The Palace Players were top of the pile out of nine productions to make this year’s final which ran over the past two weeks in Athlone.
The north Cork group’s performance of Tom Murphy’s Conversations on a Homecoming last Thursday was described by adjudicator Walker Ewart as a memorable evening of theatre.
There was double delight for the group at Saturday night’s awards ceremony when Liam Howard won the best director award.
Mary Flavin made it a trio of trophies for Fermoy when she was named best supporting actress for her portrayal of Missus.
The Palace Players were founded in 1988 and have participated on the festival circuit every year since, but this was their first time to take the prestigious national prize. This was their second production of a Tom Murphy drama, having previously performed The Wake.
They pipped Dublin’s Estuary Players and their production of Michael Healy’s The Drawer Boy, directed by Myra Maguire, into second place to clinch the perpetual trophy.
Ballyduff Drama Group’s performance of Donna Franceschild’s Takin’ Over the Asylum, directed by Ger Canning, earned third place for the company based in the Co Waterford village just 10 miles from Fermoy.
A second north Cork group, Shoestring Theatre Company from Charleville, received the Abbey Award. Their success under Kevin O’Shea’s direction means they will perform Mark Doherty’s Trad in the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, on May 21.
Rónán P Byrne and Josephine Byrne took the best actor and actress awards for their roles in Stolen Child by Yvonne Quinn and Bairbre Ní Chaoimh. It was staged by Bunclody/Kilmyshall Drama Group from Co Wexford, and directed by Kieran Tyrrell.
Mr Ewart said in his adjudicating comments after the Palace Players’ performance in Athlone’s Dean Crowe Theatre that the cast acted with sustained conviction. He singled out Mary Flavin’s work as an example of great physical acting, and said Liam Howard found every nuance, overt and suggested, in the relationships between the characters.
The finalists had been chosen from 27 drama groups which took part in 33 festivals around the country.
The others to take the boards in Athlone from April 30 to last Friday were: Corofin Dramatic Society from Co Clare, who staged Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps, directed by John Clancy; Ballyshannon Drama Society from Co Donegal, with God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, directed by Anne McHugh; Letterkenny Music and Drama Group in a second production of The 39 Steps, directed by Pluincéad Ó Fearraigh; and Kilmuckridge Drama Group, Co Wexford, who performed Jimmy Murphy’s play The Kings of the Kilburn High Road, directed by Michael Johnston.