When The Irish Times established the Irish Theatre Awards, 25 years ago, Irish theatre companies, actors, writers, designers and directors were experiencing great success on stages in both New York and London, being nominated for – and winning – Tony, Olivier and Evening Standard awards.
But here at home there was no such formal recognition. So The Irish Times considered it time to inaugurate home-grown drama awards, not only to salute achievements on stages across the island but also so all sectors of Irish theatre could come together to celebrate on at least one night of the year.
This year’s awards, for productions staged in 2022, will be presented on Sunday evening, before an invited audience at TU Dublin Conservatoire; the hosts are Fionn Foley and Clelia Murphy. The full list of winners will be published on the Irish Times website.
To whet your appetite, we look back at the winners in some of the key categories over the past quarter-century of the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards.
Awards presented in February 1998
- Best production Tarry Flynn, directed by Conall Morrison and staged by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actress Penelope Wilton, for A Kind of Alaska, by Harold Pinter; Gate Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Brian F O’Byrne, for the Leenane Trilogy, by Martin McDonagh; Druid, Galway, and Royal Court, London
- Special tribute award Tom Murphy, for the playwright’s contribution to Irish theatre over 30 years
The Irish Times’ original review of the Abbey Theatre production of Tarry Flynn, from May 22nd, 1997: Probably more faithful to the shape and fabric of Patrick Kavanagh’s original novel than was PJ O’Connor’s earlier stage adaptation in 1966, Conall Morrison’s new adaptation – energetically and imaginatively directed by the adapter himself – still does not manage to inject drama into the piece. Rather, the almost documentary quality of the novelist’s picture of peasant life in Cavan of the 1930s is here invested with theatricality rather than narrative thrust.
The farm animals are played by actors as a kind of comic chorus around young Tarry as he struggles between a harsh peasant reality and the fantasy of poetry and literature. The movements of both the not-so-dumb animals and averagely thick hate-your-neighbour peasants are excellently choreographed by David Bolger in a no-expenses-spared setting by Francis O’Connor, patchily lit by Nick McCall, on which the vast cast can swirl around the gauchely hapless Tarry.
The net effect is funny and entertaining beyond question, but its appeal is that of the satirical revue rather than of a substantial drama, and its conclusion (like that of the novel) is arbitrary as Tarry finally leaves the townland of Drumnay with an itinerant uncle who turns up out of the blue to rescue the 28-year-old would-be poet from his rustic dilemmas. And even that effect was lessened somewhat last night by a lack of clarity by many of the actors, who seemed to be shouting the text at us rather than projecting their words to us.
James Kennedy’s Tarry is suitably physically and emotionally inept, whether dealing with a truculent horse, a bullying priest, a desirable woman, or the managing director of his life, his manipulative sexist mother
James Kennedy’s Tarry is suitably physically and emotionally inept, whether dealing with a truculent horse, a bullying priest, a desirable woman, or the managing director of his life, his manipulative sexist mother with more plans to further the farm than the family. Pauline Flanagan is a proper tower of strength as Mrs Flynn, and Helen Norton, Cathy White and Deirdre Molloy are her three dim and downtrodden daughters.
Des Nealon and Barry Cassin are the domineering priests, Vinnie McCabe the vengeful neighbour, Lynn Cahill the local sex-pot and Mary O’Driscoll Tarry’s idealised truelove, whom he can never manage to relate to. Niall O’Brien is the passing uncle, and there are some excellent hens, a superb horse and high levels of energy and physical skills from all of the large cast. It offers theatrical fun even as it remains dramatically intractable. Reviewed by David Nowlan
Awards presented in February 1999
- Best production Dublin Trilogy: Buddleia, Kitchensink and Native City, written and directed by Paul Mercier, and staged by Passion Machine, Dublin
- Best actress Flora Montgomery, for Miss Juliet, by August Strindberg, in a new version by Sean Vincent; Lyric Theatre, Belfast
- Best actor Niall Buggy, for Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov, in a new version by Brian Friel; Gate Theatre, Dublin
- Special tribute award Brian Friel, for the playwright’s contribution to Irish theatre
Awards presented in February 2000
- Best production Stones in His Pockets, by Marie Jones; Lyric Theatre, Belfast
- Best actress Karen Ardiff, for Love in the Title, by Hugh Leonard; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Conleth Hill, for Stones in His Pockets, by Marie Jones; Lyric Theatre, Belfast
- Special tribute award Patrick Mason, for his outstanding contribution to Irish theatre
Awards presented in February 2001
- Best production Convictions, by Gary Mitchell, Daragh Carville, Marie Jones, Damian Gorman, Martin Lynch, Owen McCafferty and Nicola McCartney; Tinderbox Theatre Company, Belfast
- Best actress Fiona Shaw, for Medea, by Euripides; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Peter Gowen, for Bedbound, by Enda Walsh; Dublin Theatre Festival
- Special tribute award Tony O Dalaigh
Awards presented in February 2002
- Best production The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter; Gate Theatre, Dublin
- Best actress Catherine Walsh, for Eden, by Eugene O’Brien; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Denis Conway, for Richard III, by William Shakespeare; Theatreworks Company
- Special tribute award Phyllis Ryan
The Irish Times’ original review of the Gate Theatre production of The Homecoming, from June 14th, 2001: If time is the ultimate test of a play’s merits, the genius of Harold Pinter is affirmed by the durability of his works. The Homecoming, first seen in 1965, still has the power to shock and engage. It is one of his more explicit plays, laying out its stall of aberrations for all to see, but it also reeks of evil, of the terrors that lie at the heart of darkness.
