The life and work of composer Joan Trimble commemorated in her own Enniskillen
Composer Joan Trimble was born in Enniskillen in 1915, where her family owned the local weekly newspaper, The Impartial Reporter. The Trimbles were a musical family and Joan and her sister Valerie became famous for their performances on two pianos. A gifted composer, Joan wrote many of the pieces that they performed together in live concerts and BBC radio broadcasts from the 1940s right up until their swansong appearance in Belfast in 1975.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Trimble’s death, Dublin based playwright Miriam Gallagher wrote Green Rain, a musical theatre piece named after one of Trimble’s compositions. This production, staged by the Fermanagh Amateur Dramatic Society at the Ardhowen Theatre, turns out to be one of the highlights of the Enniskillen Festival.
Gallagher's two main characters - a female Canadian journalist played by Sarah Saunderson and an aspiring drama producer played by Ken Saunderson - are searching for details about Joan Trimble’s life. Along the way they discover some of her most famous pieces. Two pianos, back to back, take centre stage. Up stage, some simple props indicate an office at the Impartial Reporter and various domestic scenes in Enniskillen and London.
Una Hunt, who knew Trimble well and who has recorded her piano works along with Roy Holmes, is joined for the performance by Danusia Oslizlok. As a prelude to the play, Hunt and Danusia perform Trimble’s 'Sonatina' and two pieces by Arnold Bax. Both composers were influenced by Debussy and the French Impressionists and by Irish folk music.
The play opens with 'The Cows are a Milking'. Thereafter the pianists remain on stage to perform other well known Trimble pieces including 'The Heather Glen', 'The Bard of Lisgoole', 'The Humours of Carrick' and perhaps the most famous of all, 'Buttermilk Point', which evokes a favourite picnic spot on Lower Lough Erne. The piano performances are flawless and wholly delightful.
Gallagher relies heavily upon Trimble’s personal diaries to relay key information about her life in war time London, where she studied composition at the Royal College of Music. There her fellow students were Colin Davis, Julian Bream and Neville Mariner and her teacher was Ralph Vaughan Williams, whom she called 'Uncle Ralph'.
It is difficult to criticise this world premiere, since the professional pianists and the amateur actors only came together for a technical run through and dress rehearsal on the day of their one-off performance. The script is intricate, the costume changes numerous and the transitions from dialogue to music are tricky but well-handled.
Perhaps a reprise of the projected photographs of the Trimble family - beamed onto a screen down stage as the audience intially took their seats - may have made an appropriate visual accompaniment to the final piano performance.
Green Rain pays, however, successfully pays homage to one of Northern Ireland’s leading composers and offers a charming portrait of life in the days before television, when music was made at home, at ceilis or the concert hall; when listeners to BBC radio tuned in to Henry Hall’s Guest Hour and the Nimble Trimbles were a household name.