Arts

Donal O'Hanlon on why the show must go online for Newry's Newpoint Players

As they celebrate 75 years of fostering local theatre talent, Newry's Newpoint Players are taking their annual Youth Show online for the first time. David Roy spoke to chairman Donal O'Hanlon about their plans

Donal O'Hanlon of the Newpoint Players at Newry Market during rehearsals. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE show will go on for Co Down's Newpoint Players this Friday evening: in fact, it will go online, as the Newry-based amateur drama company have been forced to live stream their annual young theatre showcase due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions.

With alumni of their free-to-join Youth Group including familiar acting names such as Susan and John Lynch and Ryan McParland, the Players are celebrating their 75th anniversary throughout 2020. And, while the ongoing pandemic might have put paid to their regular touring productions on the festival circuit, at summer schools and beyond, the group still intend to mark the milestone by staging 75 different productions this year.

For example, Friday night's 38th annual Youth Show is set to feature five 10-minute new works, all created during lockdown and designed to be performed in a socially distanced manner, from a selection of different writers and directors working to the theme of Newry: Now, Near and Never.

Last week, socially distanced rehearsals for what will be presented as a mix of live and 'as live' pre-recorded drama were under way at Newry Market. The group's current chairman, Donal O'Hanlon (64), a former teacher at New-Bridge Integrated College in Loughbrickland who has been involved with Newpoint since he was 16, explained how things were going.

"We're looking at the camera angles, checking out the sounds, mic-ing up the kids and generally doing a 'techie' rehearsal," Donal told us of the showcase, for which viewers will be charged just £3 to watch all five performances.

"We've also got the kids in their costumes which are splendid. I think people will be impressed when they see them."

Even after 75 years of successfully staging amateur productions, the upcoming 'live streamed' production of Newpoint's Youth Show presents a brand new challenge for the long-established theatre group, which first began fostering young talent in 1980 under their pioneering artistic director, the late Sean Hollywood.

Emma O'Hanlon and Donal O'Hanlon acting together with Newpoint in the late 80s. Picture by Hugh Russell

"We've been involved in other people's media projects, but we've never had to twiddle the knobs ourselves and to work out the complicated logistics of the whole thing," admits Donal of the Youth Show, which they had until recently still been hoping to stage for a live audience at Newry Market in a carousel format.

Happily, plenty of familiar faces from Newpoint Players' past have been only too keen to get involved with the production.

"So many of our young professionals who do this for a living are now back working with us writing the shows, directing the shows and calling the camera shots," Donal enthused.

"They're all people who had work lined up which then fell through due the whole pandemic. They're Newry people at heart who came out of Newpoint and they've come back to help us. We don't have 'stars' and they never forget who reared them.

"One of our writers, Eugene O'Hare, had his play Sydney And The Old Girl in the West End before lockdown with Miriam Margoyles in the title role, so that's the quality of writing we have to offer. And the overall 'mastermind' behind it is David Pearse (Vikings), who is everybody's favourite dead Viking and is never out of work on stage or screen, which is saying something for an actor."

Other past and present Newpoint Players talent lending their abilities to this year's Youth Show include actor/director Caolan Byrne (Chernobyl), My Left Nut writer Oisín Kearney, actor Ryan McParland (Calm With Horses), playwright Daniel Sutherland, their current artistic director, senior director and writer-in-residence, Sean Treanor, and senior acting talents Pat Mooney and Eithne Bell.

Newpoint is something of a family affair for Donal: wife Kate is their honorary secretary, while daughter Emma is another Youth Group alumna who will direct two of the plays in Friday's Youth Show.

"Emma would have been involved with Newpoint even as a toddler," explained Donal.

"She went off to Central School of drama in London and now teaches Drama at St Catherine's College in Armagh. She's directed some very innovative shows for Newpoint and is a wonderful girl to work with – she shames her da with her bright ideas."

Before we left Donal to get back to rehearsals, we couldn't help but ask if he was confident they can hit their target of 75 performances this year in spite of Covid.

"It certainly will be a challenge," he offered, before joking: "If anybody stands up and reads at Mass we're going to count that as a performance!"

:: See newpointplayers.com for details of how to watch their 38th annual Youth Show online, find them on Twitter @Newpointp and on Facebook at FB.com/groups/6772098281

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