It's the little Irish theatre that could. Tara Players Theatre presented its first production 40 years ago and the Irish Club-based company is still going strong.

'Theatre is part and parcel of the Irish soul.' - Brendan Carruthers

In fact their production that closes out the 40th anniversary season is quite the coup. It's the North American premiere of The House Keeper by acclaimed Irish playwright Morna Regan.

"I've no doubt it will show up in New York and all the rest of it, but I think it's pretty exciting for an Irish community theatre group to get the go-ahead to do this production," said Brendan Carruthers, general manager of the company.

He says he's actually shocked the company has reached this 40-year milestone. "It's like the Beatles said (in the song When I'm Sixty-Four), nobody ever really realized when we started this thing all those years ago that it was just going to go on and on and become a labour of love for a lifetime." 

The company started up just after the Irish Club was founded in Winnipeg. At the time it was deemed important to put a big focus on Irish culture, especially theatre. 

Whereas a couple of other theatre companies in Winnipeg have been floundering in recent years, Tara Players Theatre is thriving.

"Theatre is part and parcel of the Irish soul," said Carruthers. "You go to Ireland and there's theatre all over the country. It's built into the Irish psyche.There is an enormous amount of theatre going on, new plays coming out all of the time."

Carruthers decided to come to Canada from his native Ireland in 1968 after reading the poems of Robert Service. He had no experience with theatre when he and fellow Irish Club members started the company, yet Carruthers performed on stage in their first production, In the Shadow of the Glen, by J.M. Synge. The company reprised it at the start of this 40th anniversary season. He claims he was bitten by the theatre bug, which was enhanced by a love of literature and attending the theatre.

The company's connection with other Irish theatres around the country and around the world led to the formation of the Acting Irish International Theatre Festival 17 years ago, an adjudicated festival, which takes place this year in Delray Beach, Florida at the end of May.

Carruthers has stayed involved with the company, either in an acting, directing or managing role and the rewards have been immense. 

"There's that sense of - that old Shakespeare line, 'will it be right on the night?' - and when it actually is right on the night it's just a marvellous feeling. It's getting that sense of accomplishment when you've got the best you can out of your actors or you've given the best you can on stage and you know the response of the audience is reflecting that."

The Tara Players present The House Keeper at the Irish Association of Manitoba May 1 - 4.