Ballyshannon Shatter Myth in Athlone

Gingerbread Lady in Athlone
Cast & Crew of ‘The Gingerbread Lady’ following their myth-shattering performance in the Dean Crowe Theatre, Athlone, in the All Ireland Drama Final 2014.

Report on Dr. Russell Boyce’s adjudication taken from

There’s a myth that Neil Simon’s plays don’t work on this side of the Atlantic. But All Ireland Drama Festival adjudicator Russell Boyce said it was nice to see how Ballyshannon Drama Society’s production of “The Gingerbread Lady” shattered that myth.

He so much loved the detailed set constructed by the Ballyshannon crew that he asked the audience to think especially of those who had spent the winter months building the stage with its fireplace and recessed window, and sourcing furniture and props, including the piano and radiogram (which he told the younger members of the audience was the 1970s equivalent of the MP3 player).  It’s quite a while since he had seen a box set, but this was a lovely set for this play to work, gloriously old fashioned but also gloriously right. It was neatly constructed, clever and used well, with the furniture creating identifiable acting areas.

Dr Boyce had two general points to make about acting. He admired the level of vocal projection used by the entire cast. While the BBC is taking a hammering because the audience can’t understand what the actors are saying in their new production Jamaica Inn, he said there was no mumbling to criticize in the Ballyshannon production.

He suggested that some of the cast could relax a little more. Some were using very small gesture patterns, and sometimes they weren’t using their arms. Usually this boils down to the nerves that feed into the shoulders, and which can cause the tension that prevents actors making a relaxed gesture, especially on the stage at the All Ireland Finals in Athlone.

Rachel O’Connor inhabited the role of Evy so well, it was hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. There was lovely, lovely strength in her characterization, and she drove the momentum of the play, particularly in the first act. She was a superbly good drunk, and showed very good use of speech tunes by not repeating patterns in the melody of her voice. Hers was a lively vocal performance.

Richard Hurst struck a very good balance as Jimmy, playing him just as Simon intended – as “probably homosexual.” It was so right that Jimmy didn’t play the part in a big, camp way.  Richard’s timing was good, and his plaid trousers in the second act caught the adjudicator’s eye.

Toby was played in a nicely natural way by Trisha Keane, who beautifully handled Toby’s mixed emotions, especially when she related story of her forthcoming divorce. While her performance was natural, her hair – in true 1970s style – didn’t move at all and was admirably more hairspray than actual hair.

Sinead Luke was suitably young to play the role of Polly, and struck a nice balance between the necessary subservience required by Evy’s daughter, and the argumentative side and the strength that comes through in the second act. She was vocally very good.

Anne McHugh’s direction was very clever, and her spatial awareness was impressive, because characters may need to be close to each other or further apart, depending on the circumstance. But most of all, she managed the emotional changes within the play very well indeed. Although some of the language roots the play very much in the 70s and some of it could even be uncomfortable to a 2014 audience, Anne McHugh made it relevant.