The story is lucid. Teddy, an academic, returns from the US to visit the London family home he deserted six years earlier with his new wife, Ruth. Still living there are his father, two brothers and a bachelor uncle. Max is its primitive patriarch, Lenny a pimp, Joey a moronic boxer and uncle Sam a lowly chauffeur.
It is soon evident that Teddy has not been forgiven for his emigrant disloyalty, but the family’s attention switches to Ruth. They scent her innate amorality and woo her from husband and family for a life of cosseted prostitution.
As Teddy leaves alone, her parting words to him are not to be a stranger, and the irony is that, through six years of marriage and three children, they have clearly never been anything else.
We are told little of their past, why Teddy got out, how Ruth lived before they met; the play has its mysteries. Through the author’s brilliant dialogue and structures, we get a sense of the family’s deep depravity and how well she fits into it, of a world like the dark side of the moon, devoid of warmth or humanity.
Robin Lefevre’s production is mesmeric. The realistic set design by Eileen Diss feels right and makes space for the action, and is lit with atmospheric contrasts by Mick Hughes. It all makes for a scary play with a chilling impact
A very talented cast creates the characters with sharply etched interpretations. Lia Williams is riveting as Ruth, a beautiful woman with dangerous depths; Ian Holm is immense as Max; Ian Hart’s Lenny is sadistic and frightening; Jason O’Mara’s Joey is all blundering violence; John Kavanagh’s Sam is a pathetic nonentity and Nick Dunning’s Teddy is a strangely passive victim.
This production, directed by Robin Lefevre, is mesmeric. The realistic set design by Eileen Diss feels right and makes space for the action, and is lit with atmospheric contrasts by Mick Hughes. It all makes for a scary play with a chilling impact. Reviewed by Gerry Colgan
Awards presented in February 2003
- Best production Copenhagen, by Michael Frayn, directed by Lynne Parker and staged by Rough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin
- Best actress Eleanor Methven, for Dancing at Lughnasa, by Brian Friel; An Grianán, Letterkenny
- Best actor David Calder, for The Drawer Boy, by Michael Healey; Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and Galway International Arts Festival
- Special tribute award David Kelly
Awards presented in February 2004
- Best production Mud, by María Irene Fornés, directed by Annie Ryan and staged by Corn Exchange, Dublin
- Best actress Lia Williams, for The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, by Tennessee Williams; Gate Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Richard Dormer, for Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, by Frank McGuinness; Lyric Theatre, Belfast
- Special tribute award Tom Kilroy, for his exceptional contribution to Irish theatre
Awards presented in February 2005
- Best production Improbable Frequency, by Arthur Riordan and Bell Helicopter, directed by Lynne Parker and staged by Rough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin, and Dublin Theatre Festival
- Best actress Marie Mullen, for the DruidSynge productions of The Tinker’s Wedding and The Well of the Saints, by John Millington Synge; Druid, Galway
- Best actor Stanley Townsend, for Shining City, by Conor McPherson; Gate Theatre, Dublin, and Royal Court, London
- Special tribute award Garry Hynes, artistic director of Druid theatre company, Galway
Awards presented in February 2006
- Best production Titus Andronicus, by William Shakespeare, directed by Selina Cartmell and staged by Siren Productions, Dublin
- Best actress Catherine Walker, for What Happened Bridgie Cleary, by Tom MacIntyre; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Christopher Meloni, for A View from the Bridge, by Arthur Miller; Gate Theatre, Dublin
- Special tribute award Michael Colgan, director of the Gate Theatre, Dublin
Awards presented in February 2007
- Best production The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare, directed by Lynne Parker and staged by Rough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin
- Best actress Jane Brennan, for the Alice Trilogy, by Tom Murphy; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Owen Roe, for Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare, staged by Rough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin; as director of Catastrophe, by Samuel Beckett, at the Gate Theatre, Dublin; and for Festen, a dramatisation by David Eldridge, at the Gate Theatre, Dublin
- Special tribute award Ingrid Craigie
The Irish Times’ original review of Rough Magic’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, from March 8th, 2006: Before the start of Michael Bogdanov’s 1978 production of The Taming of the Shrew at Stratford, a drunk man entered the auditorium, arguing violently with the attendant who was trying to show him to his seat: “I’m not having any bloody woman telling me what to do.” He then stumbled on to the stage and wrecked the set. Some members of the audience took such fright that they didn’t wait around for the drunk to reappear as the swaggering Petruchio and the attendant as Kate, the headstrong woman whose will he breaks.
