It felt like a big win for the entire theater community at the 23rd Irish Times Theater Awards on Sunday at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. Six months ago, venues, artists and producers across the country were still in lockdown, wondering when the live performance industry might return to normal.
On paper, the shortlisted artists in the 15 categories might look like competitors. Who was the best actor: Domhnall Gleeson playing a psychologically unstable patient in Medicine by Enda Walsh or Matthew Malone playing an HIV-positive man in his final days in Once Before I Go by Phillip McMahon? But in the courtyard of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the rivals came together as colleagues.
It therefore seemed particularly appropriate that the special judges’ prize be awarded to the National Campaign for the Arts for his “outstanding dedication to advocacy and political engagement on behalf of the arts, particularly during Covid”, an award that recognized the collective effort involved in keeping the lamps lit during a time when creating live performances was almost impossible.
In the end, neither Gleeson nor Malone triumphed in the Best Actor category, although Helen Atkinson, Teho Teardo and Seán Carpio won Best Soundscape for their support of Gleeson, and Katie Davenport won. the best costume to dress Malone, who was gloriously dressed in heavenly wings for his final scene in the Gate Theater production. (Davenport’s costume for Michael Gallen’s opera Elsewhere was also recognized in the award.) Instead, the Best Actor honor went to Stanley Townsend for his performance as Marcus Conway, the protagonist of middle age of Solar Bones, adapted from Mike McCormack’s novel by Michael. West.
Solar Bones also saw Lynne Parker named Best Director; the Rough Magic Theater production premiered at the Watergate Theater as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival in August 2020, marking the reopening of theaters after the first lockdown; the play’s themes of isolation, grief and anxiety rang eerily with the times of Covid.
The Best Actress award went to Bríd Ní Neachtain for Laethanta Sona, the first Irish-language production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, which was performed in the extreme environment of Inis Oírr last August as part of the Galway International Arts Festival. Buried up to the waist and then up to the neck in the inhospitable landscape, it was a performance of physical endurance and a psychological challenge.
A big winner tonight was a dormant hit from the Galway International Arts Festival: Volcano, created by Luke Murphy’s Attic Projects, won four of the seven categories in which it was nominated, including Best Movement for Murphy and Best Design for lighting for Stephen Dodd (who was also praised for his work on the Abbey Theater production of The Long Christmas Dinner). Alyson Cummins and Pai Rathaya won Best Set for their claustrophobic reconstruction of the Nun’s Island Theater, in which audience members sat alone in booths to watch Murphy and Will Thompson perform a disturbing but life-affirming post-apocalyptic tale that took place in four episodes over four nights. Hopefully, wider audiences will get to see the remarkable work – which won Best Production – in the future.
As theater artists have reminded us as they have stood up for each other over the past two years, the essence of theater is its liveliness, its transience, its uniqueness. Perhaps the happiest honor, then, was the awarding of the Special Tribute Award to photographer Ros Kavanagh, who has played a key role in preserving the artistic process and output of hundreds of theater artists across the over the past two decades, with much of the work being celebrated at the awards. Selina Cartmell, director of the Gate Theatre, called Kavanagh a key collaborator who has a rare ability to “make you understand your role as a director”; choreographer David Bolger underlined the beauty of an archive of images that “will last forever when the show is gone”.
The Irish Times Irish Theater Awards 2022: The Winners
Stanley Townsend, Solar Bones (Kilkenny Arts Festival in partnership with Rough Magic in association with Watergate Theatre)
Bríd Ní Neachtain, Laethanta Sona, (SJ Company and Abbey Theater in association with Dublin Theater Festival and Galway International Arts Festival)
Bosco Hogan, One Good Turn (The Abbey Theatre) and The Enemy Within (An Grianán Theatre)
Bláithín Mac Gabhann, The Seagull After Chekhov (Druid) and Our New Girl (The Gate Theatre)
Lynne Parker, Solar Bones (Kilkenny Arts Festival in partnership with Rough Magic in association with Watergate Theatre)
Alyson Cummins and Pai Rathaya, Volcano (Luke Murphy’s Attic Projects)
Katie Davenport, Once Before I Go (The Gate Theatre) and Elsewhere (Straymaker and the Abbey Theater in association with Extended Mirrors and Once Off Productions)
Stephen Dodd, Volcano (Luke Murphy’s Attic Projects) and The Long Christmas Dinner (Abbey Theatre)
Helen Atkinson, Teho Teardo and Seán Carpio, Medicine (Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival)
Luke Murphy, Volcano (Luke Murphy’s Attic Projects)
Mojo Mickeybo (Bruiser Theater Company)
Volcano (Luke Murphy’s Attic Projects)
Best New Game
Mark O’Halloran, Conversations After Sex (thisispopbaby)
Best Opera – Overall Theater Experience
Hansel and Gretel (Irish National Opera, Theater Lovett and Abbey Theatre)
Special Judges Award – for Inventiveness, Excellence and/or Contribution to the Industry during Covid
National Campaign for the Arts for outstanding dedication to advocacy and political engagement on behalf of the arts, especially during Covid
Irish Times Special Tribute Award
Ros Kavanagh, for using his artistic skills to create an invaluable visual record of the many artists and productions that make up the history of modern Irish theater