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DruidSynge Opens to Critical Acclaim
'To put it simply: DruidSynge, Garry Hynes's production of all six of John Millington Synge's plays together on the same day, is one of the greatest achievements in the history of Irish theatre'

DruidSynge, Druid's landmark production of John Millington Synge's work directed by Garry Hynes, opened to critical acclaim at Galway's Town Hall Theatre on Saturday last, 16th July.

Hailed by the The Irish Times as 'one of the greatest achievements in the history of Irish theatre' and as 'an unforgettable day' by The Irish Examiner, Saturday was the first time ever that all six plays had been performed together and was a truly amazing experience for cast and audience alike. With the whole production described as 'superb' by The Guardian, and the performances as 'astonshing' by The Irish Times, DruidSynge 'does what Irish theatre has never done for its presiding genius: it establishes Synge's greatness beyond doubt' (The Irish Times).

Please find below some of the first reviews.

DruidSynge continues at the Town Hall Galway until Saturday 30th July for those driving to the Town Hall Theatre please give yourself plenty of time for parking especially during Race Week.
Followed by performances in Dublin (Olympia Theatre, 2-20 August), Edinburgh (King's Theatre 27 August - 3 September as part of the Edinburgh International Festival) and other locations to be announced.The productions feature a roll call of Irish acting talent alongside many of Ireland's finest emerging young stars. DruidSynge can be enjoyed as a series of double bills on consecutive days or as a very special experience when, on selected dates, all six plays are presented on the same day. The unique and limited number of day-long events (during which all the plays of John Millington Synge will be performed) begin at 2pm and end at 10.35pm.

'One of the greatest achievements in the history of Irish theatre'
The Irish Times
'An unforgettable day'
The Examiner
The Guardian
Marie Mullen 'The greatest Irish actress since Siobhan Mc Kenna'
The Irish Times
Aaron Monaghan & Marie Mullen 'Run through the event like two seams of gold'
The Irish Times
'Mick Lally's brooding Conchobar and Gemma Reeve's fresh and potent Deirdre'
The Irish Times
'An extraordinary theatrical event, a triumph'
The Connacht Tribune
'Awe at the achievement of this 44 strong Druid company'
The Guardian


Bringing death to vivid life
Fintan O'Toole, The Irish Times

To put it simply: DruidSynge, Garry Hynes's production of all six of John Millington Synge's plays together on the same day, is one of the greatest achievements in the history of Irish theatre. The culmination of 30 years of engagement with Synge by Hynes, Marie Mullen and Mick Lally, it has the stamp of decades of thought, invention and inspiration. Because of their tragically early deaths, Synge and Georg Buchner are the only great playwrights whose entire work could be presented in a single day. And DruidSynge does what Irish theatre has never done for its presiding genius: it establishes his greatness beyond doubt. Abused and appropriated in his lifetime, and treated with a curious mixture of awe and neglect thereafter, Synge, almost a century after his death, has finally been given his due.

Druid's project of presenting all of Synge's plays together has been under way for 18 months, and three of the six plays - The Playboy of the Western World, The Tinker's Wedding and The Well of the Saints - were presented last year. The expectation, therefore, was that DruidSynge would be a remounting of these three productions with the addition of Riders to the Sea, The Shadow of the Glen and the unfinished play that he left behind in draft form when he died, Deirdre of the Sorrows.

But it is very much more than that. Firstly, the productions of the previously-staged plays are radically revised, with new casts, and adapted to the single setting that serves for all six. Secondly, the completion of the cycle does far more than simply fill in the gaps. It creates an integrated whole that is vastly larger than the sum of its parts, for Hynes has given it the feel and shape of a single great meditation on life and death.

A simple visual image captures the essence of what emerges when the plays are performed together. In Riders to the Sea, some boards of wood that have been purchased for the coffin of Maurya's drowned son stand against the back wall - a stark and silent symbol of death. In DruidSynge they stay where they are for the course of the six plays - unfussy, quiet and eloquent. They remind us of that strange turn of mind that makes the six plays, for all their vast variations of tone and mood, and for all their wild cries of grief and all their wilder hoots of laughter, so much of a piece.

For in each of them death is a constant presence. Maurya's sons drown one by one. In The Shadow of the Glen the stage is dominated by an apparent corpse. In The Well of the Saints and The Tinker's Wedding, youthful beauty is just a fleeting moment before decrepitude. In The Playboy, Christy Mahon's father "dies" twice. Deirdre is the chronicle of a death foretold. Yet this haunting by death is what gives such life and vigour to Synge's people. They talk up a storm to drown out the silence of the grave. They kick against the inevitable. They dance on the edge of the abyss. They draw their courage and dignity from knowing they will die and carrying on regardless.