The problem of the play is that of how a contemporary audience can enjoy a comedy about the humbling of a fiery woman and the enforcement of due obedience to her lord, master and husband
Discomfiting as the device was, it was one solution to the problem of the play. How can a contemporary audience enjoy a comedy about the humbling of a fiery woman and the enforcement of due obedience to her lord, master and husband? Most directors who take the problem seriously identify two pressure points within Shakespeare’s text. One is that he has framed the story of Petruchio and Kate as a play within a play. It is enacted before a drunken beggar who is fooled into thinking he is a lord, thus allowing a director to present it at a satiric distance. The other is that Kate is starved and tormented into submission and that her distress can disconcert the comedy, forcing the audience to question the story itself. Together these two points provide openings for a post-feminist sensibility.
Lynne Parker’s richly enjoyable but problematic production for Rough Magic ignores both of these possibilities. The framing device of the drunken beggar is simply scrapped, and with it goes the notion of the main action as a self-conscious game. And Pauline McLynn’s Kate is a curiously subdued presence. Nearly hidden in a big wig and elaborate dresses, she is placed almost on the periphery of the action, so neither her shrewish persona nor its transformation into mild humility has much emotional content.
The burden of commentary on the text is carried instead by Monica Frawley’s brilliant sets and costumes. The set is a seedy, early-1970s rural Irish lounge bar, all synthetics and cigarette ash. The costumes are a glorious pastiche of fashion disasters from the 1950s to the 1970s. The underlying notion is that all of this creates a visual distance, placing us in the bad old days of a church-dominated Ireland where women were kept in their place. Kate’s humiliation is the humiliation of Irish women in general.
The setting absolves a contemporary audience of complicity in the story’s ultimate viciousness. This, it implies, is the way we used to be, but not the way we are now
This works well up to a point. The setting absolves a contemporary audience of complicity in the story’s ultimate viciousness. This, it implies, is the way we used to be, but not the way we are now. Thus released, the play can be enjoyed as a broad comedy rooted in commedia dell’arte. Yet the familiarity of the recent Irish past can also give the cast a firm grip on the characters. Thus Darragh Kelly’s Gremio, the rich old suitor of Kate’s sister Bianca, becomes, to great effect, a refugee from John B Keane’s Sive. Barry McGovern, as the sisters’ father, is a rural businessman on holiday from a Lennox Robinson play.
It’s a lot of fun, and the cast relishes the pace and verve of Parker’s lucid staging. The contrast between a dingy rural Ireland and the nominal setting in Renaissance Italy allows Parker to inject mock-heroic humour in which, for example, lavish feasts become plates of mean white sandwiches. The stripping away of romance extends to the figure of Bianca, who is evoked in the language as an icon of female radiance. Simone Kirby plays her, with a lovely comic touch, as a bit of a slapper, fond both of flesh and of drink. Agreeable as all of this is, it leaves intact the basic problem of the play’s climax, when Petruchio wagers on Kate’s obedience and she proves her absolute submission.
