Lisa Dwan speaking at the opening of the RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival. Photo: Eric Molloy.

Athlone star opens RTÉ All-Ireland Drama Festival

by David Flynn

Athlone actress Lisa Dwan, who is a household name in theatre and television on both sides of the Atlantic, cited going to the All-Ireland Drama Festival when very young in the Dean Crowe Theatre, as something which changed her life.

Lisa Dwan returned to the festival in her home town on Thursday night last - this time to officially open and launch the nine nights of competitive drama productions. She talked of the wonder of performance on the theatre stage and how it enriches the audience.

“It’s really a privilege to come from a place that has hosted such a cultural treasure as the All-Ireland Drama Festival for more than seventy years,” said Lisa, to the Athlone theatre gathering.

The critically acclaimed actress surprised the audience when she said that the Dean Crowe was the first stage she ever stood on, following in her father Liam’s footsteps! However she humorously then told the crowd, that she “had a very great fall” playing Humpty Dumpty, around 1981.

“I also remember sitting up there in the balcony at my very first All-Ireland Drama Festival and the moment the lights went down, I leaned forward in my red velvet seat and I knew instinctively that something special was taking place, and I allowed myself to be swept away,” said Lisa. “I felt and understood that the stage is a very sacred space, and it’s a space that has become incredibly important. It’s different from the distracted fragmented world of social media, digital technology and screens.”

She then told the audience that “something deeply unique is encouraged in you here,” and when the lights go down, it’s an invitation to make our imaginations join and engage.

“If Covid taught us anything, it taught us that to be fully present with a group of tangible living breathing people is vital for the human spirit,” said Lisa, who recently was the lead star of the RTE Sunday night drama series, Blackshore.

She noted that the Ancient Greeks understood that theatre was important for the human spirit and even paid their citizens to attend!

“Theatre solicits feeling and fosters compassion and it makes us feel less alone than any other medium, because in this exact space we can gather to see ourselves fully, to understand ourselves and to feel empathy,” said Lisa. “Under that magic of these lights, we experience a collective and momentary marriage of all our imagination as we will for the next nine performances.”

After introducing all the groups and plays for the theatre week ahead, Lisa talked about the importance of theatre for young people.

“If you have a young person in your life and you wish to open some of these doors and possibilities for them, I urge you to try and bring them along to one or all of these performances and it might just change their lives, as it did mine,” she said.