It is not for nothing that Samuel Beckett acknowledged just one influence: Synge. Or that DruidSynge brings to a climax one of the underlying energies of Hynes's engagement with the writer: putting Synge and Beckett back together again into a continuous Irish tradition.

DruidSynge is bookended by the two plays in which death is embraced and foretold: Riders to the Sea and Deirdre of the Sorrows. A set of images - a silent young boy, keening women in traditional costume, the coffin boards - that is quietly established in the first will recur with a stark beauty in the last, giving the whole set of plays the feeling of a cycle that, like life itself, begins and ends with nothing. It is this delicately drawn and brilliantly executed arc that gives the entire event its sense of aesthetic and emotional completeness. We are on a journey from death to death - but across a landscape of exuberant, defiant vitality.

The journey begins at the first instant when Davy Cunningham's subtly-patterned monochrome light illuminates the dimness of Francis O'Connor's austerely beautiful set. Louise Lewis, as Cathleen in Riders to the Sea, is standing with her hands raised in anguish or supplication before she brings them down on the bread she is kneading. The bread, the staff of life, is beaten and folded and coffined in the oven, violence and sustenance contained in a series of silent gestures. Here is the whole cycle in dumbshow, a ritual overture to a pagan celebration of terror, yearning and joy.

Riders to the Sea also sets the bar for the whole event, for it is an intensely moving rendition of the play. In it, Marie Mullen as Maurya inaugurates an astonishing series of performances. The production generates its own forcefield with an unadorned gravity and a pristine simplicity that form a perfect setting for the rich jewel that is Mullen's performance. There is no over-the-top emoting here, but rather the magnetic ferocity of an old woman who rails against death but also embraces it.

In a mood that will recur in Deirdre, she wants the end to come. She wants the worst to happen so that terror and tears will be no more. Usually, Maurya is the helpless victim of death's blind indifference. Here she masters death with her chilling, driven determination to make it fire its last shot and wrench the final dregs of pain from her heart. Mullen modulates this shift from passive suffering to active acceptance with a purity and clarity that allow an immense pathos to emerge unadulterated by sentimentality.

In a neat encapsulation of DruidSynge, Riders is followed by a radically re-worked production of The Tinker's Wedding - the mad jig after the slow air. Mullen's transformation from the grieving Maurya to the roguish, free-wheeling Mary Byrne switches the mood with amazing elegance, but also keeps the plays in touch with each other and retains the overall feeling of death-defying energy. She is the only survivor from last year's production, with Simone Kirby coming in as an excellent Sarah Casey and Eamon Morrissey and Aaron Monaghan - the two actors who alongside Mullen will dominate the cycle - taking the roles of the priest and Michael Byrne.

Played in modern dress, this production is less self-consciously carnivalesque than the last one, but it is also crisper, more loose-limbed and funnier. Monaghan's superb comic timing, in a role that requires him to be largely passive until he suddenly takes control, acts as a foretaste of an amazing set of performances. Monaghan and Mullen will run through the event like two seams of gold.

The Well of the Saints is also radically recast, with Mullen again providing the main sense of continuity in the role of Mary Doul. The philosophical schema of The Well makes it both the most problematic and the most intriguing of the plays - but its position in the middle of the cycle is ideal, for it bridges the realistic and allegorical elements of Synge's work and teases out his dissection of the human inability to stomach too much reality and the need for stories and lies.

It also launches another brilliant pairing of performances: Morrissey's dyspeptic husbands in The Well and in The Shadow of the Glen mirror each other in semi-tragic and farcical modes. The latter performance in particular brings out not just Morrissey's gleeful genius for manic old children, but also Synge's relish for the macabre - another mode in which terror and comedy live happily together.

The Playboy is, of course, Synge's most complete play and the one that Hynes has explored most thoroughly over the years. In a way, it has become the one we almost take for granted in DruidSynge, the familiar failsafe in an exotic mix. But again, there are fantastic surprises in a production whose vigour is refreshed and reawakened by its place in the larger whole.

This is a less glamorous version than last year's one, with Catherine Walsh replacing Anne-Marie Duff as Pegeen and Monaghan taking Cillian Murphy's place as Christy. But it is also better, more assured, more grounded, and more richly comic - a production that stands with the great Druid breakthrough Playboy of the early 1980s. The familiarity translates itself not into complacency, but into a breathtaking fluency. Played without an interval and at a cracking pace that never feels rushed, the action takes on an electrifying roller-coaster quality that perfectly captures Christy's transformations. Walsh and Monaghan, meanwhile, both have a strangeness, an angular quality, that makes the characters new. The language, meanwhile, sings and crackles with a fiery grace.