Parker tries to deal with the problem by implying Kate is in on the bet and by having her defiantly kiss another man. This would make sense if we had seen a more complex, troubled Kate earlier in the play. As it is, the messages are confused and a vibrant production ends in hesitancy, having shown itself far from tamed but not quite shrewd enough. Reviewed by Fintan O’Toole
Awards presented in February 2008
- Best production Don Carlos, by Friedrich Schiller, in a version by Mike Poulton, directed by Lynne Parker and staged by Rough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin
- Best actress Eileen Walsh for Terminus, by Mark O’Rowe; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Nick Dunning, for Don Carlos, by Friedrich Schiller; Rough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin
- Special tribute award Rosaleen Linehan, for her contribution to Irish theatre
Awards presented in March 2009
- Best production Phaedra’s Love, by Sarah Kane, directed by Jason Byrne and staged by Loose Cannon Theatre Company, Dublin
- Best actress Derbhle Crotty, for Three Sisters, by Anton Chekhov; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, by Bertolt Brecht; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Special tribute award Lynne Parker, for her contribution to Irish theatre
Awards presented in February 2010
- Best production No Worst There Is None, directed by Dylan Tighe for the Stomach Box in association with Poetry Ireland
- Best actress Stella McCusker, for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by Martin McDonagh; Lyric Theatre, Belfast
- Best actor Denis Conway, for The Gigli Concert, by Tom Murphy; Druid, Galway
- Special tribute award Tomás Mac Anna
Awards presented in February 2011
- Best production The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane, directed by Gavin Quinn and staged by Pan Pan Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Marty Rea, for Hamlet, by William Shakespeare; Second Age Theatre Company, Dublin
- Best actress Olwen Fouéré, for Sodome, My Love, by Laurent Gaudé; Rough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin
Awards presented in February 2012
- Best production Laundry, written and directed by Louise Lowe, and staged by Anu Productions, Dublin
- Best actress Charlie Murphy, for Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Cillian Murphy, for Misterman, by Enda Walsh; Landmark Productions, Dublin, and Galway International Arts Festival
- Special tribute award Gerry Smyth, for his role in developing the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards
Fintan O’Toole on Laundry, writing in his cultural review of 2011: “This was a year of ghosts and haunting in Irish art, and nothing haunts the imagination as persistently as Anu Productions’ extraordinary inhabiting of the intact Magdalene laundry five minutes’ walk from the bustle of O’Connell Street in Dublin. It is the most impressive piece of site-specific theatre I’ve seen, managing to be, by turns, almost unbearably “real” and elegantly poetic, harshly confrontational and gently heartbreaking. Laundry was not just a stunning achievement for Louise Lowe and her team but also the centrepiece of a programme of site-specific and memory-based work that made the 2011 Dublin Theatre Festival the most significant in many years.”
Awards presented in February 2013
- Best production DruidMurphy: Conservations on a Homecoming, A Whistle in the Dark, and Famine, by Tom Murphy, directed by Garry Hynes and staged by Druid, Galway
- Best actress Catherine Walker, for The Talk of the Town, by Emma Donoghue; Hatch Theatre Company, Landmark Productions and Dublin Theatre Festival
- Best actor Declan Conlon, for The House, by Tom Murphy; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Special tribute award Marie Mullen, for her contribution to Irish theatre
Awards presented in February 2014
- Best production Lippy, by Bush Moukarzel and Mark O’Halloran, directed by Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel, and staged by Dead Centre, Dublin and London
- Best actress Lia Williams, for A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams; Gate Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, for Howie the Rookie, by Mark O’Rowe; Landmark Productions and Project Arts Centre, Dublin
- Special tribute award Olwen Fouéré
Awards presented in February 2015
- Best production Ballyturk, written and directed by Enda Walsh and staged by Landmark Productions, Dublin, and Galway International Arts Festival
- Best actress Sinéad Cusack, for Our Few and Evil Days, by Mark O’Rowe; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Lewis J Stadlen, for The Price, by Arthur Miller; Gate Theatre, Dublin
- Special tribute award Stephen Rea, for his contribution to Irish theatre
Awards presented in March 2016
- Best production DruidShakespeare: Richard II, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, in a new adaptation by Mark O’Rowe; directed by Garry Hynes and staged by Druid, Galway, and Lincoln Center Festival, New York
- Best actress Derbhle Crotty, for DruidShakespeare; Druid, Galway, and Lincoln Center Festival, New York
- Best actor Marty Rea, for DruidShakespeare; Druid, Galway, and Lincoln Center Festival, New York
- Special tribute award Anne Clarke, of Landmark Productions
Awards presented in March 2017
- Best production Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, written and directed by Michael Keegan-Dolan and staged by Michael Keegan-Dolan, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, Colours International Dance Festival, Theaterhaus, Stuttgart, Dublin Theatre Festival and Théâtre de la Ville, Luxembourg
- Best actress Barbara Brennan, for Town Is Dead, by Phillip McMahon, with music by Raymond Scannell; Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Stephen Rea, for CyprusAvenue, by David Ireland; Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and Royal Court, London
- Special tribute award Siobhán Bourke and Jane Daly, Irish Theatre Institute
The Irish Times’ original review of Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, from October 3rd, 2016: “If I say this is a house, it’s a house,” says Mikel Murfi, gesturing to two concrete blocks that fall with shocking weight upon the stage, making a noise that cracks like gunfire. Murfi plays the role of Seanchai in this new production by director and choreographer Michael Keegan Dolan.
