbey Theatre) The Last Return (Druid), The Spin (Corcadorca Theatre Company with the support of Backstage Theatre, Longford)
- Martha Breen, The Tempest, Rough Magic and Kilkenny Arts Festival
- Liv O’Donoghue, Good Sex, Dead Centre
- Maeve O’Mahony, An Octoroon, The Abbey Theatre
- Cameron Menzies, Into the Woods, Northern Ireland Opera
- Judy Hegarty Lovett, The Realistic Joneses, Gare St Lazare Ireland and Rubicon Theatre, Ventura in association with Laguna Playhouse, California
- Orpha Phelan, Lalla-Roukh (Wexford Festival Opera), Don Pasquale (Irish National Opera)
- Patrick Mason, Semele, Opera Collective Ireland and Kilkenny Arts Festival with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in partnership with Sestina
- Niall McKeever, Into the Woods, Northern Ireland Opera
- Pai Rathaya, The Half Moon (Green Shoot Productions), Letters of a Country Postman (The Everyman)
- Aedin Cosgrove, Good Sex, Dead Centre
- Maree Kearns, Mustn’t Forget High Noon, Christine, Twinkletoes (The Abbey Theatre), Orfeo ed Eurydice (Blackwater Valley Festival Opera)
- Catherine Fay, Semele, Opera Collective Ireland and Kilkenny Arts Festival with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in partnership with Sestina
- Joey A Frenette, Oliver Cromwell Is Really Very Sorry, Xnthony
- Arran Murphy, Go to Blazes, CoisCéim Dance Theatre
- Madeleine Boyd, Lalla-Roukh, Wexford Festival Opera
- Sarah Jane Shiels, Shit (thisispopbaby), The Tempest (Rough Magic and Kilkenny Arts Festival)
- Stephen Dodd, Letters of a Country Postman (The Everyman), Morrigan (Cork Opera House and John O’Brien)
- Paul Keogan, Semele (Opera Collective Ireland and Kilkenny Arts Festival with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in partnership with Sestina), The Steward of Christendom (The Gate Theatre), Constellations (the Gate Theatre)
- James C McFettridge, Big Man, Lyric Theatre
- Steve Wickham, Breath, Carpet Theatre
- Klong/Ódú, Oliver Cromwell is Really Very Sorry, Xnthony
- Carl Kennedy, Conor Linehan, Olesya Zdorovetska and Louis Lovett, The Tin Soldier, The Gate Theatre and Theatre Lovett
- Eoin French, Accents, Project Arts Centre and Kate Ferris in association with Mermaid Arts Centre
- David Bolger, Orfeo ed Euridice (Blackwater Valley Festival Opera) and Go to Blazes, with company (CoisCéim Dance Theatre)
- Kevin Coquelard, The Tin Soldier, The Gate Theatre and Theatre Lovett
- Rachel Parry, No Magic Pill, Mitzi D’Alton and Christian O’Reilly in association with Town Hall Theatre, the Civic Theatre and Dublin Theatre Festival
- Philip Connaughton and Philip McMahon, Party Scene: Chemsex, Community and Crisis, thisispopbaby, Philip Connaughton, Love Songs, Company Philip Connaughton, in association with Once Off Productions, Project Arts Centre, and Cork Opera House
- Tarry Flynn, Livin’ Dred
- Shit, thisispopbaby
- The Last Return, Druid
- The Realistic Joneses, Gare St Lazare Ireland and Rubicon Theatre, Ventura in association with Laguna Playhouse, California
- Into the Woods, Northern Ireland Opera
- An Octoroon, The Abbey Theatre
- Good Sex, Dead Centre
- Oliver Cromwell Is Really Very Sorry, Xnthony
BEST NEW PLAY
- Lie Low by Ciara Elizabeth Smyth, supported by the MAC Theatre, Belfast, developed at FRINGE LAB and presented in association with An Táin Arts Centre.
- Good Sex by Dead Centre and Emilie Pine, Dead Centre
- Lost Lear by Dan Colley with the company, Riverbank Arts Centre and Mermaid Arts Centre
- Heaven by Eugene O’Brien, Fishamble: the New Play Company
- Orfeo ed Euridice, Blackwater Valley Festival Opera
- Semele, Opera Collective Ireland and Kilkenny Arts Festival with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in partnership with Sestina
- Lalla-Roukh, Wexford Festival Opera
- Don Pasquale, Irish National Opera
BEST VIDEO DESIGN
- Mags Mulvey, Minimal Human Contact, Aisling Ghéar Theatre Company
- Ross Ryder, Lost Lear, Dan Colley with the company, Riverbank Arts Centre and Mermaid Arts Centre
- Conan McIvor, Propaganda: A New Musical, Lyric Theatre with the Belfast Ensemble
- Neil O’Driscoll, Go to Blazes, CoisCéim Dance Theatre
JUDGES’ SPECIAL AWARD
- Ulysses 2.2. an ambitiously imaginative response to the novel across the arts by ANU, Landmark Productions and MoLi
- Corcadorca Theatre Company for its outstanding contribution to theatre over the last thirty years
- Blue Teapot Theatre Company for its long-standing creative work with artists with intellectual disabilities
- Loughlin Deegan, for his multifaceted contribution to Irish theatre, most recently as founding director, since 2011, of the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art