Review: The Trial, Limerick Youth Theatre

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 13.58.32I went to see Limerick Youth Theatre’s The Trial at 69 O’Connell Street last night (Friday 21 August) and I would recommend it. The last show is tonight (Saturday 22 August). Note: This review contains spoilers!

An adaptation of Kafka’s novel by Stephen Berkoff, The Trial is a challenging piece of work and I think LYT did a great job of bringing it to life.

The bank official, Josef K., is arrested “one fine morning” but he doesn’t know for what crime and no-one will tell him. Released but frustrated to the point of distraction, he tries to navigate the system but is continually denied any knowledge or access to due process. The law he is trying to wrestle with is a mystery, the people that try to help (including a lawyer) are ultimately as powerless as he and the authorities are uncooperative at best and brutal at worst. Thus, Josef K. is left in a perpetual state of uncertainty and the audience is led to believe that he may have wasted away wondering before a door, which he can never pass through—in a prison of his own making.

Let me preface this by saying that when I go to the theatre, I don’t like spending those few precious hours trying to interpret it as it’s happening. Call me boring, but I prefer when it’s  clear what’s going on because I enjoy it more. I once tried to read Kafka (Metamorphosis) and I gave up so I had an inkling I wasn’t going to love this piece. But, though the story and plot are confusing and some of the dialogue dense, the performance made up for it in entertainment value.

Firstly, the production design was top class from the stage arrangement to the set design and the musical direction & composition (both by Darren Maher) to the costume design (Marie Boylan, with assistance from Claire Dillon & Lauren Griffin). Though professional theatre practitioners were responsible for those elements, they created a solid foundation for the ensemble cast to build on.

IMG_0447The giant, looming Lady Justice model made from branches set the scene yet the upbeat lounge music playing before the sow started set up a strange contrast due to the serious subject matter. There were several catchy musical interludes throughout The Trial—singing and dancing alike. Some of it reminded me of the scenes involving the Sharks and the Jets from West Side Story; think menacing jazz hands, often creating a claustrophobic nightmare for Josef K. Cast member, Aoife Donnellan, did a nice job of the musical backing, which sometimes doubled as sound effects.

The muted colour scheme was broken by occasional bursts of colour in the costumes and the mask-like make-up was unsettling. Only Josef K. isn’t wearing a mask; the rest are faceless bureaucrats, enigmatic women, aloof officials etc. The props were good, especially Huld’s giant hands. The lighting design (Mattie Moran) played a part in bringing everything together too.

Movement was a huge part of the play. The ensemble played inanimate objects like tables, phones, clocks, public transport, staircases etc and that really had the audience tickled. If you’ve never seen someone acting as a chest of drawers or a bed, complete with creaks, you’re missing out. It’s hilarious and I’d imagine it takes a lot of skill. The ensemble was very impressive as a whole because they had to act as a chorus, a crowd, a workplace, a jury and a room at various points and they were never less than convincing.

There were a few stand-out performances. Liam Hillen as the hapless Josef K did very well because it’s an emotional rollercoaster of a part and carrying it is tough. