The Balor Theatre which will host some of the many events during the festival.
The 2016 Donegal Bay & Bluestacks Festival takes place from Thursday the 29th September to Sunday October 9th this year at locations around the south west of the county stretching from Bundoran and Ballyshannon to Ballybofey and Letterkenny.
Now in its 16th year the Bluestacks festival may not have the budget or profile of Donegal County Councils flagship Earagail Festival but it’s strong emphasis and nurturing of local Donegal art throws up some gems every year.
This year's programme is especially strong in local content with Donegal theatre companies Balor Rep, Dark Daughter Productions and Donegal Drama Circle presenting plays by Marie Jones, Maura Logue (a brand new work) and Martin McDonagh respectively while Stranorlar native Shirley Anne Bonner presents a new play on the life and times of Frances Browne – the ‘Blind Poetess of Ulster’ commemorating the 200th anniversary of her birth.
This year's festival also honours the 1916 centenary with two special events. Inishowen singer/songwriter Kate O'Callaghan will perform The Girl With The Beret – a song cycle inspired by her great grand aunt’s statement to The Office of Military History about her role in The Easter Rising and its aftermath. Also, the traditional Festival Carnival Parade in Ballyshannon will have a 1916 theme echoing the town in the time of the Rising.
The festival opens on Thursday September 29th with Dark Daghter Productions Mother Loss at The Abbey Centre, Ballyshannon. Written and directed by well known local theatre maker Mara Logue its an imagining of a meeting ‘beyond time and earthy bonds’ of 19thcentury pioneering Brithish writer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughters Mary Shelley and Fanny Imlay.
The following night sees Two Sore Legs at The Balor, Ballybofey. This is the amazing true story of the playwright’s mother – a Butlins Redcoat who bore six children to a married man.
Askeraden Theatre perform Peer Gynt in The Abbey Centre, Ballyshannon on Saturday night October 1st while the Gay McIntyre Trio play at Aislann Cill Chartha in Kilcar. The aforementioned Kate Callaghan performance of The Girl With The Beret can be seen in The Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny on Saturday 1st and in The Abbey Centre, Ballyshannon on Sunday 2nd of October.
The Abbey Centre, Ballyshannon hosts the first of five performances of Balor Reps Fly Me To The Moon on Tuesday 4th – it’s also at The Balor, Ballybofey on Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th, in Glencolmcille Town Hall on Saturday 8th and at Ardara Heritage Centre on Sunday October 9th.
Zoe Conway, Mairtin O Connor and Donal Lunny are at Leghowney Town Hall on Wednesday 5th and Donegal Drama Circle perform Martin McDonaghs The Cripple Of Inishmaan over three nights (Thursday 6th to Saturday 8th) at Ardagh Community Centre, Inver.
Frances Browne: In My Minds Eye explores the life of one of Donegal's greatest literary talents at The Balor, Ballybofey on Friday 7th. Also at The Balor are Irish music stalwarts The 4 Of Us for an acoustic concert on Saturday 8th.
That final weekend (Friday 7th to Sunday 9th) also sees the Donegal Fiddlers Gathering based around The Highland Hotel in Glenties while the 1916 themed Festival Carnival Parade takes place in Ballyshannon on the evening of Saturday 8th.
That’s a brief outline of what jumps out at me from this years Bluestacks programme. Copies of the brochure have been distributed liberally around SW Donegal so keep an eye out in your local shop/newsagent/post office/library etc and make sure and pick one up.
This Week's (other)Highlights
There’s plenty more going on besides The Bluestacks Festival. There’s an encore screening of Bellini NORMA presented by The Royal Opera at The Playhouse in Derry tonight (Thursday September 29th). Also in Derry, Celtic The Musical is in mid run at The Millennium Forum – it’s there until Sunday.
Acclaimed Tom Murphy play Bailegangaire is at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny for a two night run (Friday September 30th & Saturday October 1st).