If he says it is a version of the story-ballet Swan Lake, so it is, but there is little classical romance in the choreography and even less in the dark fairy tale the company create on stage.
Loch na hEala is not a reflective pool but a midlands mire, a giant black plastic sheet that is summoned before us by four dancers with tattered wings. In this bleak and practical landscape, Murfi, moving between characters (the priest, the politician, the policeman; all hilariously called O’Loughlin) introduces us to a scattershot narrative that involves incest, corruption, violence, depression, property – all the favourite Irish themes – but their iteration here is entirely original. Crucially, there is a lot of humour to leaven the darkness, and a lot of beauty to counter the ruin.
Swan Lake/Lough na hEala is raw, raucous, redemptive, majestic, vital and empowering. It is not always coherent, but even then it is an extraordinary, beautiful mess
Keegan Dolan’s generous choreography grabs gestures from both a traditional and a modern register. The traditional elements are primitive, ritualistic, a contrast between low earthbound squats and a skyward reach.
There is so much going on on stage that it can be difficult to know where to direct your gaze, but, as the story strands develop, the lack of focus becomes less important than the concrete moments that the audience can take hold of: Slow Moving Cloud’s grounding Gothic score, which extends the Celtic flavour with Nordic inspiration; Hyemi Shin’s artfully simple costumes; the fluidity of Rachel Poirier and Alexander Leonhartsberger’s pas-de-deux; the joyous crescendo of the astonishing finale.
Swan Lake/Lough na hEala is raw, raucous, redemptive, majestic, vital and empowering. It is not always coherent, but even then it is an extraordinary, beautiful mess. Reviewed by Sara Keating
Awards presented in February 2018
- Best production Red, by John Logan, directed by Emma Jordan and staged by Prime Cut and Lyric Theatre, Belfast
- Best actress Catherine Walsh and Eileen Walsh for The Same, by Enda Walsh; Corcadorca Theatre Company, Cork
- Best actor Patrick O’Kane, for Red, by John Logan, and for Woyzeck in Winter, adapted and directed by Conall Morrison; Landmark Productions, Dublin, and Galway International Arts Festival
- Special tribute award Eleanor Methven
Awards presented in March 2019
- Best production Richard III, by William Shakespeare, directed by Garry Hynes and staged by Druid, Galway
- Best actress Sarah Morris, for The Lost O’Casey; Anu Productions and Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Cillian Murphy, for Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter, adapted by Enda Walsh; Complicité and Wayward Productions, London
- Special tribute award Owen Roe, for a body of work that includes many memorable roles, particularly for Rough Magic and the Gate Theatre
Awards announced in April 2020
- Best production The Examination, by Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan, staged by Brokentalkers and University College Dublin school of history
- Best actor Brian Doherty, for Hecuba, by Marina Carr, staged by Rough Magic in association with Dublin Theatre Festival; and for The Red Iron by Jim Nolan, staged by Red Kettle Theatre Company, Waterford
- Best actress Aoibhéann McCann, for A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams; Lyric Theatre, Belfast
- Special tribute award Macnas
Awards presented in June 2022
- Best production Volcano, written, directed and choreographed by Luke Murphy and staged by Attic Projects, Dublin
- Best actress Bríd Ní Neachtain, for Laethanta Sona (Happy Days), by Samuel Beckett, translated by Mícheal Ó Chongaile; Company SJ and Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Best actor Stanley Townsend, for Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack, in an adaptation by Michael West; Kilkenny Arts Festival in partnership with Rough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin
- Special tribute award Ros Kavanagh, for using his artistic skill to create an invaluable visual record of the many artists and productions that make up the history of modern Irish theatre