Drama groups from around the country gathered on Thursday to attend the launch of the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

It is the 70th year of the Athlone-based festival, and the first festival since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Set to get underway on Thursday, May 5, and running until Friday May 13 with the presentation of the final awards on Saturday May 14, the qualifying circuit comprised 33 drama festivals this year across the island of Ireland, with groups vying for a place in the All-Ireland decider. Finalists will compete on stage in Athlone, as drama groups from Cork, Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Donegal and Kildare assemble before the footlights of the Dean Crowe Theatre.

Regina Bushell, Festival Director, said: “The RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival Committee is looking forward to welcoming back festival audiences to the refurbished Dean Crowe Theatre in Athlone, where they can meet up with old friends, make new friends and come together once again experience the magic of live theatre. In addition to the usual challenges of competing in festivals around the country, drama groups had to contend with Covid regulations when rehearsing and presenting their plays – some even braving the elements during outdoor rehearsals! At this year’s festival, theatre goers are in for a feast of drama, from two handers (including two from the same playwright) to a brand-new Irish play, as well as a re-imagined classic myth.”

Mark O’Brien, Executive Director / Co-Director, Abbey Theatre said: “It is a great privilege to host the launch of the RTE All Ireland Drama Festival at Ireland’s national theatre and continue the Abbey’s relationship to this festival and, through it, to the breadth of wonderful Irish amateur dramatic groups. The need for us as society to gather and share our stories was never more important than in these times of great change. The passion, dedication and camaraderie of the people involved in groups up and down the country is one of our nation’s greatest assets.”

The 2022 Festival will take place at the Dean Crowe Theatre, Athlone from Thursday May 5, to Friday, May 13, inclusive. Performances commence nightly at 8pm. The nine-day Festival, which is held under the auspices of the Amateur Drama Council of Ireland, showcases the very best of Irish amateur theatre and attracts hundreds of visitors from across the country to the Midlands every year.

Dee Forbes, Director-General, RTÉ, said: “Each year RTÉ supports over 130 national and community arts events. The RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival is both of those things: it is a major national festival for amateur drama, born of the creativity of dozens and dozens of community drama groups all over the country. Throughout the pandemic, that close-knit national community stayed united virtually and will now unite again, in person and in character, in Athlone. With the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival, we are proud to foster creativity and acting talent through drama, and to bring the excitement and tension of this unique festival to audiences all over Ireland, through the partnership with RTÉ lyric fm, through RTÉ.ie and our social channels, and through RTÉ Radio 1. We are delighted this year to produce yet another ambitious radio and television campaign that gets to the heart of what make this festival so enduring: the power of drama, of the individual, and of the collective, and the resilience to start again after two challenging years when the houselights were dark.”

This year’s finalists are:

· Palace Players, Co. Cork, who will present ‘Chapatti’ by Christian O’Reilly, a poignant exploration of the importance of human companionship on May 5

· Kilmeen Drama Group, Co. Cork, who will present Tom Murphy’s ‘Conversations on a Homecoming’ on May 6 which takes us on a journey of self-discovery as friends gather after an absence of 10 years. 

· Bunclody-Kilmyshall Drama Group, Co. Wexford, who will perform another Christian O’Reilly play ‘The Good Father’ on May 7. The play reveals an unlikely love story following the unexpected consequences of a one night stand.

· Ballyduff Drama Group, Co.Waterford, who will on May 8 perform the moving ‘Rabbit Hole’ a Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire which tells the story of a married couple, grieving the loss of their young son in a car accident.

· Butt Drama Circle, Co. Donegal, who present a brand-new play ‘An Incident with Dave Cotter’ on May 9. Set against the background of the events of Bloody Sunday, it was written and directed by actor, Shaun Byrne, a member of the award-winning group.

· Prosperous Dramatic Society, Co. Kildare, return to the festival to present the chaotic and at times savage comedy ‘God of Carnage’ by Yasmina Reza on May 10.

· Kilrush Drama Group, from Co. Wexford, will present the Edinburgh Fringe First Award winning ‘Class’ by Iseult Golden & David Horan on May 11, an explosive triple confrontation which is both funny and heart-breaking.

· Ballyshannon Drama Society, from Co. Donegal, will return to the festival to perform Arthur Miller’s first major work ‘All My Sons’ on May 12, an emotional play which has several twists and turns.

· Dalkey Players, from Co. Dublin, will close the festival on May 13. They will present ‘Eurydice’ by Sarah Ruhl, a re-imagination of the classic myth.

Tickets are on sale from April 22 and can be booked through the Dean Crowe website at http://www.deancrowetheatre.com or at the theatre box office, phone (090) 6492129.