By Carolyn Farrar
When the Aisteoir Ghaoth Dobhair brings Aintn Sharlais to An Griann Theatre on Saturday night as part of the Earagail Arts Festival, it will be the acclaimed troupe’s sixth production of the play that Toms Mac Giolla Bhrighde has been involved in over the last 60 years.
In fact, the poster for this production shows Toms as Jimn, the cross-dressing Charlie’s Aunt of the title, from a 1957 production.
“I got great craic out of doing it,” Toms said, while the most recent cast rehearsed recently on the stage of the Amharclann Ghaoth Dobhair.
Aisteoir Ghaoth Dobhair will present Aintn Sharlais, directed by Toms Mac Giolla Bhrighde, at An Griann Theatre, Letterkenny, at 8 pm on Saturday, July 17. Tickets are 12.50 euro each and are available from the An Griann box office and Matt Bonner's shop in Bunbeg.
This classic farce was written by Brandon Thomas in 1892 but ine Nc Giolla Bhrde, a founding member of the Aisteoir, translated it into Irish in the 1940s and adapted it to an Irish audience.
“I think Annie did a great job,” Toms said. He said they chose the play for the Earagail Arts Festival because it is laugh-out-loud family fare, and because there is a lot of movement in the action as the farce unfolds, which can provide clues to the non-Gaeilgeoir members of the audience.
“People who don’t have much Irish may be able to follow it more easily,” he said.
In this very Irish version of the classic farce, Searlais is in love with Eibhln and his friend San is in love with Eibhln’s sister, Noirn. The girls are due to leave for England and the boys want to spend time with them before they go, but in the time when the play is set, there must be a chaperone for such a meeting.
Searlais hopes his billionaire aunt from Brazil, who is due to visit, will take that responsibility, but when she reports that she will not arrive on time the boys’ mate Jimn stands in as a most unusual “aunt”.
Toms, now 87, has been with the Aisteoir since 1938 and the award-winning theatre group first staged Aintn Sharlais in the 1940s. But “any time you see a play, it’s a different play,” Toms said.
Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair
He has seen countless Aisteoir casts over the years and is pleased with each generation that comes along. Toms also works on the dramas produced at Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair and is always looking for talented young actors to join the company.
The long list of Aisteoir alumni includes Niall Mac Eamharcaigh of Ros na Rn and Aodh g Duibheannaigh and the late San Mac Fhionnghaile of CU Burn, as well as actor Gavin Fearraigh, who also appeared in Ros na Rn but now spends much of his time in Los Angeles.
Toms misses his old friend San, who joined the Aisteoir in the 1960s and died last year.
“If he was alive today he’d be sitting here and I’d be arguing with him, ‘You should do this,’ or ‘You should do that,’” Toms said, and chuckled at the memory. His absence “leaves a blank,” Toms said.
He approaches each production and cast differently, suggesting first how he would like to see the lines read and then observing what the cast does with them.
“I want them to do what they’re most comfortable with themselves,” he said. That’s when the give-and-take occurs between director and actors.
“By then it’s half-way what you want and what they want,” Toms said, laughing.
The theatre group was started in 1932 as the Derrybeg Players but in 1935 the name was changed to Aisteoir Ghaoth Dobhair and the group committed itself to producing plays in Irish and promoting the language as well as the arts.
The Aisteoir became a staple of Gaeltacht social life, drawing audiences from as far as Belfast and performing throughout Gaeltacht areas and elsewhere in Ireland and abroad.
But Saturday’s performance will mark the first time the Aisteoir have performed outside of their home theatre since the Amharclann opened in Gaoth Dobhair in the early 1960s.
It has been a busy season for the Aisteoir, which still stages two productions a year. As well as rehearsing for Aintn Shearlais, the company recently finished performing two short plays, also directed by Toms, during the recent Conradh na Gaeilge conference in Gaoth Dobhair. Monday and Wednesday evenings were rehearsals for one production; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings were rehearsals for another.
“There was a fair amount of work being done,” Toms said. Not that he minded.
“I just do it and that’s what I do,” he said. “I just hope the audience enjoys it and I hope the cast enjoys it.”
Aintn Shearlais, directed by Toms Mac Giolla Bhrighde, features Bernard Duibheannaigh (Jimn), Conor Gallachir (Searlais), Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhrighde (San), Eilis N Raghaille (Eibhln), Deirdre N Dhubhthaigh (Noirn), Padraig Mac Fhionnghaile (Pdraig Murchadh), San Gallchir (Mairtn Briain), Bernadette N Dhuibhir (Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez), Hannah N Dhubhthin (Roisn) and Hughie McGarvey (Freastala).