Review: Eggsistentialism, Belltable Arts Hub 9 September

eggsistentialism-e1468285941215Eggsistentialism, 9 September 2016 Venue: Belltable Arts Hub, Limerick. Written and performed by: Joanne Ryan. Directed by: Veronica Coburn

“To baby or not to baby?” That is the question posed in this brutally honest and exceptionally amusing autobiographical theatre piece.

While suffering from a terrible hangover on her 35th birthday, actress Joanne Ryan begins to ponder one of those big life decisions and her search for an answer leads her to fortune tellers and fertility clinics alike. She mines her experience of family, cross-examines friends, observes parenthood in action and does extensive research with the dedication of a PhD student. The result is equal parts theatre, stand up comedy and multimedia presentation.

The writing is sharp, imbued with personality and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Although having a child is an immensely personal decision, motherhood and its place in Ireland and the world get an airing too. At one stage, the audience gets a speedy account of some key moments in Irish legal, social and popular cultural history in the 20th century. Her life (and egg count) might be under the microscope but introducing political context encourages the audience to think and interrogate along with her. Are women defined according to whether they have children or not? Can you have a fulfilling life and legacy without offspring? Do children make your life hell through a canny combination of sleep deprivation and extra housework, not to mention disfiguring your nether regions? There is a balance between the serious and irreverent.

ahppnbooArt imitating life is to the fore here so the acting was very natural. Ryan is a natural comedienne with a line in self-deprecating delivery. I was in tears from laughter a lot. The actress detailing her results on online parenting quizzes and reading excerpts from dodgy 1980s parenting books are particular highlights. But her jocular stage presence is offset with scenes of real poignancy too. She very occasionally slips into lecture mode, bad egg puns and playing for laughs but those are rare and forgivable. She did well to compete with the continual scene stealing of her mother, Gloria, whose recorded voice and opinions play a great supporting role. Rob, her boyfriend, and other voices pepper the piece too.

The production design was outstanding. Hats off to Pauric Hackett (production manager, set & lighting design), Sinead Diskin (sound design) and Neil O’Driscoll (animation). The animations, using 3D projection, augmented the minimalistic set and made things visually interesting, from online news articles to timelines; the cartoons ensure the play isn’t a complete Vagina Monologue. The voice recordings and music are essential to the piece and again, provide variety to the show. Many aspects of the production are impressive. It was conceived first in Hatch LK (a Limerick theatre incubation project) before being developed further with UK outfit, Theatre Uncut, Fishamble’s New Play Clinic and went from page to stage under director, Veronica Coburn.

As a woman in my early thirties, you could say I’m bang on target audience but judging by the positive reaction of the audience comprised of both men and women of all ages, I wasn’t the only one for whom it resonated. Next stop for the play is the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival (12-17 September) and Smock Alley Theatre and I would heartily recommend going to see it.

It’s difficult to stand up alone and bare your real-life hopes and fears to an audience, especially on such a private and simultaneously public topic. The play is confessional, engaging, thought-provoking and damn funny. Joanne Ryan has given birth to a real bundle of joy in Eggsistentialism.

More information on the play here.BT logo

PS: It was lovely to see a nearly full house at the Belltable again! It’s been a turbulent few years for the venue and now it’s back on track with its autumn/winter programme. For more information, click here.

Belltable Arts Hub Reopens!

outside BT

The building decked out for its re-launch.

I was never more pleased to be at launch than last Thursday (7 April) for the official reopening of the Belltable Arts Hub!

It’s been quite a turbulent few years for the venue at 69 O’Connell Street with resignations, refurbishments, noise disturbances, liquidation and the uncertainty that followed all of that. The last time I wrote about the Belltable I did a very long post recounting the whole saga BUT now the second age of the Belltable has finally arrived.

The reopening was a jubilant affair, complete with a street party and flash mobs. Speakers on the night included outgoing board chairman, Brendan Lane and Louise Donlon, Manager of the Lime Tree, who with her team has made a big contribution to keeping the Belltable alive. In a very fitting way Bríd Dukes, the founding artistic director, cut the ribbon—almost exactly 35 years after the centre first opened in 1981. At the time, regional arts centres were non-existent and as one of the first, the Belltable put Limerick on the cultural map.

