Dr. Bryan McMahon who opened the drama festival with Tom McGuire RTÉ, Ita McGuire and Shay Ellis at the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival dinner in the Athlone Sheraton last Thursday.
There was a celebratory mood in the air as the RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival was launched in Athlone on Thursday night of last week.
And the organisers certainly had just cause to be glowing with pride. This year is the 60th staging of this august event, which began back in 1953.
The air of conviviality was enhanced by the splendid summer's evening, as theatre goers from near and far looked forward to the opening night at the Dean Crowe Theatre.
This year's festival was opened by Dr Bryan McMahon, a retired High Court judge and the chairman of the Board of the Abbey Theatre.
Before the opening night play - 'Deadline' by Robert Massey - a pre-festival dinner was held in the Sheraton Hotel. Festival Director Billy Nott welcomed everyone present and was delighted to say that all the plays were 'sold out' well in advance of the festival.
Mr Nott paid tribute to all the drama festivals held around the country, from which the nine All-Ireland finalists are selected.
"Without the festival circuit, Athlone would not happen," he said.
This year's festival adjudicator is Brian Marjoribanks from Scotland and Mr Nott said the "integrity" of Scottish adjudicators was well known to festival organisers in Athlone, with fellow Scot Alan Nichol having previously fulfilled this role.
Tom Maguire, RTÉ's Editor of Current Affairs, hailed the work of everyone involved in the festival down the years, and he mentioned Oscar Wilde's description about the stage being "the return of art to life".
This quote was also referred to by RTÉ Director General Noel Curran in the highly-impressive festival programme, which earned many plaudits on the evening.
With the prospect of a vast trade hub for Chinese goods in Athlone having moved a step closer last week, there were a couple of references to a possible Asian invasion on the night.
Referring to the special badges which were left on the dinner tables at the Sheraton, Mr Maguire said that, given the imminent arrival of the Chinese, the organisers felt a takeaway was in order!
In introducing Dr McMahon at the Dr Crowe Theatre, Mr Nott noted that Bryan's father, also Bryan McMahon, had previously launched the All-Ireland Drama Festival (in 1978). Therefore, this was the first "father and son combination" to open the festival, said Mr Nott.
Dr McMahon, whose father was a noted playwright and novelist, is a native of Listowel, birthplace of one of Ireland's great playwrights, John B Keane. The latter's plays have regularly featured in the All-Ireland Drama Festival and Dr McMahon mentioned that a production of 'Sive' was an early winner (1959).
Paying tribute to the festival on reaching its diamond jubilee of 60 years, Dr McMahon said: "I wish to acknowledge and affirm this wonderful achievement."
Dr McMahon noted that since the inception of the All-Ireland Drama Festival, there have been only three Festival Directors: Brendan O'Brien, Colm Kelly and the current incumbent, "the inimitable" Billy Nott.
He said it was "a singular honour" for him to open the festival and he highlighted "the spirit of volunteerism" that kept the festival going down through the years.
Last year, a past tradition was restored when one of the festival finalists was invited to perform their production in the Abbey Theatre.
The play which will be shown in the Abbey may not necessarily be the overall winner. Dr McMahon explained that "different criteria" are used in deciding which play is to be performed in the Abbey.
This year's winner of the Abbey Theatre Award will be invited to perform in the Peacock Theatre (sister to the Abbey) from July 5-7.
Dr McMahon praised the amateur drama movement for "keeping drama alive in areas which don't have access to professional theatre".
He described amateur actors as "purveyors of magic". "Go forth and break your legs," he concluded humorously.
The opening night play, 'Deadline' was performed by Prosperous Dramatic Society from Co Kildare. Written by Robert Massey, the author was also outstanding in an acting capacity on the night.
Adjudicator Brian Marjoribanks, a former professional soccer player with Edinburgh clubs Hibernian and Hearts, gave an entertaining review of the play.
Wearing a striking kilt, he praised the "exquisite" set and said the play had set a high standard for the remaining plays to follow.
The drama festival continues this evening (Wednesday, May 9) with the Estuary Players' production of 'Three Days of Rain' by Richard Greenberg). Tomorrow night (Thursday), Ballyduff Drama Group will put on the ever-popular Arthur Miller play 'The Crucible'.
The closing night (Friday) will see a production of Frank D. Gilroy's 'The Subject was Roses' by Corofin Dramatic Society.