VALE MAELIOSA STAFFORD
Maeliosa Stafford playing the Irishman in the O'Punksky's production of Gigli Concert at Eternity Playhouse 2014.
A much loved and admired actor, director, educator and all round good bloke, Moy as he was affectionately known to his Sydney theatre friends, left the stage all too suddenly on April 10 at the age of 66. We extend condolences to his wife Carolyn and his loving children.
Together with his partners in the wonderful O’Punksky’s Theatre, John O’Hare and Patrick Dickson, they enjoyed 34 years of creating, laughing, working and playing together on and off stage and along the way delivering some very fine theatre. With his inimitable style, charm and wicked sense of humour, Moy brought the best of new Irish writing to Sydney audiences winning awards and accolades as an actor and director.
Back in his home town of Galway, Ireland Moy had been Artistic Director of the renowned Druid Theatre for three memorable years as well as being a celebrated actor. He continued to act and direct in both Ireland and Sydney. Tributes to Moy from the Artistic Directors of The Abbey Theatre, the Gate Theatre, the Druid and even the President of the Ireland are testament to the respect he commanded in the Irish theatre and how deeply he is mourned - on both sides of the world.
A tribute from John O'Hare on social media sums up the loss of Maeliosa Stafford to those close to him.
“Lifelong friends and colleagues.
We loved, we created, we fought, we laughed and we cried. Supported each other through thick, thin and the lean years. We founded O’Punksky’s Theatre together. We workshopped, read, devised, developed, mentored, produced, designed, built, taught, directed and acted for and with each other for 34 years.
We won, we lost, we bruised, we competed, we forgave, we repaired, we broke up, we came back, we did all with dedication passion and ambition.
We are Maelíosa, Patrick and John.
The President of Ireland paid tribute on his official web site:
Statement by President Higgins on the death of Maelíosa Stafford
Date: Thu 13th Apr, 2023 | 17:41
“News of the death of Maelíosa Stafford will be met with a deep sense of loss and sadness across the community of theatre in Ireland and abroad.
Maelíosa was an integral part of those exciting days that included the founding of the Druid Theatre in Galway, his talents as an actor were pivotal in Druid’s deserved success. His performances in so many of the late Tom Murphy’s plays were regarded as exceptional, bringing the power of artistic collaboration to its highest levels, bringing to life, as he did, the vivid characterisations from such brilliant writing.
Maelíosa’s talent extended beyond that of actor. He went on to direct some of Druid’s most iconic works and, becoming its its Artistic Director in the early 1990s, oversaw a period of such creativity for the Arts in Ireland.
Maelíosa’s late parents, Seán and Márie, both had a hugely positive influence on cultural life and on the Arts in Ireland through their work at Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe and, as a Nation, we are indebted to them.
Sabina and I send our deepest sympathies to Maelíosa’s wife Carolyn; his children Eoghan, Cian, Aelia and Benen, and grandchild Banjo; his sisters Órfhlaigh and Fionnuala; and to his brothers Conall and Ruairí and many friends.
May I also express my condolences to his colleagues in O’Punksky’s Theatre in Sydney and to all those in Druid Theatre who worked with him over the years and to all who will miss him dearly.”
Obituaries follow from his colleagues in Galway, Ireland.
Druid Theatre Company mourns the passing of its former Artistic Director and lifelong friend, Maelíosa Stafford:
Maelíosa first joined Druid in 1978 and played a pivotal role in the history of the company, not only as an actor but also as Druid’s Artistic Director from 1991 to 1994.
His Druid directing credits include: At the Black Pig’s Dyke, Song of the Yellow Bittern, Belfry, and The Midnight Court.
His Druid acting credits include: The Lonesome West, Conversations on a Homecoming, A Whistle in the Dark, The Playboy of the Western World, The Colleen Bawn, The Wood of the Whispering, Carthaginians, Cheapside and Lovers Meeting.
