All-star cast revive ulster classic plays in readings

Some of Northern Ireland’s best-loved actors are set to take part in a celebration of two Ulster Classics by renowned playwright George Shiels at the Lyric Theatre in June.

Katy Tumelty, Conor Grimes, Christina Nelson and Lalor Roddy are just some of the cast being directed by Game of Thrones star, Ian McElhinney, in a special double bill reading at the Naughton Studio next month.

After the Lyric’s successful production of the largely forgotten Ulster classic, Mixed Marriage, former BBC producer Chris Parr and Ian McElhinney proposed regular public readings of notable plays by Northern Ireland playwrights from the early to mid-20thcentury.

Ballymoney-born George Shiels (1881–1949) had a successful career as a playwright both at the Ulster Literary Theatre and at the Abbey Theatre. The rehearsed readings will revive two of his most famous plays The Rugged Path and its sequel The Summit

The plays focus on the murder of an old-age pensioner in a rural community and the stand-off between two families, the Tansey and Dolis families who, in different ways, are closely involved. It also examines the conflict between the community on the one hand and the law on the other.

These plays were first produced with great critical and commercial success by the Abbey Theatre in 1940 (The Rugged Path) and 1941 (The Summit). These public readings organised by the Ulster Literary Theatre follow on from the popularity of The McCooeys and Highly Efficient readings at the Lyric last September.

Director Ian McElhinney said: “These plays have a fascinating relevance for us today, when you consider the current debate about the role of the police and our relationship to it. Finding truth and reconciliation when the past contaminates the present is as challenging then as now.

Audiences will be absorbed by Shiels’ fascinating narrative and the strong characters in the plays who are faced with huge dilemmas.”

“We are indebted to the Lyric Theatre,” Ian added.  “The new Executive Producer of the theatre, Jimmy Fay, who directed Mixed Marriage, is also enthusiastic about this initiative. The Lyric Board and a number of other practitioners feel similarly engaged. We hope this is the beginning of a revival of the Ulster Literary Theatre tradition; that some more really interesting plays can be unearthed and that some of these may in time make their way into production at the Lyric and elsewhere.”

The full cast of both plays are Alan McKee, Christina Nelson, John Travers, Deirdre Ferguson, Doireann McKenna, Jimmy Doran, Katy Tumelty, Matthew McElhinney, Jo Donnelly, Lalor Roddy, Conor Grimes and Gerard Jordan.

Thanks are due to the Linen Hall Library, Belfast for access to its collection of plays from the period and for its help in providing script copies.