It was twenty years ago when, as a student at University College Dublin, Shaun Byrne first delved into the dark comic world of Madame MacAdam’s Travelling Theatre. Ever since that initial reading, the play has lain dormant in the back of his mind waiting to be dusted down and taken out and brought to a suitable stage.
For the Ballybofey man, his first venture into directing was almost inevitably going to debut in the Balor Theatre and little surprise either that the play that intrigued and entertained him back in his university days was going to be the one that took him there.
Before the Butt Drama Circle’s recent four night run in the Balor, there was the ground work to be laid, not least in selecting a cast and, first and foremost, seeking the permission of the playwright himself, Thomas Gilroy.
That involved a series of e-mail exchanges and Shaun was encouraged by the acclaimed dramatist’s response. “I’m always glad to hear of interest in my work. However, Madame MacAdam has never worked in several professional productions on stage so I’m anxious to hear your thoughts about how it might be done on stage, the style that you would aim for etc.”, the playwright pointed out.
Shaun, who has a number of significant acting credits to his name, was quick to respond, outlining his own introduction to the play back in 1993 and his love for its “dark comedy” element. “It is probably that area that our production would concentrate on,” he said, before unveiling his own ideas on revising the play.
“I really like the way the play explores that whole idea of putting on a costume/uniform and the changes it brings out in people and how they conform or perform accordingly,” the fledgling director remarked.
Gilroy was suitably impressed and gave the official go-ahead. “I think the only way to tackle it is through highly coloured, artificial, almost cartoonish style. Not too far from pantomime. The more you draw attention to the theatricality the better chance you have of taking the audience with you,” he reacted.
And the audiences who packed the Balor over four nights from the end of February certainly went with it, the play, which relates the story of a group of English actors finding themselves stranded in what’s described as an “out of the way” Irish town, drawing hugely favourable reaction.
It arrives in hardly out of the way Letterkenny next Tuesday night (19th) and its director is keenly anticipating another positive response, particularly as it is being performed in An Grianan Theatre which has in the recent past packed out for another production which Shaun compares with ‘The Madame MacAdam’s Travelling Theatre’.
“It’s the spirit of ‘The 39 Steps’, “ he declares in reference to the richly comical multi awarding play produced by the Letterkenny Music and Drama Group.
Appropriately two members of that cast, Kieran Kelly and Elaine Gillespie, take their place in the Butt Drama Circle’s production, part of what Shaun insists is an “very strong” troupe.
That cast also includes some of the North-West’s most prominent amateur performers including Maria Haikens in the title role, Edward Flanagan, Jack Quinn, Laura Friel, Aoife Flanagan, Brian Duffy, Paddy McMenamin and Gordon Lucas.
Apart from the varied line-up of a power obsessed FCA sergeant, a dodgy Garda and love struck teenagers, the play also involves a doctored greyhound, a feature that prompted Shaun to pen a highly amusing piece in the play’s programme given his own family’s connections with the racing dogs (non-doctored variety).”My own father kept a number of them over the years bunk-bedded in a converted shed out our back in Ard McCool, not ideal stabling by any means,” he recalls.
The superb set design is by JC Bonar with Dungloe artist Kevin Gallagher comprising Jack B. Yeat’s ‘Day Into Night’ painting as the backdrop.
Thomas Gilroy’s original production was set in the Midlands but this has been altered to Donegal for local audiences and ambience.
Initially performed by the Derry based Field Day Company in 1991, ‘The Madame MacAdam Travelling Theatre’ , set during World War 2, had been waiting in the wings for a return to the stage over those score of years – its revival by the Butt Drama group sure to bring it back into popularity and public consciousness.
“It’s one of those sleeping giant plays, challenging to do but all the rewarding for it, a dark comedy with a little bit of everything thrown in,” Shaun Byrne sums up.
It represents the Butt Drama Circle’s Festival Play for 2013 and will also be staged in Strabane and Newtownabbey in the same week of its An Grianan airing.
The play contains some strong language and consequently may only be suitable for the 14 year plus age group.