Our thoughts are with Maelíosa’s family and friends in Ireland and Australia including his wife Carolyn, his children, his sister Orfhlaith, and his colleagues at O’Punksky’s Theatre.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Garry Hynes, Druid Co-Founder and Artistic Director:
‘One winter’s evening in the 1970s, Maelíosa put his shoulder underneath a load of wood that the Druid lads were carrying from T Ó hUiginn in Shantallah down to the Fo’castle in Dominick Street. "Here lads, I’ll help ye with that,” he said. Maelíosa continued to do just that through many decades, including meeting and marrying Carolyn in Australia and spending three years as Artistic Director of Druid in the early 1990s.
He was a wonderful character actor and exceptionally talented as a director forging one of Druid’s greatest successes by commissioning and subsequently directing At the Black Pig’s Dyke by Vincent Woods. This production, designed by the late Monica Frawley, got stellar reviews, toured throughout Ireland and abroad and remains of one of the most memorable in the Druid repertoire.
While Maelíosa made his home in Sydney, he continued to work with Druid occasionally, most recently as Dada in Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark. He is an essential part of the Druid story, gone way too soon and we will miss him very much. My heart goes out to his family in Sydney and Ireland.’
Marie Mullen, Druid Co-Founder and Druid Ensemble member:
‘Maelíosa cared so much about theatre, acting and Druid. He was a terrific actor – Junior in Conversations on a Homecoming by Tom Murphy comes to mind and Paddy in I Do Not Like Thee, Doctor Fell by Bernard Farrell. He was such a brilliant comedic talent. He directed a most wonderful production of At the Black Pig’s Dyke by Vincent Woods. We will miss him so much, he was such a positive force.’
Maelíosa Stafford was an actor, director, producer, and educator and one of the most influential, successful, innovative, and charismatic of Galway artists.
Theatre was in his DNA: his parents, Seán and Máire Stafford, were memorably described in this newspaper as the original Fred and Ginger of Galway arts. Seán was prominent from the late 1940s in An Taibhdhearc as an actor, director and board member. Máire was an actor on stage, film, and television, a director, playwright, costume designer and creator of countless pantomimes. Maire and Seán were hugely influential in the lives of countless Galwegians; they were nominated as Galway People of the Year and conferred with honorary degrees by the University. Their five children - Ruairí, Fionnuala, Maelíosa, Órfhlaith and Conall - spent a lot of time on and about the stage.
In an interview with Charlie McBride, also in the Advertiser, Maelíosa looked back on those times “I remember seeing lots of shows there as I was growing up. Ag Fanacht le Godot was one that really impressed me…and Mise Raifteirí an File was another, and I always loved the pantomimes. I also enjoyed operas like Cosi Fan Tutte and of course it meant a lot to me coming back to the theatre later in my career to direct Ag Clai Na Muice Duibhe... Other memories I have would be the personalities about the place as well, growing up watching people like Coiril Ó Mathúna. I was too young to have seen Siobhan McKenna there of course though I heard a lot about her but I did see the early Mick Lally!”
An Taibhdhearc was a beloved space for Maelíosa. As well as coming back to Galway years later there to direct Ag Claí Na Muice Duibhe he curated and directed a stellar programme for Taibhdhearc@90. In his interview at the time with Charlie he pointed out: ‘As the first theatre to open its doors in Galway that was doing regular shows, even though it was often on an amateur basis, An Taibhdhearc was important culturally, especially with its championing of the Irish language - which also connected Galway with Connemara. It has a very important place in the history of Irish theatre.’
Inevitably Maelíosa was sensationally theatrical himself. His close friend and schoolmate in Scoil Fhursa and Scoil Iognáid, the iconic Galway sculptor John Coll recalled how when playing football as a goalkeeper Maeliosa’s diving saves were dramatically transformed into fading swan leaps, the pitch becoming an inevitable stage. And he was on real stages too “I did a lot as a child, I was in quite a few pantos…In the 1970s while I was in UCG, I did a few shows; I remember the 50th anniversary in 1978 when I acted in Lig Sinn IgCathu and Cluichí Cleamhnas.’
