54th Wexford Drama Festival expected to attract 2,000

By Maria Pepper

The 54th Wexford Drama Festival opened with the first amateur production of Billy Roche's play 'Lay Me Down Softly' by Ballycogley Players which drew a large audience to Dun Mhuire Theatre.

The festival continues until this Friday night, March 10 with Wexford Drama Group presenting the closing play 'Portia Coughlan' by Marina Carr. It is expected that a total audience of about 2,000 people will have attended during the eight nights of the festival.

The feast of drama was officially opened by the author Cat Hogan at a reception in Simon Lambert's which hosts the festival club each night. Also in attendance were the Deputy Mayor of Wexford, Tony Dempsey and adjudicator Pauline Byrne of Duncannon, a speech and drama teacher who has been adjudicating on the Amateur Drama Circuit of Ireland for over a decade.

Festival chairperson Aoife Byrne spoke about the importance of amateur drama in combating social isolation and providing an outlet for self expression which promotes mental well-being.

Aoife said the word 'amateur' is a misnomer in many ways as the standard of performance is so high as to blur the lines between amateur and professional. 'Each year, we say it can't get any better and we come back the following year and the standard is even higher,' she said.

County Wexford is lucky to have one of the highest rates of participation in amateur drama in Ireland, according to Aoife, noting that six of the plays in this year's festival are by local drama groups. In addition to this, there are many theatre groups that don't compete on the circuit.

Aoife announced her resignation as chairperson after six years during which she set out to increase audience numbers and the level of public engagement with the festival. An election to fill her place will be held soon.

During her tenure, Wexford Drama Festival has donated €10,000 to local charities, with €1,000 from a recent table quiz going to Wexford Hospice Homecare and a raffle on the night of 'Portia Coughlan' earmarked for Wexord Rape Crisis Centre.

Aoife thanked the sponors including the Riverbank House Hotel which is the main financial supporter of the festival.

The following performances will take place in Dun Mhuire this week :

Tuesday, March 7: Agnes of God by Bunclody/Kilmyshall Drama Group;

Wednesday, March 8: An Inspector Calls by Bridge Drama;

Thursday, March 9: Shadow of a Gunman by Kilmuckridge Drama Group;

Friday, March 10: Portia Coughlan by Wexford Drama Group.

Tickets are available from Wexford Arts Centre and on the door each night.

Wexford People

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