Tuesday, May 21, 2024

One of Ireland’s best plays of the past 25 years returns to the stage

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“There is an isle.”

One of the best Irish plays in recent decades is returning to the stage for a run that coincides nicely with the 2024 Six Nations.

Alone It Stands, written by Breen and first performed in 1999, theatre groups across the land, and further afield (London, New York, Auckland, Sydney). The most recent version hitting the stage comes from the Balally Players, and it runs at The Mill Theatre, Dundrum from February 14 to 17.

The play was first produced, in 1999, to coincide with the 21st anniversary of Munster defeating a touring All Blacks side (on October 31st 1978). The blurb for the piece runs:

‘Thomond Park, Limerick. The mighty New Zealand All Blacks, on an Irish tour, take on the none-too-mighty Munster team – and, to everyone’s surprise, they lose 12-0.

‘From this piece of Irish sporting history John Breen has fashioned a funny, lively play in which both teams, plus fans, children, relatives and even a dog, are portrayed by a cast of six, with no props and only half-time change of shirt.’

Alone It Stands – 6 cast members playing 62 roles

The Balally group staged Alone It Stands in 2020 but the latest incarnation is being produced before it heads out on the All-Ireland Drama Festival circuit.

Béibhinn Whelan plays multiple characters in the play, and spoke to JOE about how rehearsals, and plans, have been going, and what theatre-goers can expect.

“We started rehearsals back in late September and we’ve been rehearsing two times a week, since then. We’ve upped it to three times a week, since January, to make sure we are getting it tight, and making sure we’ve given it a chance to make it as perfect as it could be.”

“It’s a comedy about a rugby match from 1978, a really big rugby match!” she adds. “It was a huge historical event for Irish rugby – Munster beating the All Blacks for the first time. The All Blacks went on to beat Ireland the following week. It was a really, really big deal at the time. It’s a play not just for theatre-goers and it should have something for everybody.

“It’s a very physical play and very movement based… we have six cast members playing 62 roles so we are doing six or seven characters each. We have rugby players from Munster, New Zealand, fans at the match, fans trying to get in, family members of players, a dog, the ball itself and these group of 12-year-old ragamuffins from Limerick, who are looking to cause mischief – they are really fun to play.”

First and foremost, Alone It Stands is a sporting comedy but there are also several moments of high drama, and tension. Audience members, in past productions, have gone from weeping to cheering in a short, mad-cap span.

Following the Mill Theatre run, the play goes out on the festival circuit, taking in Kilmuckridge, Newtonabbey, Strabane, Claregalway, Ballyshannon, Newry and New Ross. Anyone that misses that Dublin run can look to get it out at those venues, in late February and across March.

“Opening night is on Valentine’s Day,” says Whelan. “If you’re into sport and your partner might not be, you can tempt them into this by saying, ‘It’s a bit of theatre, with romance and comedy in it’, knowing you’ll be going to see a great play about rugby.

“This play, I have found, has infused us with so much energy, as actors. I would often get to rehearsals, from work, very tired but, by the end of the night, I’d have more energy than when I started. I’d be buzzing. So, if that’s the sort of energy we are getting out of it, imagine what an audience can get out of it from just sitting there and enjoying it.”

You can check out the Mill Theatre’s website for further details on that upcoming February 14-17 run.

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