Though for today';
There are not many shortcuts to happiness but Amateur Dramatics is one of them.
Guess who is behind the silver mask?
Our next interview in this popular series was graciously given by one of the cornerstones of the Armagh Theatre Group- Malcolm Dawson.
He reminisced with this interviewer in his Donegal hidout while the sun shone on the lapping waves of Sheephaven Bay. Pint of Guinness in one hand and a Doherty's sausage bap in the other, served by his adoring wife Sheila.
Here are the outworkings of that indepth conversation.
Name; Malcolm Dawson
Job/Career; .Retired (15 yrs ago!!) Was involved in Horticultural and renewable energy research for the Ministry of Agriculture – at least that was what it was called when I joined in 1968.
ATG Member since:.1970.- only realising as I write this that it has been 50 years and so many great memories - Claremorris Confined drama finals the hotel if it could be called that and a chef so drunk from the previous night with us that we had to cook breakfast. Jim O’Neill making an early entrance on stage complete with umbrella and fairy lights and retreating quietly. Father Joe insisting on complete accuracy with the script lines – not good for me - I could go on and on.
Why did you join; Liked the parties in the Loft in Jenny’s Row –still link Harry Mc Geough’s rendition of Leaving on a jet plane with some of the best nights there. No really I was involved at school in set design etc but not on stage and wondered what it would be like to be an ‘actor’- Never really found out!!!
1st production On stage: Seamus Mallon’s last production The Evangelist I was the street preacher who left the stage distributing tracts to the audience between acts I and II. Still remember the first lines (something I’m not necessarily noted for) “The wrath of God will be called down on the children of disobedience”.
First Production as producer: Silent Voices a one-act about the poet Francis Ledwidge and his final demise in the trenches in 1917 a challenge which I really enjoyed – thank you Margery Quinn David O’Toole Kevin McEaneny and Maryln White- it led on to many more each with their unforgettable memories.
1st producer/director;. .As above Seamus Mallon but was taken over by Patrick Shields (him of Tasmania) when Seamus became involved in politics.
Favourite theatre performed in;. Has to be the Patrician Hall in Carrickmore first for discomfort for both cast and public (don’t flush the toilet while actors are on stage) but also first for hospitality. Unfortunately but sensibly the free bar in the dressing room was discontinued. Possibly after my appearance as Willie in Home is the Hero with the Benburb Players where I appeared with Paddy Brolly an unforgettable experience. I left Carrickmore the following morning with a lift from the milkman. I also recall an Edwardian Restoration Comedy – The way to Keep Them- when after act one two members of the audience had this brief conversation overheard by one of the Group “ well Mary what do you think to which Mary replied I’ll not be back it is a load of shite!!!
Favourite play and part; The Shadow Box one of Father Joe’s productions for us. I played one of the three people who were patients in a hospice – waiting - and being visited by family. My son in the play was a twelve year old John Paul Connolly who gained theatrical fame before his real fame in London and Broadway by using the “F” word on stage.
Biggest achievement on stage: Remembering my words often not necessarily in the right order but I usually remembered the cue line.
Wine or beer; Yes please wine and beer to be precise Argentinian Malbec and any microbrewery craft beer currently Twisted Hop from the Hilden Brewery in Lisburn.
Drugs or therapy; Never did drugs- honestly and therapy never entered my conscious thinking till I did Shining City produced by Margaret Marjoram It was a real eye opener and whilst it scared the life out of me with the pages long monologues it had a real message.
Meat or Veg; Why do I have to choose? I like both definitely not vegan.
To entertain or be entertained;..There is a different excitement about both but if I have to choose I suppose provided things go well and there is a good feedback from the audience I would choose the entertain option.
Most embarrassing stage moment; there were many!! Two notable ones. Firstly in the Restoration Comedy The way to keep him where I had to read a long love letter which I hadn’t learned off as it was in a desk drawer on stage. However on one occasion it wasn’t there and I had to retrieve it from behind stage. A close second was in The shadow of a gunman when the bomb had gone off and Malachi and I had retreated under the blankets there was a long silence and I peered out to tell Malachi it was his line and he indicated ‘vigorously’ that it was mine As usual he was right!.
Favourite author/Playwright; Probably the one who was responsible for the play I was in or directing at the time. Again making a choice Arthur Millar All my Sons and Death of a Salesman both very strong plays and on the other end of the scale Bernard Farrell – who can forget the riotous comedy in Stella by Starlight, I do not like thee Dr Fell Happy birthday dear Alice and 44 Sycamore
Chocolate or Cakes;..Don’t have a sweet tooth but do like chocolate on occasions.
Fry or fruit;.Definitely fry but not too often.
Best Holiday destination;..Why do you ask? DONEGAL for the last 60 years.
Your party piece; .Used to have one but in sobriety when I discovered I couldn’t sing I gave it up.
Mantra-rules of life;. Live, love, laugh and be happy – don’t know who said it and I know it can’t be like that all the time but not a bad object to aim for.