Of all the plays, it is Deirdre of the Sorrows - written during Synge's terminal illness and left behind as a raw draft - that benefits most for the supporting structure of the full cycle. At first there is a fear that Deirdre will be an anti-climactic ending to a magnificent day, for its legendary subject and sometimes flat, unrevised language often seem at odds with the inventiveness of the real Synge. The first two acts are sustained by the visual richness of O'Connor's and Kathy Strachan's designs and Cunningham's fabulous lighting, and by Mick Lally's brooding Conchobar, Gemma Reeves's fresh and potent Deirdre, and Mullen's magnetic presence as Lavarcham.

But the doubts persist until a magnificent third act sweeps them away. The images planted in Riders to the Sea, the resonances generated throughout the earlier plays and the overarching rituals of life and death are folded back in with a devastating and thrilling effect. The seal is placed on greatness.

Runs nightly in rep until July 30th, with the full cycle tomorrow and Sat at the Town Hall Theatre as part of the Galway Arts Festival, Then at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, August 2nd-20th and the Edinburgh Festival, August 27th to September 3rd

Town Hall Theatre, Galway
Ian Kilroy, The Irish Examiner


DIRECTOR Garry Hynes has long planned to mount all the works of JM Synge in a single, sweeping production. In DruidSynge she does just that, and in the process creates an unforgettable day of theatre. Starting at 2pm on Saturday with Riders to the Sea, the company presented us with The Tinker's Wedding, The Well of the Saints and The Shadow of the Glen, before a dinner break - al fresco, under the rare Galway sunshine. The Playboy of the Western World and Deirdre of the Sorrows brought the day to a close at 10.30pm, and left few unmoved by the singular achievement of this writer. Played against the same basic set throughout, the plays, seen all together for the first time, had their similarities and recurring themes become apparent. Like alternate jigs and laments, they brought us from the searing tragedy of Riders to the Sea and Deirdre, to the joyous, plentiful visions that are The Tinker's Wedding and elements of The Playboy and The Shadow of the Glen. From an excellent ensemble, Marie Mullen and Aaron Monaghan deserve special mention. Mullen must be one of our finest actors, while the young Monaghan has the potential to grow to that stature. If theatre must be an event now to capture the public imagination, then DruidSynge is a theatre event par excellence. From Galway it goes on to Dublin and Edinburgh - and expect it to go on and on from there. Garry Hynes has made her mark interpreting Synge over many years. Never has she reached so near perfection. By returning to the source of her achievement, she has found Synge's well full of sweet water.
DruidSynge is at the Town Hall
Theatre, Galway, until July 30.
See for more information.

Synge for your supper...
... and breakfast and lunch. Michael Billington takes in a marathon performance of the Irish playwright's six works
Guardian, Tuesday July 19, 2005

Can one have too much of a good Synge? In Ireland that's a heretical thought - but it none the less occurred to me on Saturday, as I forsook the sunshine in Galway to spend eight-and-a-half hours immersed in the writer's six plays. But Garry Hynes's marathon Synge-cycle for Druid Theatre Company is a hugely inspiriting event: one that offers a rare chance to assess the man who did so much to shape modern Irish drama.

At the end of this month, the plays tour to Dublin and Edinburgh, but it helps, I suspect, to see the works in Galway itself. JM Synge may have been a Dublin-born, bourgeois Protestant but his abiding subject was Ireland's wild west. And although Galway today is a cosmopolitan town with a strong eastern European presence, Synge's language is never far away; stand in the balcony of the magnificent Kenny's Bookshop in the High Street and you hear its manager's soaring eloquence rising steadily upwards. Synge's work still stirs local passions, too; when, at the end of The Playboy of the Western World, the hero's father cried out against "the villainy of Mayo", the lady behind me let out a great whoop of approval.

Galway's Synge-cycle also has the appeal of all theatrical marathons. Cynics might say that one of their attractions is that they give you the chance to sleep for a day with total strangers. But more often the event acquires a quasi-religious quality turning the audience into a communal congregation. What gives the Synge-cycle its unique interest is that it traverses, in chronological sequence, a dramatist's entire career. Whereas The Wars of the Roses or the Mahabharata presented us with a continuous narrative, here one gets the chance to explore the themes and passions that occupied Synge's all-too-brief working life.

