Sinead O'Grady and Eleanor O'Dwyer playing the Pye Sisters.
At this time of year, I find myself either coming from, or going to, a local play or musical almost every weekend. We’re lucky in this neck of the woods that we have some excellent local dramatic societies on our doorstep, producing a wide variety of drama for stage. It’s a season I really look forward to each year, and I try my best to attend as many as possible.
One of the annual shows which I make a very special effort to attend each year, is the Cashel Choral & Dramatic Society drama. The reasons for this are simple: the acting is consistently solid and the chosen drama is always a little bit off-kilter. This year was no different.
From Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th November, Ladies of Spirit took to the intimate and acoustically splendid theatre of Brú Boru Cultural Centre, Cashel.
The setting for this year’s comedy is Gibraltar School, a typical English school during the 1960s. The former headmistress, Ms. Harriet Pye, has long-since passed away, and a tyrant has taken her place: the insufferably snobbish Ms. Rowe, played dazzlingly by Nicola Watson (whose exaggerated facial expressions alone call for praise). Ms. Rowe is a snob, pure and simple. She seeks to change the name of the school - much to the dismay of most of the staff – while also attempting to oust students who do not come from the “appropriate” backgrounds.
Her slobbering, sycophantic sidekick, Ms. Danvers, ably played by Joan Kennedy, is the only member of staff who supports her twisted regime. However, things take a turn when the deceased Ms Pye and her equally deceased sister, Ms. Matilda Pye, drop in from beyond the grave to “haunt” things into shape.
The ensuing comedy is light, bubbly and at times, slapstick. While I can’t say that author Georgina Reid’s play is hilarious, it was, however, charming in its presentation, and the robust performances of the confident Cashel cast, more than compensated for the occasionally dry spells of extraneous dialogue.
The most amusing character was superbly played by Marie Lonergan. Her take on the ditzy, twittish school secretary, Sally Burgess, was excellent, as usual.
It was in the frequent scenes involving the looking-up of bizarre words in the staff-room dictionary which added to the humour of the play immensely.
The Pye sisters’ spectral comedic scenes, played by the ever-popular Eleanor O’Dwyer and Sinead O’Grady, added the most colour to proceedings, however.
The glorious acting of Carrie Kavanagh, as the strong-willed and sympathetic Ms. Jane Cox, was a particular highlight. She carried herself with a grace and poise that is relatively rare in amateur theatre, but which we have come to recognise as consistent in Carrie’s performances.
Elizabeth Davis’s performance is also worthy of comment. Her supporting character, the bubbly and kind-hearted, Mrs. Thorpe, was played with a sincerity to be admired. Maureen O’Leary was effective in her role as the older, timid push-over, Miss Maudesley, and it was hard not to feel sympathy for her character’s plight, at times.
One of the trickier characters was the scantly-clad Mrs. Emmett, played with long-legged confidence by Sinead Breen. One point to note, the British accents of the cast were superb. This is not small point. Effective accents add to the authenticity of any performance, and poor accents can detract immeasurably – this was not an issue here.
Overall, while I did wonder why the staff-room set was so paperless and neat, and why there was no clock on the wall, I have to admit that these are small gripes.
The “Ladies of Spirit” should be proud of their performance and relish the fact that they possess one of the finest amateur casts in the area. Producer Oliver Corbett did a fine job with this all-female cast. Before the play, I was wondering if the drama would suffer from a lack of men on stage: it didn’t.
Review by David Condon