When Kevin O’Shea, the director of Charleville’s Shoestring Theatre Company, goes to the Dean Crowe Memorial Hall in Athlone with his latest production of ‘Trad’ by Mark Doherty on Friday the 1st of May next, it will be the fifteenth occasion which he will contest the All-Ireland drama final in the mid-land town.

His first experience of the Athlone stage was in 1986 after he won the All-Ireland Confined Drama Festival in 1986 with ‘Mass Appeal’ by Bill C. Davis, which featured Dominic Dillon and Denis Drennan. “For me getting to the All-Ireland drama final is the Holy Grail of amateur theatre and I think the Athlone final is the pinnacle of the amateur drama year. People with expertise in this field  think that the fare on offer here is the best amateur theatre one will find anywhere in the world.

“The festival circuit is hugely demanding and financially draining but it is incredibly important in raising the standard of production, direction, presentation, acting and lighting. The whole idea of team work with everybody working to achieve a common goal is paramount in the community which is generated among the cast and crew when a production is undertaken,” he said.

Kevin first got his interest in theatre at the North Cork Drama Festival in the parochial hall of his home town of Charleville in the 60’s. The festival was so popular then that there were plays staged on Sunday afternoons during the festival. It was at one these when Kerry playwright Bryan McMahon’s play, ‘Bugle in the Blood’ was presented that he got the bug for amateur drama.

“I was fascinated at the idea that another world was opened to me when the curtain went up and that fascination remains with me to this day. The North Cork drama festival exposed us to the works of the major playwrights in the world in those years and we saw great shows by groups from Naas, Cahir and Carrick-on-Suir in Co. Tipperary, Abbeydorney, Co. Kerry, Kilmeen in west Cork and Tuam, Co. Galway,” said Kevin.

His own first production in the open section in Athlone was the Soapbox Players, (the fore runner to the Shoestring group), was Brian Friel’s ‘Philadelphia Here I Come’. “We have been in Athlone fourteen times and we have been placed everywhere but first and last so it’s no wonder that our group anthem is Stephen Foster’s ‘Hard Times.”

He will be hoping to go one better this year when the Shoestring’s ‘Trad’ takes to the stage in Athlone on Friday the 1st May. Local audiences may see the play at the Schoolyard Theatre Charleville on this Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, where booking is at 087-2530955.