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The new logo

The Belltable is now under the auspices of the Lime Tree Theatre at Mary Immaculate College, which has a five-year lease with Limerick City & County Council to run it. Another welcome return is the name, which can be used after “a lengthy litigation process”. Yikes! There was always a question over whether the brand had been damaged but I think that with all the positive memories associated with it, it was worth fighting for.

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Incoming Chairman of the Board, Colm O’Brien, at the new look bar

It has a new Programme Director in Marketa Dowling. As a former general manager of Fishamble: The New Play Company, she will bring vast experience to the role. Additions to the board include Riverdance composer, Bill Whelan and Colm O’Brien—CEO of Carambola Kidz and founder of Limerick’s Theatre at the Savoy. All these appointments will greatly enhance the rejuvenated venue.

The Credit Union building next door has been refurbished too to become offices and rehearsal space for use by local organisations.

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Some of the revamped rooms in the building next door to the Belltable, which is now part of the complex.

Although there have been events on at the Belltable in the past few years. The Lime Tree’s Arts Encounter programming has kept it ticking over splendidly but it will be a step forward to have someone dedicated to developing the venue itself as well as its events schedule. It is also welcome news that the Belltable will be an active participant in the local arts infrastructure again, especially in the context of Limerick’s bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2020.

After the mistakes of the past, I have a feeling that the Belltable Arts Hub has a secure future. I think I speak for many when I say I’m looking forward to attending lots of great events there in the coming years!

Culture Round-Up Sept 15

It’s been a busy September and I haven’t gotten around to blogging very much so I’m going to do a bit of a round-up…

First up, Elemental Arts & Culture Festival (11-13 Sept) seemed to be a success. There was a definite buzz around the city centre and lots of family friendly stuff, which was lovely. I got to a few things as well.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 23.12.34I really loved the documentary, Alive Inside. I’d really recommend it if you get a chance to see it online or on DVD. It follows a social worker called Dan Cohen, who runs a non-profit organisation called Music and Memory. They go into healthcare settings, mostly nursing homes, to show how to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss. The film shows how music can benefit those suffering from dementia, severe mental illness and conditions like MS. They supply headphones and iPods loaded with music, preferably a person’s favourite music. At a basic level, it can give them a pleasurable break from routine but it can also help them remember things, connect with the outside world and ultimately, improve their quality of life. It highlights issues with healthcare systems globally and the way we treat our aging population. But it deals with music as an element of culture, how we experience it and the interplay between music and feelings. It is truly amazing the way people reacted to music i.e. Alzheimer’s patients who didn’t normally communicate are suddenly alert and even singing and dancing in some cases. It begs the question: Could a ‘prescription’ of music be as effective (or more effective) as drugs? It’s a combination of uplifting and heart-breaking but well worth a look.

On the Saturday, I got along to the Fab Lab to see Love Letters from Limerick—an exhibition of traditional sign-writing and the art of hand painted lettering. Local sign artist, Tom Collins, is involved and visiting sign-artists, Sean and Kayleigh Starr, took part too. The pieces on display are very cool—a lot of distinctive signs and decorative items like embossed mirrors. There’s also a new sign that has been created for the project and erected on the side of a building on William Street reading ‘Everybody else is doing it so why can’t we?’—presumably in honour of The Cranberries’ album of the same name. The exhibition is running until this Friday, October 2.

I also called into the Hunt Museum to see Father Browne’s First World War—an exhibition of photographs by the Cork-born army chaplain. He ministered to troops at the Somme, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens and Arras. Some of his photos were stunning. I loved the immediacy of the trench and battlefield shots. By the way, the superb, Ranks: A Limerick Industry, is the Hunt’s current exhibition. Blurb is: “The Ranks flour mills were at the heart of Limerick for generations. This exhibition celebrates and explores the role of Ranks in Limerick’s history through stories from the local community.” If you’re in town and at a loose end before 25 October, I’d urge you to go and see it. I saw it before and it’s quite touching. It’s a huge part of Limerick’s industrial past but the personal accounts are nice.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 21.24.25Also during Elemental, I had a look at Third Bridge by Andrew Kearney and Deirdre Power in Ormston House. The exhibition was “based on the collective action taken in 1983 by then first year students at Limerick School of Art and Design to construct a ‘third bridge’ over the Shannon, built from 180 polystyrene bricks, strung together, bracelet-like, by two 185 meter-long nylon ropes”. The effort “exemplified what Suzanna Lacy would later refer to as ‘new genre’ public art”. Mostly consisting of photos documenting the project, I thought it was very well put together and illustrated an interesting period in the city’s history. I would’ve loved for more photos to be in colour but it’s likely they were shot on black and white film. If they weren’t, I feel an even split between colour and monochrome would have been better but it was still a great show.  

