This year, the Allingham Festival Committee invited Ballyshannon Drama Society to collaborate on a new production for the Allingham Festival, and the fruit of that collaboration was a wonderful performance of ‘The Bread Man’ by Frank Mc Guinness, with the playwright himself visibly moved by the performance.
Once Mc Guinness had been confirmed as the guest of honour at the festival, he offered the committee the revised script of his 1990 play ‘The Bread Man’, which he hadn’t seen produced in nearly thirty years. Carl Duggan approached the other members of the drama society to gauge interest. With Keith Robinson available to direct, auditions were held, and a cast of 13 embarked on months of rehearsals.
‘The Bread Man’ is set in an unnamed north Donegal town in 1970s (easily recognisable as Buncrana). The play focuses on ‘The Sinner Courtney’, a bread man whose behaviour has become erratic following the death of his father, and the reactions of his family and other local characters to his unusual activities.
The show opened to a large audience on Wednesday November the 6th, with a special performance on Friday the 8th, as the play was preceded by a special tribute to Frank Mc Guinness by the Allingham Festival. The tributes began with a letter from former President Mary Mc Aleese, read by Mary Duggan, in which she recalled how the ‘brilliantly chosen words’ of Mc Guinness’s play ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme’ created a ‘platform of shared memory’, ‘the might of words disrupting our lazy world with hidden truths we needed to face’. Following this, Caitríona Mc Laughlin, Associate Director with the Abbey Theatre, who also hails from Inishowen, took to the stage to talk about Frank’s contribution to Irish theatre. She spoke of how Mc Guinness’s ‘unapologetically-Donegal’ voice had been an inspiration to her own work in theatre.
Then it was time for the performance itself, which received a rapturous round of applause from the audience. The Chairperson of the Allingham Festival, Conor Carney, broke character at the end of play to announce that there was one more tribute to be shared, and proceeded to read a letter from Uachatarán na hÉireann, Michael D. Higgins, which pointed out that ‘as a playwright and a novelist he courageously pushed boundaries as he explored the social, religious and political truths that defined the island of Ireland’. Allingham Committee members Sally Stephens and Anne Drummond then presented Mr. Mc Guinness with gifts, including a photo by Emer O’Shea and framed copies of both presidential tributes.
Finally it was time for Mr. Mc Guinness to speak. Clearly moved by the performance, he thanked everyone involved in the production, particularly director Keith Robinson for bringing his show to life, lead actor Michael Mc Mullin who he declared ‘perfect’ as The Sinner, and the production team for showing him how the play should be presented, ‘as a picture’.
This was a fantastic end to the production, which brought a number of new actors into the society, and saw more experienced members of the society volunteering to assist in all aspects of the show. Congratulations to everyone involved, on and off stage, for creating a fantastic night of drama and celebration in the Abbey Arts Centre.
Director: Keith Robinson
The Sinner Courtney – Michael McMullin
Florence Courtney – Emer McShea
Dan Courtney – Ronan Drummond
Pat Courtney – Farah Bogle
Tommy Courtney – Conor Carney
Rose Kiely – Ailis McIntyre
James Kiely – Mark Kirby
Albert Casey – Ken Monaghan
Niall Wilmot – Niall McKee
Simon Breslin – Diarmuid McInerney
Eddie Rodgers – Sean McLoone
Susan Crilly – Roisin Lee-Fox
George Crilly – Terence McEneaney
Set Design: Trish Keane
Sound: Conor Beattie
Lighting: Mark Fearon
Producer: Carl Duggan