Arts

Rock of Ages: The Bardic brings the 1980s back to life

As Co Tyrone's Bardic Theatre hosts the Irish premiere the musical Rock of Ages, Jenny Lee spoke to director Stephanie Faloon and her grandfather Sean, who founded the theatre more than 30 years ago

Conor Begley who plays Drew and Declan McGrath (Lonny) in the forthcoming production of Rock of Ages at Bardic Theatre, Donaghmore

A TYRONE theatre which started in the 80s out of the enthusiasm of a group of young people at a local youth club, but went on to produce a plethora of talented actors, broadcasters and musicians, is preparing to stage the Irish premiere of the West End musical Rock of Ages, which pays homage to the sounds of the 80s.

Based on the 2012 movie starring Tom Cruise, Rock of Ages tells the story of small town girl Sherrie and city boy Drew, who meet on the Sunset Strip while pursuing their Hollywood dreams. Their rock 'n' roll romance is told through the heart-pounding hits of such as Don't Stop Believin', We Built this City and The Final Countdown and promises a visual spectacle of colourful wigs and 80s fashion.

Director Stephanie Faloon is excited about bringing a musical premiere to Northern Ireland.

"Everyone loves the 80s – the decade of the mad make-up, the mullet and Madonna," the 27-year-old director, who also plays the role of Justice Charlier in the musical, says. "It's a very high-budget show. I saw it in London and what I remember most is how I felt leaving the theatre. I hope people coming to see our show will feel the same."

Under the guidance of Stephanie's grandfather, Sean Faloon, Donaghmore's Bardic Theatre is a leading example of community theatre It's alumni include comedian Conor Grimes; actor Liam McMahon, who won critical acclaim for his role in the film Hunger; BBC Radio Ulster's Karen Kirby and Lynette Fay; singer and broadcaster Malachi Cush; Fra Fee who starred in the film adaptation of Les Miserables; James Stockdale, one of the stars of Cinemagic's recent feature film A Christmas Star and Ben Kerr, currently starring in the West End with the The Rocky Horror Show.

So how does Sean account for the success the theatre has had in nurturing talent over the years?

"I suppose the first thing is you give young people a platform to express themselves. I will never forget an 11-year-old Conor Grimes coming in to audition for Oliver the musical. When he walked onto the stage he didn't have to say a word – he was the Dodger. Had that stage not been there and Conor Grimes not walked on to it, it may not have happened for him."

Beginning out of the enthusiasm of a group of young people at St Patrick's Youth Club in Donaghmore, Sean admits there was "no big plan" with the Bardic. The theatre's first show was The Diary of Anne Frank in 1982, although it didn't become formally known as the Bardic until two years later.

The 79-year-old recently passed on his legacy to Stephanie, who has taken over as artistic director of the Bardic.

"Regardless of my age or how long I've been about the place, it was the thing to do. Stephanie is just so talented and she enthused the whole theatre. Now and again I think and hope I had something to do with the whole thing," says a proud Sean, who is still very much involved in the theatre and will direct Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishman at the end of February.

An inherited labour of love, Stephanie was by her grandfather's side through her childhood learning the trade and appeared in her first show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, at the age of 11.

"We became known as Sean and his shadow, because anywhere he went in the building I went. I was just so interested in what he was doing and what it would create. I knew from a very early age that's what I wanted to do."

Having studied drama at John Moores University in Liverpool, Stephanie returned back to Tyrone to work as a drama facilitator in schools with Beam Creative Networks, and has since set up her own musical theatre school, Showstoppers, based at the Bardic.

"There was an added pressure to fill granda's director's shoes but as long as he's there I will always be asking him what he thinks –and I'm also not afraid to tell him when he's wrong," she laughs.

:: Rock of Ages runs at the Bardic Theatre, Donaghmore from January 29 to February 13. Tickets available from bardictheatre.com.

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