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Comedy and tragedy converge in fresh production of Uncle Vanya



Date Published: {J}

By Darragh Mc Donagh

Laughter and sorrow are set to exquisitely converge in a moving production of Anton Chekhov’s bleak classic Uncle Vanya by the Bristol Old Vic and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory at the Galway Arts Festival this month.

It is difficult to envisage how comedy could be extricated from the collective misery of the play’s characters, who conjure a sense of inescapable sadness as they each recount their lives’ regrets in the ruinous surrounds of a 19th century Russian estate. However, director Andrew Hilton expertly braids humour and darkness in this fresh adaptation of the masterpiece and insists that the comedic aspect that had originally been intended by Chekhov has been lost in many productions of the play.

“There seems to be a theatrical need to turn Chekhov into tragedy and that is wrong,” he said. “Chekhov himself objected to attitudes to his work that suggested there was necessarily a melancholy tonal wash.”

Constanin Stanislavski, who produced Chekhov’s plays in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, did not see eye-to-eye with the playwright as to how they should be performed, and the conflict gave rise to a debate that has continued to this day.

“Chekhov believed that his plays were funnier and lighter than Stanislavski, who was an actor himself and played Astrov in Uncle Vanya for around 30 years. Chekhov objected strongly to his portrayal of the parting scene as a tragedy,” explained Hilton.

The chasm between the intended meaning of the play and the way in which it was misinterpreted was also evident in an exchange with the Russian censor, who scribbled in the margins of act three, in which Yelena and Astrov kiss, that he objected to the display of passion.

“Chekhov wrote back and said: ‘What passion?’” recalled Hilton. “There was no passion because they knew at that stage that it was over and were really just kissing idly to pass the time.”

Hilton, having gained a reputation in the UK for telling an old story in a new way, has cast aside dreary past productions of the play to excavate and polish the masterpiece, presenting it in a way that its author had intended.

“The challenge for me was neither to lighten the mood of the play nor darken it but to approach it with no assumptions as to its meaning or any preconceived idea of the prevailing mood of the play, and try to be completely detached,” he said.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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