I saw the play, Charolais, that night in 69 O’Connell Street. Told from the perspective of lovelorn farmhand, Siobhán, and a rather snooty French cow, it was very clever. Written and performed by Noni Stapleton, the black comedy is a tale of homicidal jealousy between a woman and a prize cow (literally). The solo performance was excellent—particularly when she was playing the part of the animal—and the writing smutty, raw and hilarious in parts. It premiered in Dublin Fringe 2014 as part of Show in a Bag—an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and the Irish Theatre Institute. I’ve seen some brilliant plays arising out of Show in a Bag including Bandit, Fight Night, The Wheelchair on my Face, Counter Culture and Connected.

The following Friday (18 Sept) was Culture Night and again, there was a fabulous buzz around the city centre with all the events going on. I called into LCGA, Limerick Craft Hub, the Hunt Museum, the Fab Lab and the Milk Market but the highlight was an Open House initiative at 4 Patrick Street. The building, formerly a shop before it was boarded up as part of the ill-fated Opera Centre Project, was also the birthplace of famous Limerick soprano, Catherine Hayes. You could only step in to see a limited shop floor space but then a young local soprano read a little bit about Hayes’ global career and sang excerpts from arias from operas Hayes performed in. It lasted 10-15 minutes max but it was a perfect slice of culture. I love the concept of Culture Night (and late opening of galleries/musuems could happen a little more often BTW). The hope is that it encourages people to seek things out on some of the other 364 days of the year.

To top September off, I was invited along to see Waiting in Line by local theatre company, Honest Arts, at the Jonathan Swift Theatre in UL last week. A sharp commentary of Ireland’s social welfare culture written by Pius McGrath and Tara Doolan, I thought it was observant and funny with strong performances. McGrath was particularly impressive. The set design was amazing; no surprise that it was nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award. The settings were projected onto the background (with realistic animations) using 3D mapping technology. This innovative technique is possibly the future of set design and suited the fast pace of the piece very well. Honest Arts garnered positive reviews for production, The Mid-Knight Cowboy, at the Edinburgh Fringe and Waiting in Line showed at the Toronto Fringe Festival. This vibrant, young company is a definite ‘one to watch’.

Waiting in Line: Tonight & Tomorrow night (Sept 22 & 23)

Production Shot 2 Waiting in LineThe play, Waiting in Line, by Honest Arts will get a second outing on the Limerick stage at the Jonathan Swift Theatre in the University of Limerick tonight and tomorrow night (22 & 23 Sept.) at 8pm.

The fast paced social commentary on the ‘social welfare culture’ that has been created in Ireland over the past 25 years won ‘The Cutting Edge Fringe Award’ at the Toronto Fringe Festival 2015. Set designer, Mario Beck, was nominated for Best Set Design at The Irish Times Theatre Awards.

Honest Arts “combines Artistry and the latest in 3D mapping technology in this fast paced, thought provoking, physical theatre piece”. Directed by Tara Doolan, it will be performed by Pius McGrath, Eva O’Connor and Johanna O’Brien.

Reviews have been positive too with My Entertainment Review giving it a B+/four stars saying that “this company knows how to find counterpoint and comedic relief, particularly McGrath, who is just phenomenal at creating beautifully nuanced and distinct characters”.

Please note: This show is suitable for audiences over 15 yrs.

Honest Arts toured to EdFringe in 2013 with The Mid-Knight Cowboy which received rave reviews and was also performed on Broadway in New York. The Scotsman said: “…..McGrath is a talented performer, shifting through the generations with little more than subtle adjustments of speech and body language”.

Tickets for Waiting in Line are available on the door at the UL theatre, which is located in the Main Building on the campus—across from UCH.

For more information, email honestartsproductioncompany@gmail.com or see www.facebook.com/HonestArtsCo or Twitter: @Honest_Arts

Crowdfunding campaigns: Language Unbecoming a Lady & Narcan

I posted recently about two local crowdfunding campaigns and there are two more that you may be interested in too—both with a connection to the Big Apple. One campaign is for Limerick Theatre Company, Bottom Dog, and the other is for a film project by a Limerick-born filmmaker, Narcan.

