200th post!! Theatre review: Fight Night at the Belltable

I saw the play Fight Night last Friday at the Belltable Arts Centre and it’s a horrible cliché to say that it packs a powerful dramatic punch…but I’m past caring what people think. And that’s at least one thing I have in common with Dan Coyle Jr—the protagonist of the piece.

Dan’s grandfather, father and brother achieved great success in boxing and since he didn’t emulate that he feels like an outsider in his own family. It is only when Dan has his own son that he starts reflecting on his past and what led to the end of his boxing career six years before. Dan decides that to fight his demons outside the ring, he has to get back in it.

Of course, it draws comparisons with films like Rocky or The Fighter but the script—mainly a stream of consciousness style monologue—is emotionally complex with a firmly Irish flavour. The play has the relationship between fathers and sons at its core. Dan Jr must confront his father, his father’s assumptions and the family legacy. But he’s also battling his deepest fears (being a failure and a disappointment) and asking questions about self worth, love and life in modern Ireland.

These are weighty matters but Gavin Kostick’s script broaches the subjects naturally with conversational language. The audience is drawn in by this everyman quality. The movement of time is clear but punctuated by flashbacks and pivotal moments. Lighting and music/sound design were good. The direction by Bryan Burroughs was very solid. All the individual elements of the production were in harmony and the pace never let up.

Aonghus Óg McAnally was outstanding. Firstly, the piece was specifically written for him based on his own proposal as part of the ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative (an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute). It was a winner of both Best Actor and the Bewley’s Little Gem Award in Dublin’s ABSOLUT Fringe 2010. Both awards were well deserved.

His performance was energetic and very physical, incorporating the training regime. He skipped perfectly while talking for what seemed like 10 minutes at the opening and the ritualistic way he taped up his hands was fascinating, for example. Monologues probably pose the biggest challenge for an actor; there’s nowhere to hide! But he never hesitated or wavered in emotional intensity. The gloves were truly off and the play could not but be a total knock-out as a result. It might be a cliché but that doesn’t make it less true!

Fight Night is currently on a national tour and will also be part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival from next Tuesday, October 4 to 9.

Now for a small rant…
The play was top class but the turn-out was extremely poor. I’d say there were 14-15 people in the 220 seat auditorium. It must be soul destroying for an actor to come out and perform for a near empty house. AND there were some extra sound effects at the start thanks to the venue’s infamous noisy neighbour. It was a credit to McAnally as a professional that he still gave it his all under difficult conditions.

I don’t know why the audience was so low for an award winning play. It was covered in local press Ents sections and online; it featured as prominently in the Belltable’s programme as any other production. Granted, it wasn’t a local company. The miserable weather on Friday didn’t encourage punters to venture out and the subject matter/format wouldn’t appeal to everyone. A ‘one night only’ performance is also harder to sell because with a longer run at least you have the possibility of word of mouth marketing.

I’m going out on a limb to say high ticket prices might have had something to do with it. The first three and last three rows were priced at €12.50 and there were €17.50 and €20 options for the rest of it. I don’t think people should be expected to pay up to €20 for a 55 minute performance no matter how good it is. You can’t put a true value on art but people put a price on it all the time! I don’t mind paying a higher price for a large cast and/or high production costs i.e. elaborate costumes, special effects, a big set. But this play had one actor and the set consisted of a stool and a few props.

Myself and my two friends opted for the cheap seats and they were great—one row between us and the stage. The Belltable is still compact enough to have a good view from anywhere in the auditorium so I don’t think a cheap across the board ticket price would have done any harm. I know venues and practitioners have to recoup costs and try to make money but the recession is biting hard for audience members too.

Anyway, I want to know why more people don’t go to the theatre in Limerick and in general? What is so off-putting? Do you dislike certain venues? Do you have a problem with the choice of production on offer? Is the cost prohibitive? Are you intimidated by the theatre? I’m genuinely interested.

Thoughts in the comment box or by email to rfinucanefreelance@gmail.com. Best letter gets a prize…disclaimer: prize may be crap.

3 thoughts on “200th post!! Theatre review: Fight Night at the Belltable

  1. Theatre's dead dahling…
    I do think that money's a big part of it. Compared to an evening in front of the telly or even at the cinema or even faffing around on the interweb, Theatre's expensive.
    Also, there's a chance, perhaps even a good chance that the show might not be exactly one's cup of tea and Theatre places the audience member in a situation that is increasingly unusual for the 21st century punter: that of being unable to turn your attention to something else instantly.
    I think that a lot of people nowadays don't want to risk that.
    There is also an attitude as well ( certainly amongst my own family) that Theatre is some 'tesco-value' version of film with wannabe famous people in it instead of genuinely famous people who get onto the telly.
    So, if they're getting ( what they perceive as) an inferior product it makes no sense to audiences to pay more and then be 'stuck' watching it.
    From the other side of the stage, tickets need to be high precisely because you don't expect to sell many of them. I reckon the blame lies with the likes of meself who are not doing work that is popular enough to attract a large and regular paying audience.
    I do try though.

  2. I think the biggest issue is awareness. People don't know stuff is on, it's poorly advertised and there isn't enough to go and see in the City. As a result, people fall out of the habit.

    When I lived in Dublin I went regularly (tho granted there are more theatres offering more of a choice) but I too got out of the habit when I moved back down – especially as, when venues are limited, I don't always necessarily want to go and see what's on (Fight Night being a good example – it might be critically acclaimed but it didn't float my boat enough to want to go).
    Had friends not mentioned The Faith Healer was on this weekend, I wouldn't have known and missed out on what I'm hoping will be a great evening's entertainment next Friday.

    There seem to be very few Fringe/Festival options (yes production costs, audiences, lack of venues etc. all come into play here) and the Belltable can't do it all in its own – though their current offerings are packing lots in between music, film and theatre so kudos to them.

  3. I think ticket costs is possibly one or perhaps the main reason why lots of theatre productions struggle to encourage a sizeable audience. Ofcourse, the Theatre and Performers have to cover any costs first but you have to remember that there is a lot of competition out there with Satellite TV, Free Channels in Home Entertainment, plus Cinema. I have been involved in Drama, Musicals and recently Film work after having been a professional musician for the past 35 years. A medium in which I've had no paid work for the past year. Pubs and Clubs are suffering major reductions in their customer numbers, so I guess the same must be expected for Theatregoers unfortunately. Some of the productions I've appeared in were what you would call 'popular and well-known plays, but I can't say we had full or even large audiences attending them. It's a sad day for Ireland when it's Arts and Culture continues to struggle.

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