The 31st Annual Shercock Drama Festival opens on Thursday, March 16 when the Corn Mill Theatre Group, Carrigallen present Brian Friel's play "Philadelphia, Here I Come".
The eight night programme has something to cater for all tastes as groups from Leitrim, Galway, Wexford, Cavan, Dublin, Tyrone and Cork seek a Festival win that they need in their quest for a coveted place in their respective All-Ireland Finals. Four groups contest the Open Section and four more vie for honours in the Confined Section.
Opening night sees the welcome return of the Corn Mill Theatre Group to the Shercock stage. While the Open Section is generally contested by groups from the larger centres of population, the Carrigallen troupe have no hesitation in mixing it with the 'big boys' and their track record surely proves their ability to do so. All-Ireland Open winners in 1998, 2005 and 2014, Corn Mill's presentation of Brian Friel's "Philadelphia, Here I Come" is eagerly awaited and should get proceedings off to an enjoyable start. This night of drama is sponsored by Roe Oils Ltd, Shercock.
Glenamaddy Players take the road to Shercock on St Patrick's night with their production of "By The Bog of Cats" by Marina Carr. This play tells the story of Hester Swayne, an Irish traveller, who struggles to come to terms with a lifetime of abandonment. The Galway troupe have a long history of qualifying for the National Finals of the Confined Section. This night of drama is sponsored by Donnery Opel, Cavan.
Saturday, March 18 features Kilmuckridge Drama Group's presentation of "Shadow of a Gunman" from the masterful pen of Sean O'Casey. Set in the Dublin tenements during the Civil War, this play will be enjoyed by people of all ages and is performed by a troupe that was promoted to the Open Section two years ago following their 2014 All-Ireland Confined Section victory. This night of drama is sponsored by Shercock Credit Union.
Bailieborough Drama Group take the stage on Sunday, March 19 with their production of "The Tide" by Tara Maria Lovett, a darkly comic tale about the journey taken by two unlikely strangers who meet on Tullaghan Strand. Through their All-Ireland Confined Section victory with the "Kings of the Kilburn High Road" as well as their perfomance of local playwright Paraic McIntyre's creations, notably "The Night Joe Dolan's Car Broke Down", people are well aware of the rich vein of talent in the Bailieborough Drama circle. This night of drama is presented by Kingspan.
The Shercock Drama audience will know from experience that plays performed by a Dublin based group are always of a high standard. Dalkey Players take the stage on Monday, March 20 when they present "Dead Man's Cell Phone". Jean is sitting in a cafe when a man's cell phone keeps ringing. The man doesn't answer because, as the title suggests, he is dead. Jean dials 911 but keeps his phone in order to keep him alive in a strange yet significant way. She takes messages from the dead man's business associates, friends, family members and even his mistress. "Dead Man's Cell Phone" brings us on a fantasy that is both funny and thought provoking. The Dalkey troupe were runners-up in the 2016 Open All-Ireland Finals. This night of drama is sponsored by Niamh Smyth TD.
Another Wexford troupe take the stage on Tuesday, March 21 when Ballycogley Players present "Lay Me Down Softly" a play written by Billy Roche set in 1960s Ireland, the play features Delaney's Travelling Roadshow with its intriguing set of characters. Roche's plays are generally popular with Irish audiences and Ballycogley will do justice to the creation of their fellow countyman. This night of drama is sponsored by James R Frazer, Kingscourt.
Committee and audiences get a chance to draw breath on Wednesday, March 22 when Shercock's popular Bingo session holds centre stage.
It's back to drama on Thursday, March 23 when Newtownstewart Theatre Company from Tyrone present "The Hen Night Epiphany" by Jimmy Murphy. Five women come together to help clear out a run-down cottage a week before the wedding of its new owner, Una. As the play unfolds we see the women, one by one, forced to confront their own awkward truths. Audiences will fondly remember the troupe's presentation of "Factory Girl" at the 2016 Festival. The night of drama is presented by Sillan Tours Ltd, Shercock.
The Kilmeen Drama Group from Co. Cork bring down the curtain on this year's event with their Friday, March 24 production of "The Seafarer". As with the Corn Mill Group, this troupe from a small rural area are not afraid to "punch above their weight" having won the All-Ireland Open title four times, including a remarkable hat trick of victories in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Conor McPherson's play is set in a house in Baldoyle, Co. Dublin and will undoubtedly receive the full treatment from this accomplished Rebel County troupe. The night of drama is sponsored by McEvoy's Pharmacy, Shercock.
Then it's over to Adjudicator Tom Byrne to make his decisions on an event that will be opened by Bernie Harten, a member of the Drama League of Ireland, while the official closing will be done by Charlie Bonner, a professional actor of 30 years standing. Patrons will know that the nightly 'curtain up' time of 8.30pm is strictly adhered to and that seats are allocated on a 'first come first served' basis. Admission is €12 nightly with reductions for students and of course season tickets are great value at €60. As always, the committee is grateful to main sponsors Tabetex Ltd. and the Vergnano family as well as the associate sponsors and patrons who are acknowledged in the Festival programme. Patrons are welcome to contact 087 324 7461 or 086 201 0082 regarding the suitability of players for young people or on any matter relating to the entire programme. The plays on Thursday, Saturday and Monday, March 16, 18 and 20 might fit easiest into the 'child friendly' category. The support of local people has always been a core part of the Festival's success and while never taken for granted is also expected and appreciated.
On with the show!