Language Unbecoming a Lady

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 20.27.30Bottom Dog show, Langauge Unbecoming a Lady—written and perforned by Myles Breen—has been invited to the prestigious Origin’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival in Manhattan this September.

In Myles’ own words: “As Limerick’s first and only production at the festival in its seven years, we join a host of international productions in New York City for a two week run at the Cell Theatre, and get to represent you, our city, and our country in the Big Apple. This is not only this play’s international premiere, but the first Bottom Dog Theatre production to be staged outside Ireland! We are incredibly excited at the prospect, and so launch our first crowd funding campaign to make it a reality.”

“I wrote and performed this play for the first time in 2009 as part of Limerick’s annual Pride festival. Directed by my friend and colleague Liam O’Brien…our small show played for just four nights at the offsite Belltable Space in the city. Completely sold out and consecutive standing ovations later, we were overwhelmed by the response from local audiences. And so began a love affair with ‘The Divine Diana’ that has taken our show across the country to 19 venues, with over 55 performances to audiences of over 5000 people. We’ve toured from Cork to Donegal, Galway to Dublin and everywhere in between”.

Reviews were very positive: “Unadorned, vulnerable and comically self- critical, Breen is a shining and believable presence” – The Irish Times; “Fabulously written, wonderfully acted, tells an extremely important story, and is an undoubted success” – Irish Theatre Magazine; “Breen’s writing is sharp, colourful, aphoristic…it’s emotional honesty is compelling” – Irish Examiner.

“It has always been a dream of ours to tour this work abroad, and in the light of the historic YES vote for Marriage Equality, it seems like the right time to celebrate where we now are, but also remember where we came from. To tell my story and the story of countless Irish gay men and women, through the medium of theatre I love so much at Origin’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival, is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. In over 30 years in the business I’ve never performed my own writing outside Ireland – and now’s my chance!”

The tour is being supported by Culture Ireland who will cover flights and accommodation in New York for the three BD members who will travel but there are lots of other expenses from venue hire to Visas which must be covered.

Rewards include: a voicemail from Myles in character, a custom written Limerick by the director tickets to the gala fundraiser (see details below) and even a one hour swing show by Rat Pack start, Liam O’Brien. Corporate sponsors are also welcomed.

To support this, click here.

Also, there is a Gala Fundraising Night in the Lime Tree Theatre on 27 August where there will be a performance of the play along with a drinks reception and entry to the cabaret at Dolan’s Warehouse after the play. Tickets are €50 and can be purchased on www.limetreetheatre.ie.

Narcan

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 20.23.34Narcan is short film being made in New York at present and was inspired by writer/director Peter McNamara’s time living and working in New York City.

“While working behind a bar Peter would hear a wealth of stories from migrant Irishmen but one set of stories in particular stood out from the rest, An Irish paramedic working the streets of New York who would regale Peter with stories of being on the job and everything gritty detail that it entailed. Fascinated by what he heard Peter began to write during quiet moments while working in the bar.”

Narcan tells the story of Sean Ryan an Irish paramedic working the unsympathetic streets of New York City, every day he struggles to manage a fractured personal life, with his only son refusing to speak to him and the void between himself and his wife Sinead growing bigger with every passing day. The death and darkness of the job begins to creep inside Sean’s head clouding his judgement. It is during the course of one particular 12 hour shift that decisions with irrevocable consequences are made; Sean must call upon every ounce of his stringent resolve to try discover balance.”

The crew has managed to organise equipment and locations etc but need help to get the film finished to a high standard so it reach its full potential i.e. sound mixing, editing, music rights and more. Once the movie has finished all pre and post production, the monies raised will be used for festival submissions in both the US and Ireland.

Peter is a writer/director with multiple nominations to his name, born in Limerick, in 1981; Peter grew up in a working class household and began working construction at a young age having left school early. In 2013 after a life changing experience he decided to quit his job and return to third level education to study film-production. Well-known Limerick actor, Peter Halpin—also a producer of Narcan—is starring in the film along with several other talented cast members.

Rewards include your name in the film credits, scripts, souvenir pins, limited edition posters and more.

To support this, click here.