By Chris Walsh
Photo by Pat Shortall
I had two great loves when I was growing up in Kilkenny. Being a resident of Patrick Street, I was reared on hurling. In particular James Stephens hurling. Like many ‘Village’ supporters I followed the boys in Red and Green with passion and pride.
My second love was the theatre. Only a ‘hop and a skip’ from Stallards, I was a regular at their shows.
Given that my late father was a volunteer at the venue I attended many musicals, theatre and Tops of the Town shows. I have to say, I still feel saddened to think that Stallards, a fantastic theatre, was allowed to close. By the age of twenty two, I found myself qualifying from UCD and moving to Sligo.
Although my adopted county was not as strong in the hurling department as Kilkenny, I found my love of the arts blossomed, thanks mainly to the opening of The Hawks Well theatre in 1982.
It was a venue I would form an affinity with over forty years, both as a patron, journalist and actor.
My return to Kilkenny each year for the Arts Festival is sacrosanct. The city comes to life with music, opera, theatre and dance. Of course the wonderful Shakespeare at the castle is a must.
On Monday last, I attended a wonderful ‘trad’ session at The Home Rule Club and was delighted to see a poster for the play ‘The Quiet Land’ by Malachy McKenna. I hadn’t heard of McKenna before but both local actors – Brendan Corcoran and Ger Cody (I knew him as Gar) were well known to me.
I saw them regularly and in many guises over the years appearing in such venues as St Kieran’s College, The Club House Hotel, Kytelers Inn, Cleeres and of course the Watergate.
Indeed, I had the pleasure of sharing the Friary hall stage with Brendan on a couple of occasions when our director was the wonderful Kitty Drohan and her husband Maunsell handled all things technical.
And so with twenty plus others (full house in the Barn Studio) I attended the lunch time theatre where both Corcoran and Cody gave a sterling performance in what can only be described a beautiful piece of theatre.
The play, I discovered, is adapted from the original radio play which won the PJ O’Connor Radio Drama Award in 2014 and was now being presented by Barnstorm theatre as part of the AKA festival.
Two elderly farmers, Eamon and Nashee, meet at a gate on a remote hillside. These men are old friends, old rivals, and old neighbours. They are men of heart, of humour, of hardness. Their conversation is a throwback to a gentler time, when silence was as telling as declaration and meaning was more often found between the lines than on them. But there’s nothing gentle about today’s conversation. In facing the bitter reality of their remote defiance, Eamon and Nashee have grown fearful and desperate. Now they are forced to confront each other with some heart-breaking truths that test their friendship to its limit. After today, will they ever again talk on this hillside?
Both actors played with alacrity and a commitment usually reserved for the professional stage.
In the recent All-Ireland hurling final, commentator Marty Morrissey credited both Limerick and Kilkenny with wonderful ‘off the shoulder’ hurling. “The player’s ability to synchronize each pass and to gel with each other’s move,” continued the RTE pundit” “was a pleasure to behold”.
Well, such was the case in this McKenna piece. Both actors looked totally at ease in each other’s company and I don’t believe there was second during the sixty minute performance that I didn’t believe that the characters were real and oh so believable.
There was fun, sadness and indeed points to ponder as we watched and attempted to decipher the intricacies of a play set in a changing Ireland.
And although it is set in rural Ireland, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to visualise much of the content happening in a city or town setting.
I have to say I was delighted to attend this event and would urge Kilkenny folk to do likewise.
It is sixty minutes of class.
The very realistic set was by Harry Harris.
My final word on the show is to say a word of congratulations to the director Philip Hardy.
I have walked the boards of the Hawks Well Sligo on enough occasions to know that for a show to work, the directors input is crucial. He got everything possible from his cast.
I particularly enjoyed that awkward friendship between both actors which see- sawed between silences, harsh words and laughter. Hardy’s direction got every detailed nuance from character and script to tell this tale.
Well done Barnstorm and The Home Rule Club on this initiative.
The show runs at The Barn Studio, at The Home Rule Club at 1pm until August 13th.
€15 includes lunch and theatre.
Booking : Eventbrite.ie or 056 7751266