‘The Steward of Christendom’ is a play about a man who finds himself on the wrong side of history in the Ireland of 1922 as the last Chief Superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police – a now extinct Police force. Set in 1932, the play sees Thomas Dunne, now suffering from dementia, in Baltinglass County Home attempting to grapple with the memories and regrets of his life which continue to haunt him.
|Thomas Dunne||Michael Dunbar|
|Mrs O’Dea||Jane Kinsella|
|Set and Lighting Design||Kevin McEvoy|
|Stage Manager||Tommy Kavanagh|
|Make Up||Lorna Doran McEvoy|
|Set Construction and Stage Crew||Tommy Kavanagh|
About The Group
Kilrush Drama Group celebrated their 50th Anniversary in 2014 and founding member and Director Mick Byrne has been at the helm of the group since its beginning in 1964.
Kilrush Drama Group partake in the 3-Act Festival Circuit each year and have performed in the Open Section since 2016, having won the Premier Award in the 2015 Confined All Ireland with their production of ‘Poor Beast in the Rain’. The Group also presents a comedy each Autumn in the Parish Hall in Ballyroebuck. In July 2018, Kilrush performed ‘Flight to Grosse Ile’ as a pageant in conjunction with the Coollattin Canadian Connection.
Members of Kilrush Drama Group founded the South Wicklow Drama Festival in 2005 and they hosted the All Ireland Confined Drama Finals in Carnew in April 2018.
Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments
Festival Adjudicator, Imelda McDonagh explained that poet, playwright and novelist, Sebastian Barry, had written a series of plays about the “forgotten, hidden people in his family”. The Steward of Christendom was written as a means of coming to terms with his great-grandfather, Thomas Dunne, the last Catholic head of the Dublin Metropolitan Police before Irish Independence in 1922, whom he described as “that disgraceful, disgraceful man”.
The play was first staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1995, and subsequently toured to the Gate Theatre, Dublin. Actor, Donal McCann was the first Thomas Dunne, and the play is dedicated to him, and the role was later played on Broadway by Brian Dennehy.
The Adjudicator said tonight’s play “concentrated on civic duty and patriotic betrayal, paternal love and loss, and the rage and ravages of aging,”. As the Steward teeters between memory and delusion, this play challenged the company to capture the play’s shifting moods – present action must blend seamlessly into fluid flashbacks, delivered with increasing urgency.
Imelda McDonagh told the audience that the sparse, impressionistic setting “allowed the action to flow”. She praised the ghostly-looking door and suggested that a corridor effect outside would work better than black drapes. She also highlighted the iron bed and the chamber pot, and the period table and chairs. However, she said there was a slightly non-realistic painting of brick work on the side of the set which was at odds with the realism with the set. “Lighting and sound was impressionistic in style, and there was a powerful opening image as the bed was backlit through the window”. She admired the graduated lighting and the use of crown, back and side-lighting to mould the figure. A particular highlight was the image and colour toning of the ‘Panis Angelicus’ scene featuring the boy, Willie. Music was particularly effective, including a song by Athlone’s world-famous tenor, John ‘Count’ McCormack. However, both sound and lighting needed more gradual fade in-and-out times so that focus remained firmly on the action, rather than distracting from it. The Adjudicator also praised the 1920s costumes which had a strong sense of period.
“The director, Mick Byrne gave us a fluid and emotionally charged insight into the ravages of a failing mind,” said Imelda McDonagh. “The Director handled the shifting moods – poignant memories, distressed reality, and explosive anger – with delicacy and nuance”.
Striking scenes were praised: the poignancy of the washing scene, the percussion of the breakdown scene, the tenderness of the baby pillow scene and the brutality of the beating.
“Stage movement was natural and imaginative,” said the Adjudicator, but the downstage left area was overused for monologues. While pace flagged occasionally, the crisis moments were well achieved. Projection was an issue from minor characters who also need more energy and drive in performance. The scenes which captured her imagination were those in Thomas’s bedroom which were rich, vibrant and filled with emotional truth.
Michael Dunbar, who played Thomas, delivered this emotional roller-coaster of a role with honesty and truth, capturing the contrast between the rational DMP man and the older tormented man who was filled with anguish and rage. This prodigious feat of memory and imagination was communicated with both clarity and passion.
She also praised the performances of Joe Sinnott as Smith, Jane Kinsella as Mrs. O’Dea and David Dee as the Recruit. The Adjudicator said that Niall Kehoe, who played Willie, pitched the level of the hymn, ‘Panis Angelicus’ beautifully. The three sisters (Cora Tyrrell, Maire Doran and Olivia Matthews) gave committed performances while Brendan Doyle as Matt had a nice bright presence on stage.
“Kilrush Drama Group delivered an imaginative interpretation of a text, filled with strong visuals, and a powerful and sensitive central performance which exposed the human suffering at the heart of this play,” said Imelda McDonagh.