Community Theatre with a Professional Touch

Emma Heatherington on how far the Bardic Theatre Group has come

As the Donaghmore-based Bardic Theatre Group treads the boards across Northern Ireland a rich passion for perfection pumps through its veins.

The group’s success lies in its community backbone, and the man who keeps it all together is its founder and Theatre Director, Sean Faloon.

A native of Donaghmore, Sean has nurtured the group from 1982 when a demand for drama emerged through St Patrick’s Youth Club. Bardic was born and stamped its mark on the Co Tyrone countryside with an ambitious production of Oliver Twist.

Faloon has fond recollections of the early days:

'It has always been a labour of love, really; a hobby I’m delighted to have aged with.'

Success came to Faloon and his crew at an early age, with Bardic clinching an All Ireland Drama title in the 1980’s with The Diary of Anne Frank in Gorey, Co Wexford.

They went on to secure second place in the British Drama Festival at Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow and with Pools Paradise won the Best Comedy Award at Collywyn Bay Drama Festival in North Wales.

Now, the group aims to produce one musical and one play every year.

With its home ground still on a campus shared with St Patrick’s Youth Club and the village’s sporting fraternity, Bardic regularly brings its performers on tour to take to the stage in other towns and cities such as Armagh, Derry, Belfast and Enniskillen.

However, its ambition to spread its wings hasn’t lost the group its local focus and in December, for the first time, Bardic staged a first - a full blown musical pantomime written and produced in-house and featuring some of the groups most well-established actors.

'Every production has its own challenges and demands,' says Faloon, 'but it is the big musical that demands everyone to raise the bar in their efforts. From the lighting and sound technicians to set design and musicians, and to each and every person on an off the stage.

'When such a musical production is a new work, the challenge is even greater. I particularly enjoyed working in tandem with the author during the moulding process of S'no Height.

'The whole time we were totally conscious of how we couldn't judge if what we were doing was right or wrong until our first audience took their seats on the opening night. Thankfully the entire experience was a resounding success.'

The venue for this particular production was Dungannon Leisure Centre and the logistic challenges were huge, but it wasn’t Bardic’s first time to be faced with turning a vast sports hall into a theatre space capable of seating 700 people per performance.

In the mid-nineties, Bardic brought Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar to the same venue and performed it to a sell out audience for almost three weeks on a unique set design of scaffolding and slopes created by Stuart Marshall.

It was the Millennium production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that presented Bardic’s greatest challenge to date. Faloon is particularly pleased with this achievement:

'The Millennium production of Joseph was produced in association with Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council. In the weeks leading up to the opening night, hundreds of children from twenty eight primary schools across the Borough were trained to form a backdrop of voices throughout the three week run of the show.

'The production was special because of the integration of the schoolchildren and the genuine cross community opportunities it presented.'

Some of Bardic’s actors have carried their youthful experience in their home town theatre with them in later life. Names like Conor Grimes, Eamonn Devlin, Malachi Cush, Karen Gallagher, Gary McCausland, Liam McMahon and of course the late Birdie Sweeney, all went on to make their mark on the media world both on and off the camera.

Faloon believes there is more to come, and compliments changes in the education system for the hope for the future:

'Media, drama and dance skills are widely encouraged now in our schools, much more than when we first started out over 25 years ago.

'We are also indebted to the never ending support of Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council who continue to assist us to spread our wings further into the community, and also to the people of Donaghmore who have travelled with Bardic from the very beginning of its journey through the arts.'

With a production team of the highest quality, including widely respected lighting technicians such as Michael Poynor, John Riddle and James McFettridge and one of the top set designers in the UK in Stuart Marshall, Bardic is no ordinary community theatre.

A new building is planned on its current site for 2007 and its media wing, known as BEAM (Bardic Educational Arts and Media), continues to go from strength to strength in the delivery of media-based training and event management.

When it comes to treading the boards, Bardic refuses to tread lightly. From hard hitting drama to mega-sized musicals and with the guts to try something totally brand new, Bardic continues to take to the stage in style.