A THIEF OF A CHRISTMAS
 An Incredible Journey
As a child I read a heart-warming story called "The Incredible Journey". It's a story which tells of a marathon journey undertaken by two dogs and a cat across the Canadian wilderness in the depths of winter. Our "incredible journey" with the Tom Murphy play - A Thief of a Christmas - was nothing like that but it was nonetheless a journey demanding endurance, loyalty, patience and above all - self belief.

We first heard of A Thief from Micheal O Liodean who had been a member of the Tuam Theatre Guild when they undertook the play several years before. He believed that we could do it - and indeed do it well. After I read the play, I thought he was losing it! It was a huge undertaking for any amateur group, but for a group barely four years in existence, with no pedigree to speak of, this was sheer madness!

However the beauty of ignorance is the ability it gives us to attempt the improbable and to overcome the impossible. And so it was that come October 2006 we got together in Dunmore Community School and put together an improbable cast who were about to attempt the impossible. At that stage, we had no inkling of the roller-coaster this project was about to become.

For those that know nothing of the play, A Thief of a Christmas is set in a small country pub near Tuam in or around the nineteen thirties. It is a few days before Christmas and the villagers gather round to bemoan the poverty of their meagre existence as exemplified by the lack of business done that day at the Christmas market in Tuam. They are joined by a stranger and his wife who haven't been able to continue their journey because of  the icy underfoot conditions. Initially, there is a suggestion that the visitors are perceived as being somewhat sinister in an undefined way, but when the wife (on behalf of her reluctant husband) accepts the challenge of the local hero Costello to a laughing competition, we seem to be set for a lighthearted evening of innocent fun.
An Incredible Cast! Back (L to R): M. Dowling; E. Sheridan; O. Turner; P. Macdonnell; O. Togher; M. Silke; P. Waters; B. Keating; D. O'Keeffe; J. Knightly; A. Sheridan; R. McGrath; A. Quinlivan; F. Kelly; M. O'Liodean. Seated: P. Lee; G. Finnegan. Front: N. Quinn; E. Keating; R. Comer. [Missing - Nicola Coen]
 
Of course as the night wears on and the competition, (upon which the proprietor John O'Mahoney is running a book), becomes more and more intense, the comedy turns darker and darker, ultimately ending in tragedy . The challenge of the play is in the staging.  As can be seen from the photograph, the cast is quite large. From about a third of the way into the first act, there is a minimum of sixteen adults on stage until the very final scene. The script demands one child, which for reasons of companionship, we converted into three and a quantum of villagers for the duration of Act 2. So for most of the play there are sixteen to to twenty-one characters on stage - most of whom are interacting and moving from one grouping to another.

This is a play which is very physically demanding - particularily on the leading characters. The script demands absolute discipline in the delivery of lines, especially during the second act when the characters begin to outdo each other in laughing at the misfortunes that have blighted their lives. This is compounded by the fact that much of the script is delivered against the background of  traditional Irish dance music played live on stage by the two musicians. The play also contains some unique challenges for the cast such as Josie's "Ride-the-blind-donkey" a blindfolded game in which he challenges some of the other characters to beat him and then there is the requirement that three of the main characters sing "Swanee River", "Hard Tmes" and "The Boston Burgler" simultaneously!

As we found out before long - this is not a play for the faint hearted. Small wonder then that Murphy's masterpiece (because that it surely is) has never - to my knowledge - been attempted in its original form by any amateur group apart from DADS and the Tuam Theatre Guild! Our original target was to stage it before Christmas in Dunmore Community School. Of course that proved impossible and we postponed the home staging until the last week in January 2007.
Josie: "Ride-the-blind-Donkey"
 
In 2005 and 2006 we had entered a few festivals with "Philadelphia Here I Come" and "Where He Lies". While we heard some encouraging noises from various adjudicators, we hadn't achieved a top two finish with any of them. So it was more with hope than anticipation that we sent out our festival entries for 2007. Our target was six festivals but due to some clashing dates and (perhaps) a lack of  recognition on the circuit, we ended up with four.

A good adjudication in Tubbercurry allowed us to hope for something better in 2007 with “A Thief” and when Russell Boyce placed us second in that very competitive festival, we felt that we were on to something good. However nothing prepared us for our next outing to Roscommon on the 15th March 2007. The adjudicator, Brid McBride loved the performance and when the results were announced the following night DADS had swept the boards in the confined section, in the process winning the best confined play, several acting awards and the best overall set! Two more second places in Claremorris and Glenamaddy followed and that left us biting our nails on the cusp of qualification for the All Ireland Finals in New Ross, Co. Wexford.

Josie - Damian O'Keeffe and John O'Mahoney - Ollie Turner
 

The final two places in the All Ireland finals were now between DADS, Skibbereen, St Dymphna’s and Doonbeg. We needed results to go our way to qualify and ultimately it went down to the wire on the final night of the qualifiers.

A defeat for Skibbereen in North Cork left them out of the reckoning while a second place in the same festival for Doonbeg assured their qualification ahead of DADS. Although both groups were on a win and three seconds, Doonbeg had an extra third placing which was enough to see them through. The last place was therefore between DADS and St. Dymphna’s, who were awaiting a result from the Mid Ulster festival. They were in the same position as Doonbeg. They already had a win, two seconds and a third placing. A win or a second in Mid Ulster would have secured the last spot for them. Alas for them, it wasn’t to be and when the Mid Ulster result came through to Nora Walsh’s pub in Dunmore, the cheering was heard from Castlerea to Westport, from Tubbercurry to Ennis!

 

We were on our way to the All Ireland Finals in New Ross and no matter what we achieve in the future, nothing will ever match that feeling. Here we were, a new and inexperienced drama society from a small town in the West of Ireland – only in our third year of competition and we had qualified for the All Ireland finals! The feeling of well being around the parish was palpable. This was a fairy tale that nobody had scripted in advance and we had done it from only four qualifiers with a play so difficult to stage that nobody other than The Abbey and Tuam Theatre Guild had ever attempted it! Wow!!!

Cast, crew and friends - about to board the bus for New Ross. 14th April 2007.

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22.01 | 15:23

For a variety of plays to perform, check out my website. www.snorris.ie

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04.03 | 17:59

Hi,

I would like to offer your organisation and any drama and/or musical groups you may be associated with, a FREE Comedy Stage Play to perform throughout 2017.

Whilst written as a Comedy Stage Play there are lots of opportunities for creativity, music,

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25.04 | 17:36

Congratulations to all in DADS on their performance in Castleblayney last week. Fantastic production of The Gigli Concert.

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03.09 | 00:55

I love keeping up on all the plays in Dunmore.

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