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I have never seen a more judicial judge than John Havlin, in the first Trial by Jury, a show which was remarkable for its wealth of talent. John Rogan as the defendant, Jim Boyle as the usher and Alfred Dobson as the plaintiff would gladden the heart of any musical director or producer in musical society, and Benny Corrigan's Victorian foreman held sway over a jury which included, in the chorus line, Liam Vaughan, R.I.P., and other who would take over as leading actors in following years.
When in 1959, the Pirates of Penzance seized the stage, and carried off the shrieking altos and sopranos of the layside, Liam Vaughan led them as Pirate King. He must have been the most commanding figure to lead a show in the concert hall and he followed this with an equally great performance as the Mikado the following year. The boys in the “ladies” chorus were really terrified as he sang “my object all sublime”. His great talent was supported by Benny Corrigan's pompous Pooh-Bah, surely a definitive performance. Laurence Kinsella was a wistful Yum-Yum, in contrast to the vigour of Michael Jordan's ferocious Katisha.
Fr. Gaul left to take up parochial duties after this, and the following Christmas was graced with a variety show, which was compered and organised by Eugene McCoy. The speed of presentation was a saving grace, the drill being that one act was on stage, one waiting in the wings, one in the corridor, and one being made up in the theology hall. If the performers found themselves in the wrong part of the show, nobody really noticed anything out of the way, and there were some great moments in the performance, particularly Tom Nolan's rendering of “Mulligan's Farm”, and, in the same vein, a sensitive study of American hillbilly life by Jim Corr and Paddy Breen.
After this we returned to the traditional Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, beginning with The Gondoliers in 1962. Almost all the G. and S. Shows were presented in the following years, until a change was made to shows more recently composed. During the years of Savoy operas, there were many performances and incidents that live in the memory. The Gondoliers of 1962, was the last show for which John Heaney designed and painted settings. It would have astonished audiences to know that his beautiful designs were painted on the reverse side of the cheapest wallpaper, which he tore to pieces after each show, laughing all the while. His set for The Gondoliers was particularly good, and we had a very solid paper bridge, and a working gondola, propelled with grace and serenity by John Doyle, the stage carpenter of the time. His calm was only disturbed when the gondola collided with the bridge, and the reversing operation was carried out with an urgency compelled by the gondolier's sotto voce abuse of his assistants.
Michael Funge made his mark during these years, and gave us a greart Captain Corcoran, and a beautifully bogus Poo-Bah. Peter Makim joined the great ones with his Pirate King and his horrifying Sir Despard Murgatroyed in Ruddigore, and two seniors from the layside, John O'Connor and Donald McDonald, were the best Bunthorne and Grosvenor I have ever seen in Patience.
After years of Gilbert and Sullivan we changed to more modern shows, and the abundant talent on both sides of the house was given possibly a better chance to express itself. James Maguire, who won acclaim in Wexford Festival's Turn of the Screw, graced our stage in many parts, from The Maid of the Mountains to Oklahoma, and the distinguished chairman of Wexford Festival Council, Jim Golden, was our talented choreographer for many years. The well known painter, Paul Funge, a past pupil, designed his first stage setting for Iolanthe in the College, and was succeeded in this exacting duty by Emmet Cullen, of the lay side teaching staff, whose sets for Ruddigore, Oklahoma and The Wizard of Oz, were particularly memorable among the excellent designs that he has given the College audiences.
Over the years since Fr. Gaul left the College, Fr. John O'Brien has been musical director. He has been assisted by many clerical students in rehearsals, and, lately, by Fr. Howell, and their combined musical genius has coaxed brilliant performances from so many actors, and satisfied so many thousands of people. As we watched Fr. O'Brien's fluent baton “Still we gazed and still our wonder grew”. Long may he continue with the same, albeit well-concealed enthusiasm.
There are for me some lasting memories of the series. I remember the audience's delighted response when Peter Kirwan as Casilda in the Gondoliers, revealed football togs and stockings in his exit from the gondola. Oliver Doyle's strong and sensitive “Aunt Ella” in Oklahoma, Paddy Goan's flickering “Og” in Finian's Rainbow, and his hilarious “Ado Annie”. That presentation of Oklahoma will be remembered by all for John McLaughlin's tremendous performance with only a few lines, and Eamonn Murphy's fine acting in the part of Curly. The fight scene was very good, so authentic, in fact, that Brendan Hynes, one of the cowboys, had to be carried off during one performance, completely “horse de cambat”. Forgive me.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, was a show which left many happy memories. Who can forget the oriental grace of Potiphar's wife, (John Fortune), the country and western number; the calypso song, and Tony Woods, marvellous Narrator. Theclever lighting in this show reminds of Fr. Collins' mastery in the sparks and bangs department and mention of Mrs. Potiphar recalls Mr. Potiphar, as played by Paddy Shannon, Paddy finishes this year, after a long career in principals, from Finian's Rainbow to the Wizard of Oz, and with Laurence Pelosi of former years, and Frank Stafford, they touched nothing that they could not adorn. Just so it was with Sr. Mercedes and Sr. Hilary in the make-up room, who made up and adorned the thousands of first and second year boys over the years, and Fr. O'Brien and Fr. O'Connor, and the helpers with the clerical students' make-up.
“Sheol” is defined in the dictionary as a place of departed spirits. In the College it is the place under the stage where its designers hammer the sets together and create the properties used in the show. It is truly a remarkable place mountains are reduced to molehills and where a succession of great men can be found to cope with the demands of designer and producer. From Frank Walsh and John Doyle to John O'Reilly, Des Quigley and Martin Kenny they have never failed to amaze with their cool competence. The set is always ready, always good and there is never any fuss – they do make a point of carrying out their noisiest operations for an hour or so during the most important rehearsals, but that is only to reassure us that “they are there”! After they have left the college and left their own traditions to their own successors they always make a pointy of coming to shows directed by their former colleagues and gently ask little questions about the defects they have noticed in the setting or lighting. They are always right, as befits true graduates of the Sheol School. I salute their memory.
It is hard to avoid making a catalogue of so many years, but all these are happy memories to many people. Those who have enriched our lives with so much colour and so much warmth in the Christmas season should be happy that their heritage is in the good hands of to-day's students. When that time comes again, D.V., there will be, on the stage, and in the dressing rooms the same good fellowship and excitement which they have known. The men will sing carols in the dressing-room, the backstage crew will have the set ready, the house will be full of expectancy and the musical director will set another Christmas Show in St. Peter's on its way.