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From Westport to Russia with love

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INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION St  Patrick’s Drama Group’s production of ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenaun’ won an award at the International Martin McDonagh Festival in Russia. Pictured are cast members Colette Ginty, Conor O’Neill, Mary Carr (director), Seamus Beirne and Regina McCormack.  Pic: Conor McKeown


Theatre group’s tale continues even when the curtain is down


Áine Ryan


FOR James Bond’s 007 it was From Russia with Love but for St Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport it was To Russia with Love. Even in the middle of a pandemic. Their pandemic production of Martin McDonagh’s ‘Beauty Queen of Leenane’ won a special award at the Authorial Theatre U Mosta, an internationally famous theatre in the Russian city of Perm.
Longtime thespian Regina McCormack explains: “Martin McDonagh’s works have become very popular amongst proponents of Modern Dramatic Art in Russia. The U Mosta Theatre, in Perm, held their fourth International Martin McDonagh Festival from October 1 to 7 last and invited productions from groups across Europe excelling in their stage performances of Mc Donagh’s plays. The festival attracted theatre groups from Spain, Poland, Serbia, Estonia, Russia, The Netherlands and Ireland.
“Whilst the Russian Groups performed on stage, all other entrants were viewed on DVD due to the pandemic. Our group’s performance won a special award after being viewed and critiqued. We were all thrilled, as it was a first for us and a very prestigious award. It was really a great boost to receive this after all theatres were closed down and morale was at a low.”

Long tradition
A central part of the cultural story of Westport, St Patrick’s Drama Group was formed in 1964, usually staging two to three plays each year as well as being involved in pantomimes and other theatrical events.
The group has treaded the boards in many other Irish theatres and well as on stages in the UK and the US.
Regina McCormack explains that in February 2020, the cast and other members travelled to The Irish American Heritage Centre, Chicago, to perform McDonagh’s ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’. They were welcomed at O’Haire Airport by Ambrose Kelly from Mill St in Westport – a true Irish Ambassador.
This was a return journey for St Patrick’s Drama Group, which – along with the big welcome – made them feel very much at home, McCormack says. “Ambrose had organised the building of the stage set; it was painted and ready to go, with all fine details – even the Stanley number 9 handmade for the play, along with turf and lots of Irish artifacts that would have not been allowed though customs.
“The support from businesses in both Westport and Chicago was phenomenal. To perform and meet with so many Irish diaspora in Chicago, ensured a wonderful and very memorable trip to the Windy City.”

Drama for the fun of it
When the members returned home, it was to a country in lockdown. The players had been in the final stages of rehearsal for John B Keane’s ‘Many young Men of Twenty’, under the direction of Tom Navin.
“Sadly this had to be postponed due to the pandemic, but the cast and crew look forward to staging this wonderful play during October or November 2021,” McCormack says.
However, their online presence was celebrated when Westival invited them to participate in its largely online festival in late October, and thus they were given an opportunity to indulge the shenanigans of ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ once more.  
Meanwhile, the well-worn stage of the state-of-the-art Westport Town Hall is still echoing with the virtual sound of dramatis personae reading new plays, albeit remotely on Zoom.
As Regina McCormack observes: “Our motto ‘Drama For The Fun Of It’ is now stronger than ever!”

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