Book/Play/Film recommendation; ..The book which made the most lasting impact on me was Long walk to freedom – Nelson Mandela’s biography.
Exercise choice;. Don’t do it – at my age really!! I get enough in the garden
Favourite Food;. .The one that cooked for me.
Hopes for ATG in 2026..To be still vertical and involved in the New revamped theatre in Abbey Lane with as Bridie said toilet facilities behind stage.
Malcolm, Pat and Madeleine in 'Someone to talk too' this wonderful one act by Michael Judge in Abbey Lane Theatre.
Today's wise words;
Charlie Chaplin once lost a contest for a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like competition.
Some times people just don't believe what's in front of them.
ARMAGH THEATRE GROUP QUESTIONNAIRE 2020
NAME; Mary Lamb.
JOB. Secondary teacher of English.
HOW LONG ARE YOU A MEMBER.
I am a foundation member. When I went to a meeting in the City Hall the audience was divided by an aisle down the middle of the hall and by religion left and right. We formed a group that had no divisions and has worked through some divisive times. At festivals adjudicators often mentioned the exceptional standard of cooperation in our team. A proud tradition.
REASON FOR JOINING;
I always wanted to be an actor being fortunate enough to have had apart in “I Want to be an Actor” a radio programme run by Cicely Matthews from which I think Jimmy Ellis may have emerged to run Z Cars. In the sixties I was looking after 2 children and needed to do something .James encouraged me to investigate this new group. I had a really rich experience over the following 25 or so years, learning and making friends with other actors who are still friends..
We made our home in various pubs and moved like gipsies from camp to camp until we landed first in the Loft in Jenny’s Row and finally in Abbey Lane, our permanent home, loved by us and our audiences alike.
MY FIRST PLAY was:
“The Crucible” produced by Larry Ryan, then teaching at the Christian Brothers school. The process of production was a drama in itself, with a magnificent outcome. Mary Knipe cut Puritan collars as we stood in the wings and broken ankles were a publicity opportunity. Stanley, Seamus and Larry argued passionately.
Is of course Abbey Lane with its closeness to the audience, but The Grand Opera House in Belfast runs it a close second .We were able to experience its intimacy with Factory Girls.
PART MOST PROUD OF;
Was Theresa in “The Hostage”. Playing a young girl in middle age was not easy- And I was supposed to sing! Then there was the humiliation of being told not to sing. I learned a lot. That was one of several productions that had a political background, both in the writing and in the reality simmering around us. Tensions ran high and sometimes benefitted the performance.
Is background music either unnecessary or played at a volume that obscures the words.
GREATEST LOVE; The family is my greatest love
Having grown up with rationing I have escaped a sweet tooth. What a benign diet Lord Wooten devised. We were really all in that together.
ENTERTAIN or be ENTERTAINED:
Entertain is best and if you can’t do it then to be entertained is next best.
WORST MOMENT ON STAGE;
Was in “The Actress and the Bishop” by Stuart Parker when Malachi’s line about putting on his cassock was marred by the fact that I as stage manager had forgotten to put it in position. Sorry again Malachi but your improvisation skills saved the day.
BOOK OF THE MOMENT;
As for the book on my kindle at the moment is “The Mirror and the Light”.
I think my favourite album might be a compilation of all the songs in the plays we have performed. Anyone take it on?
BEST HOLIDAY DESTINATION; . Italy is hard to beat, but Donegal comes close.
PARTY PIECE: A poem of four lines.... or preferably three.
MANTRA FOR LIFE : Hoping to find it!
MOST ENJOYABLE EXERCISE : Yoga
FAVOURITE FOOD: Good bread.
BEST BOOK : Impossible but “Mothering Sunday” by Graham Swift is perfection.
HOPES FOR ATG by 2026.
Another influx of talented younger people to carry on the regenerative work of the current committee. Open mic (that spelling is my other hate)
Night has been so good for involving the wider community and has boosted numbers of people wanting to be part of our organisation. “ Our Town” so magnificently presented a couple of years ago was testimony of that. All sorts of luxuries will be in place: a foyer ! Toilets backstage! Good disabled access and facilities! There’ll be no stopping us!
Shutdown will be past and we will be harnessing all sorts of technology in the cause of drama for all.
Best wishes, Mary.
(Top left, Mary and grandson Rory concentrate on rehearsals of 'Our Town' in St Catherines college 2016.)
Amature Dramatics can be hard work at times.
Stage construction on 'Gaslight' stalls as Malcolm, Hilary and Madeleine check their Lotto numbers.
Our friend, supporter and Open Mic contributor Joe McCool responds to a call for stories to entertain our vast web audience.
This is not for the easily offended or for those with an underlaying problem, or flatulence.
The onus for any offence taken lies solely with the author.
Click on the link below. Good Luck!
Performances can be like crosswords.
You seldom get all the words exactly wright...rite...write...right IT'S RIGHT!