Doing so, you discover that Synge was a fount of inspiration for other Irish writers. Beckett was a profound admirer of Synge in his Dublin youth; you see that clearly in the way both writers are fascinated by beggars and tramps, use blindness as a metaphor and wrest laughter from darkness. Living dramatists like Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson also owe a vast amount to Synge. It is said that Synge, when on the Aran Islands, put his ear to a crack in the floorboards to listen to peasant speech. One feels that McDonagh, in particular, has kept his own ear cannily attuned to Synge's peculiar craic.

Synge's best work also deals with the theme that resounds through modern drama from Ibsen and Chekhov to Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams: the conflict between illusion and reality. You see this at its greatest in Synge's 1907 masterpiece, The Playboy of the Western World. In a famously resonant phrase, Pegeen Mike says that "there is a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed". In other words, as long as Christy Mahon's alleged murder of his father is a macabre fiction it gives him heroic status; the moment he attempts to translate it into reality it becomes abhorrent.

Hynes first directed this play in 1982; her latest production not only preserves the tension between dream and reality, but brilliantly exposes Synge's delicate balance between tragedy and comedy. Catherine Walsh's youthful Pegeen Mike, finally realising the truth about Christy's tale-telling, angrily fans the fire with a bellows and vengefully scorches his legs. But Aaron Monaghan, kicking up his heels with joy at discovering that parricide has turned him into a sex symbol, exultantly reminds us that Christy is a comic figure; he even shares a strange kinship with Gogol's Khlestakov in The Government Inspector in that he is seduced by his own fantasy.

The illusion/reality tension is equally pronounced in The Well of the Saints, one of Synge's most remarkable plays and one that left its visible imprint on Waiting for Godot and Endgame. It hinges on the delusion of a blind elderly couple, Martin and Mary Doul, that both their partners and the world at large are objects of wondrous beauty. When a Saint miraculously restores their sight they discover the truth and are left craving a return to the consolations of darkness.

In some respects the play is a farce: on regaining his sight, Martin instantly mistakes a tarty village tease for his wife. But it is also a play filled with personal and communal cruelty. Seeing Marie Mullen's silver-haired Mary for the first time, Eamon Morrissey's Martin vindictively declares: "There isn't a wisp on any grey mare on the ridge of the world isn't finer than the dirty twist on your head." The villagers themselves treat the blind couple as if they were guinea pigs in a social experiment. And behind the play lies Synge's bleak Becketesque belief that an imagined world is better than the real Ireland of grey days, holy men and endless torment.

If there is a dominant image to all the plays, it is that of female solitude. Few women in drama are more lonesome than Synge's islanders and farm-dwellers. You see this straight off in the balefully tragic Riders to the Sea where, as CE Montague once wrote, "you step straight through a door into darkness". The opening image of Hynes's production is of a young girl kneading dough with hands raised above her head like some Aran Island, Medea; the final picture is of Marie Mullen's black-clad Maura stoically accepting the death of her six sons while keening women beat the cottage walls. Even in a farce like The Shadow of the Glen, loneliness implacably looms; at one point Catherine Walsh's Nora, whose dead husband obstinately refuses to lie down, talks of the mists eternally rolling up and down the bog in tolling cadences that bespeak a lifetime's loneliness.

Not all Synge survives that well. The Tinker's Wedding strikes me as a laboured, anti-clerical anecdote. And Synge's final play, Deirdre of the Sorrows, for all the bravura of Hynes's staging and the eloquence of Gemma Reeves's central performance, is an acquired taste. Drawn from the Saga of Cuchulain, it tells how the destined bride of an old king elopes with her lover and, after seven years, returns to witness the destruction of the city. Synge's language achieves a rare, pared-down simplicity but what I most enjoyed was the way the walls and doors of Francis O'Connor's adaptable permanent set became even more unhinged than the characters.

I took two vivid impressions away from Galway. One is of Synge as the inventor of modern Irish drama: he patented the tragi-comic vision of life that has permeated everything since from O'Casey and Beckett to McDonagh and McPherson. The other impression was one of awe at the achievement of this 44-strong Druid company, who stage six different shows in a day with miraculous fluency. Marie Mullen, who appears in five of the six plays, also emerges as the greatest Irish actress since Siobhán McKenna. Admittedly there were times when I found my senses lulled by the wave-like rhythms of the familiar Synge-song. But I was constantly quickened into life by Hynes's superb productions and by the ineradicable Synge image of isolated women suffering at the hands of nature, the sea, death and incurable male fantasy.

At the Town Hall, Galway (00 353-91 569777), until July 30. Then touring.

Judy Murphy, Connacht Tribune

An extraordinary theatrical event which will enter the annals of theatre istory for all the right reasons had its world premiere in Galway on Saturday last.

