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Monday 10 December 2018

World-class plays to feature in Eugene O'Neill four-day festival

Actors from the ‘Glencairn Plays’
Actors from the ‘Glencairn Plays’
Some of the cast of Hughie

David Looby

For the first time ever rare Eugene O'Neill plays are being performed in the region, during the Eugene O'Neill International Festival of Theatre.

The festival begins on Wednesday, October 10, running for four days in New Ross and is the last in the autumn series supported by Wexford County Council.

Drawing on his experiences as a merchant seaman, Eugene O'Neill, whose grandfather hailed from Tinneranny, wrote four plays set on the fictitious ship, the 'SS Glencairn'.

These great early works will be brought to life in New Ross as part of the festival on the Dunbrody Famine Ship which which will host productions of three of O'Neill's celebrated 'Glencairn' plays. These short one-act plays are set aboard a fictitious merchant ship, the SS Glencairn. The productions of Bound East for Cardiff, In the Zone, and The Long Voyage Home will offer distinctive and immersive experiences for theatre lovers.

The Glencairn cycle of short plays were among the playwrights earliest hits.

Often performed separately, the festival has awarded acclaimed Wexford director, Paul Walshe, the fantastic opportunity to present the productions as a cohesive piece, sharing the plays' mutual characters with the world.

Speaking as plans for the festival reach their final stages, Mr Walsh said: 'We're looking forward to giving New Ross audiences an extraordinary experience on board the ship. The 'SS Glencairn plays', are excellent productions in themselves. In any setting these plays are deeply moving but add to this the setting on the Dunbrody and we get something very special indeed. The productions we have planned will be immersive so that the audience feels they are on the ship with the men crossing the Atlantic or sharing drinks with them in a waterfront bar.'

The cycle of short plays, which together last about an hour, will run twice daily for the course of the festival from October 11 to October 14.

Due to a limited capacity on board the ship, and a high demand, interested parties are encouraged to book early. Tickets are available on the festival website or at St Michael's Theatre box office.

Speaking about the productions, Tomás Kavanagh, Festival Director, said: 'O'Neill's family left Ireland on a ship from New Ross well over a hundred years ago, so it's appropriate now that this town hosts the first annual Eugene O'Neill festival in Ireland. The Dunbrody Famine Ship is a beautifully made recreation which is very similar to the ship O'Neill and his family left Ireland on in the last years of the 19th century. We are also delighted to be able to bring local actors into the productions as further evidence that the O'Neill legacy and tradition is alive and well in New Ross.'

The festival will also feature an American production of one of O'Neill's final plays. Hughie is being produced by the Eugene O'Neill Foundation based in Danville, California, which is also the location of O'Neill's retreat, Tao House, where his last great plays were written.

The festival has developed from a partnership between the New Ross-based Eugene O'Neill Ancestral Trust and the Danville-based Eugene O'Neill Foundation.

Alongside the artistic links being established between Danville and New Ross are civic links, as the two towns have forged a Friendship City agreement, with Cathaoirleach Cllr John Fleming, Cllr Willie Fitzharris, Director of Services Eamonn Hore and Town Manager Sinead Casey just back from a visit to Danville to give effect to the civic partnership.

New Ross District Director Eamonn Hore said: 'The strong link forged between Danville and New Ross based around Eugene and James O'Neill is a great opportunity for us to welcome more visitors to the town. Already we have seen an increase in visitor bookings because of this festival. We have been strongly supportive also of the Friendship City initiative with Danville and the development of strong civic links between towns is critical to what we do and Danville, because of the Eugene O'Neill connection, is an excellent fit for New Ross.'

Sean Reidy, Chairman of the Eugene O'Neill Ancestral Trust, said: 'The partnership with the Eugene O'Neill Foundation in Danville has been hugely significant to the organisation of the Eugene O'Neill International Festival of Theatre in New Ross. We are united in our admiration for this great author, with such strong New Ross roots, and we are enthusiastic about bringing his work to audiences both in the US and in Ireland. We have established a festival that is unique in being one festival spanning across two continents. The festival opened in Danville in September and continues in October in New Ross, the two linked by the production of Hughie which will feature in both locations.'

Hughie is directed by Eric Hayes and features US acting stars Clive Worsley, Dorian Lockett and Aaron Murphy. It will be the first US production in St Michael's Theatre.

Mr Reidy also thanked Wexford County Council for their generous support for the festival. It is anticipated that the festival will attract upwards of fifty visitors from America in its first year.

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