Comedian Jason Byrne is at The Alley in Strabane on Friday with his new show Jason Byrne Is Propped Up while the September instalment of Shindig – the eclectic, original and local cultural smorgasbord – is in Voodoo Vintage in Letterkenny. The following night (Saturday October 1st) sees the latest instalment of Original Sinners – a local original open mic music night in The Alley, Strabane.
Finally there’s more musical entertainment in store as Blood Brothers The Musical opens at The Millennium Forum, Derry next Tuesday October 4th until Saturday October 8th.
Busy Balor For The Bluestacks Festival
We’re busy here at the Balor with five shows – it’s mainly theatre but there’s also a highly anticipated appearance from The 4 Of Us.
The Balor's first show of the festival of the festival sees Greenshoot Productions present Two Sore Legs. Written by Brenda Murphy it tells her own mothers remarkable true story – a young Butlin’s Redcoat she had six children by a married man. It features a stellar performance from Maria Connolly which switches effortlessly between laugh out loud funny and tender empathy. Fresh from sell out performances and rave reviews in Edinburgh and Belfast, Two Sore Legs can be seen at The Balor on Friday September 30th.
Following that is another comedy with Belfast origins – Fly Me To The Moon (Wed October 5th & Thursday October 6th) is the latest work from Marie Jones whose writing credits include Stones In Their Pockets, Women On The Verge of HRT and Dancing Shoes – The George Best Story.
The following night (Friday October 7th) sees the premiere of a new original work by Twin Towns native Shirley Anne Bonner: Frances Browne: In My Mind’s Eye is inspired by the life of The Blind Poetess Of Ulster - a prolific writer of short stories, poems essays and novels, best known for her book of fairytales Granny’s Wonderful Chair. Her achievements are all the more remarkable as she overcame poverty, lack of education, geographical isolation and the restrictions placed upon her as a blind woman to become an established and respected writer of her time.
It traces Browne’s journey from Stranorlar to London, and explores the relationships between Browne and her scribes - her sister Rebekah and her friend Eliza Hickman. Beautiful, moving, thought-provoking and funny, their story is a testament to the passion of the artistic struggle and to the power of the imagination.
And finally, a bit of quality music to round off the Balor’s Bluestacks Festival programme. The 4 Of Us acoustic) on Saturday October 8thfeatures Newry brothers Brendan and Declan Murphy showcasing songs from their new album Sugar Island as well as favourites such as ‘Mary’ from their extensive back catalogue which spans over two decades of radio hits and six top 20charting albums.
Tickets and info on all the above can be found on the Balor websitewww.balorartscentre.com and you can also book via the Balor Box Office on 0749131840.
Fly Me To The Moon
As mentioned above, Marie Jones Fly Me To The Moon is undoubtedly one of the theatrical highlights of the Bluestacks Festival programme. Author Marie Jones is one of the most successful playwrights of her generation with Stones In Their Pockets, Women On The Verge of HRT and Dancing Shoes The George Best Story all doing the business at the box office. Fly Me To The Moon, first performed in 2012 carries on that trend confirming her as one of the best in the business.
Frances (Cathleen Bradley) and Loretta (Orla Mullen) are community care visitors who look after 84 year old Davey, a lonely old man who lives for his Frank Sinatra records and his modest weekly bet on the horses. When Davey dies unexpectedly, having just enjoyed the biggest win of his life, an amazing possibility presents itself to the two cash-strapped women. After all, they are the only ones who know of Davey’s good fortune and he never made it to the bookies to collect his winnings!
Fly Me To The Moon will be performed over 5 nights during The Bluestacks Festival. It opens at The Abbey Centre, Ballyshannon on Tuesday October 4th before a two night run (Wednesday October 5th& Thursday October 6th) at The Balor, Ballybofey. It moves to Glencolmcille Town Hall on Saturday 8th before finishing up at Ardara Heritage Centre on Sunday October 9th.