DruidSynge, in which Druid theatre staged all six of Synge¹s plays as part of one day long cycle began at 2.00pm with the tragic Riders to the Sea finished at 10.30 when the curtain came down on his last, unfinished, work Deirdre of the Sorrows, also a tragedy.
In between, there was comedy, farce, large dollops of humanity and throughout, an immersion in the unique language of Synge, courtesy of a superb cast, several of whom played multiple roles in the different works, most especially Marie Mullen who played central roles in five of the six plays.
DruidSynge has been years in gestation and there were many difficulties along the way, but on Saturday, Garry Hynes finally had her day and this production justified her reasons for wanting to stage the works together. This wasn¹t an experience for the faint hearted, but seeing all the works together gave the audience an appreciation of the threads running through Synge¹s drama and showed how he challenged the sacred cows of the time in a way that resonates with a modern audiences.
Several of the plays, such as Riders, Tinkers Wedding and Shadow of the Glen are one acts and Hynes¹s led off by pairing Riders and Tinkers Wedding ‹ a tragedy followed by a comedy. In Riders, a mother is resigned to losing her youngest son to the sea, having lost all the rest of her menfolk in the same way. There were beautiful individual performances and some great group scenes. Because the six piece are being performed by an ensemble company, Hynes has a large cast, giving her the freedom to create a sense of community, something she does excellently throughout the different plays. After the sombre Riders, the mood immediately lifted with a sparkling, sharp production of Tinkers Wedding. This had already been staged last year, alongside The Well of the Saints as part of the lead-in to the Synge cycle, but this production is totally different and sharper, both in direction, performance and in design.
After a brief interval the audience returned to the theatre for The Well of the Saints, with Marie Mullen and Eamon Morrissey playing the blind couple whose sight is restored to them by a visiting saint, only for them to discover that they preferred their blindness, where imagination ruled supreme. Again it was a very different production to last year¹s, although the wordiness of this play, which caused it to dip for this reviewer in the previous production, had the same effect this time. Nonetheless, it¹s a fine study on how sainthood isn¹t all it¹s cracked up to be and how quickly a seemingly harmless group can turn into a threatening mob.
It was followed by another interval, then Shadow of the Glen, in which Mick Lally plays a wandering tramp seeking shelter for the night in an isolated cottage in Wicklow. He is greeted by the ŒLady of the House who is waking her husband, but all is not as it seems. This is a short, strange piece, in which it seems that everybody gets the best outcome, although there are dark undertones about marriage and the ownership of property.
If anything suffered during this epic afternoon¹s theatre, it was Playboy which was performed without any interval and with too much speed. Aaron Monaghan is a completely credible Playboy and Catherine Walsh a strong Pegeen Mike, with Marie Mullen once again in her career playing the Widow Quinn, giving the character a bold, earthy sexiness. Nick Lee played the gormless Shawn Keogh, who is usurped by the Playboy in his relationship with Pegeen and there was a fine supporting cast. But, it was very rushed and the build-up of the relationship between Pegeen and Playboy suffered, although the issue of the mob was well handled
The final play, Deirdre of the Sorrows was the one which few in the audience had ever seen. Based on the Red Branch legend of Deirdre and the Sons of Uisne, it is a tale of love and betrayal and the impossibility of avoiding one¹s fate. It opened magnificently, with Marie Mullen as Lavarcham, Deirdre¹s guardian, standing in the centre of a beautifully lit stage, setting a stylised note which continued throughout the production, moving the audience into a more surreal world of mythology.
Seeing all the plays together highlighted just how strong a connection with nature Synge had ‹ in all the works, the characters who are most free speak in poetic terms about the natural landscape; this poetry is lacking in those who are earthbound. The centrality of religion to his writing also comes through, with Judgment Day being mentioned in practically all of the works. It¹s interesting to note as well, just how strong Synge¹s women are compared to the men ‹ they frequently drive the action and have the best lines.
There were many magnificent performances on Saturday, including Aaron Monaghan, Eamonn Morrissey, Simone Kirby, Catherine Walsh and Mick Lally and it seems unfair to single out anybody, but for her sheer ability to appear on stage in one role after another, switching character in a seemingly effortless manner, Marie Mullen deserves an award. She is, without question, a great and a generous actress.
Francis O¹Connor¹s set was adapted throughout the day to suit the various productions, sometimes with greater success than others ‹ a definite highlight being Deirdre.The music was totally evocative and the atmospheric lighting used subtly while Kathy Strachan¹s imaginative costumes married past with present to interesting effect. The whole day, which included lunch outside in Courthouse Square in glorious sunshine, was one where hard work, self belief and talent paid off. Some individual pieces are stronger than others, but in total, this is a great production and one which should be seen. It is a triumph.

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