By then – imagine! - Druid had emerged in Galway. Founder and artistic director, Garry Hynes takes up the story: ‘One winter’s evening in the 1970s, Maelíosa put his shoulder underneath a load of wood that the Druid lads were carrying from T Ó hUiginn in Shantallah down to the Fo’castle in Dominick Street. ‘’Here lads, I’ll help ye with that,” he said.’ Maelíosa abandoned Commerce in college and became a Druid; he went on to contribute massively to the company’s recalibration of Irish theatre, world classics and new writing that was to bring renown to the company and the city, and shake up the Irish theatre world.
He took over as Artistic Director for three memorable years too. As founding artistic director Garry Hynes said this week in a tribute to Maelíosa: ‘He was a terrific character actor and exceptionally talented as a director forging one of Druid’s greatest successes by commissioning and subsequently directing At the Black Pig’s Dyke by Vincent Woods. This production, designed by the late Monica Frawley, got stellar reviews, toured throughout Ireland and abroad and remains one of the most memorable in the Druid repertoire.’
A great success was Druid’s production of Sean Tyrrell’s The Midnight Court, an exuberant musical based on the once scandalous Brian Merriman classic poem: ‘A play to celebrate the rights of women. Rights to wholesome marriage and wholesome sex. An adaptation of Cuirt an Mheáin Oíche.’ Directed with verve by Maelíosa the production featured a galaxy of Galway music icons including Johnny Mullins, Sean Keane, Mary McPartlan and Sharon Murphy. It played in a tent in remote east Clare – “ The Shores of Loch Gréine, near Feakle in Co. Clare and the court of Queen Aeval of Munster.” and triumphantly at home for the Galway Arts Festival of 1992.
Of course Maelíosa as a major Irish theatre artist acted and directed elsewhere too, in many productions with the Abbey, and as co-director with John O’Hare of a magnificent open-air version of Much Ado about Nothing for Kilkenny Arts Festival – ‘A battered Cortina sweeps across the lawns of Kilkenny Castle, halting in front of the wooden parapet in the courtyard’, as Helen Meaney set the scene for us in the Irish Times. With Vincent Woods and Mary McPartlan for Skehana Productions he enjoyably and professionally toured Woods’s On the Way Out to village halls and delighted audiences throughout the country.
On tour to Australia his world changed. He met and fell in love with Carolyn, settled in Sydney and co-founded O’Punsky’s, a theatre company primarily focused on staging Irish playwriting in Australia. ‘ I came here to Australia 30 years ago and my life and career has been floating and flirting between both cultures ever since.’ He directed the company’s inaugural staging of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme and starred in Faith Healer and The Gigli Concert. He acted in The Cripple of Inishmaan for Sydney Theatre Company and featured in Queensland Theatre Company’s production Dancing at Lughnasa.
He directed The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Seafarer and the Australian premiere of The Night Alive. With John O’Hare, one of his partners in O’Punsky’s, now Director of the Gaiety School of Acting he brought Australia and Ireland much closer through valuable artistic and new writing links with the Irish Consulate. Again with John O’Hare he became a skilled and inspiring theatre educator, sharing his expertise and passion with generations of young Australian theatre makers. He also became a regular on Australian film and television, including the series Drop Dead Weird where he was reunited with his old Druid friend Pauline McGlynn.
Another beloved colleague, the great Marie Mullen paid tribute this week: ‘Maelíosa cared so much about theatre, acting and Druid. He was a terrific actor – Junior in Conversations on a Homecoming by Tom Murphy comes to mind and Paddy in I Do Not Like Thee, Doctor Fell by Bernard Farrell. He was such a brilliant comedic talent. He directed a most wonderful production of At the Black Pig’s Dyke by Vincent Woods. We will miss him so much, he was such a positive force.’
Galway will miss Maelíosa. As the photos flood social media this week, his countless Galway friends sharing their memories of good times in his company, on and off the stage, we realise that his passing is a real loss. Maeliosa represented all that was passionate, exciting, authentic and expert in the arts in Galway. Like his parents he was one of the great ones, to whom Galway owes its reputation for arts excellence. Rest in peace dear Maelíosa, you have left the stage too early, but what memories you have left us.
FORMER GALWAY CITY ARTS OFFICER Galway Advertiser, Thu, Apr 13, 2023