1 DOWN) Adam's ................
2 ACROSS) 3-2-SONS
3 ACROSS) The wind took it.
And today's nudge to wisdom ;
Straight cues are essential to both snooker players and actors for a good performance;
This is the first of a series of reflections from the members of ATG. An insight into those who have made the Group an enduring and endearing part of Armagh society for more than 50 years.
Armagh Theatre Group Feature Questionnaire
Bridie in a scene from 'OUR TOWN' in the grip of her 'Husband' Peter Kelly with Monique Rennie hoovering!
NAME AND OCCUPATION?
Bride Heaney, Primary School Teacher, 9-11 Year olds.
MEMBER OF ATG FOR HOW LONG?
I joined Armagh Theatre Group quite soon after I was married in 1988 and I stress there was no correlation there. My husband, Colin, worked with someone who knew Margery Quinn and I went along to a meeting in the Charlemont Hotel; that was it, I was in.
WHY DID YOU JOIN?
I had always enjoyed Speech/Drama from when I was a child. My speech teacher, Mrs Molly Mc Nally, Portadown, gave me a real love of the spoken word and I had been involved in school plays over the years so I wanted to continue that.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PRODUCTION?
Honestly, I don’t recall the name of the play but it was a Victorian melodrama; I played the part of a servant girl, I carried a tray and I had two short lines to deliver I believe. I do remember a more established actor in it who would get ready to go on stage by sticking his chewing gum on the wooden steps backstage and pick the gum back up again when he’d finished…gross!!
YOUR FIRST DIRECTOR?
Again, I don’t remember clearly so obviously they didn’t make a great impression….let me think…oh it has to be Malachi Kelly then.
YOUR FAVOURITE THEATRE TO PERFORM IN?
Well, even though I’ve been lucky to have acted in quite a variety of theatres like The Marketplace, The Craic, The Lyric etc…my favourite theatre will always be our own Abbey Lane Theatre in Armagh where you can hear and feel the audience breathe, almost touching the front row, the best audiences ever. Mind you, can’t wait for the promised extension which promises a WC for the actors backstage.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE PLAY AND PART?
No no I refuse to choose! I’ve been so lucky to have played a variety of parts from funny to tragic and everything in between, don’t make me choose! I don’t care if it sounds corny but, when I’ve played a part, I always feel like I’ve met someone new and got to know them well, so I’ve loved every one of my characters…HOWEVER, anyone who knows me will not be surprised to hear that I especially enjoy a character with a tragic story to tell (tears are a must) so Blanche Du Bois from ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ directed by Margaret Marjoram, was a pleasure. She is only topped by Mai from ‘Our Lady of Sligo’, directed by our own Kevin Mc Eneaney – thanks Kevin! Mind you, I wasn’t thanking him for the six monologues I had to learn at the time!
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING STAGE MOMENT?
Mmmm that’s a difficult one, so many to choose from…like during ‘Our Town’ brilliantly directed by Margery Quinn, when I’m onstage miming my heart out at cooking the dinner and my stage husband doesn’t turn up for what seemed like ten minutes! Oh yes, all I can hear in the wings is, “Where the ….is Peter???”. Now he did turn up as cool as you like and by that stage I had cooked enough to feed the village, brilliant!
Also, once during ATG’s famous Pantomime years, I played Jack of Beanstalk fame and had to take a scroll from the panto horse’s neck to read out a message. When I unrolled the scroll I was faced with a horse’s head on a swimsuit model’s body (minus the swimsuit) and the front and back of the horse was giggling like mad! Thanks lads!! Luckily I’d learned my lines.
YOUR FAVOURITE PLAYWRIGHT/AUTHOR?
I like a lot of writers but my top two are Thomas Hardy and Sebastian Barry, sooo descriptive, delicious to read. As far as poetry goes, I love Instagram’s mysterious poet ‘Atticus’, definitely worth checking out. Also, any poet who has the courage to perform their own work at our monthly Open Mic nights in Abbey Lane – not to be missed!
BEST BEDSIDE READ?
No matter what novel or script I might be reading, I’ll have ‘The Power of Now’ By Ekhart Tolle handy; always worth a glance to remind you to live in the moment as much as possible.
The album you’ll never grow tired of?
I’m making my own albums now from Spotify, usually a mix of Motown/ disco/ funk…my favourite album forever is ‘Aisling 2’.
WHAT'S YOUR PARTY PIECE?
I do NOT have a party piece! I wish I did but I content myself with singing along, especially to ATG’s unofficial theme song ‘Amore’.
FAVOURITE FORM OF EXERCISE?
I enjoy yoga and dancing. I love to walk, on the roads or in the mountains and even sometimes run during my walk. But the best walk always ends up in a café or restaurant with my nearest and dearest tribe, nothing beats that.
THE MANTRA YOU LIVE BY?
Two come to mind-
1. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
2. Don’t be sad that it’s over, just be glad that it happened.
Oh there is a number three of course-
3. LEARN YOUR LINES!
Today's nugget of Wisdom;
'An actor is never to tired to tell you how hard they have 'worked'.
Unrelated to today's nugget....this scene is from a performance in Abbey Lane. Can you name it or the Barristers?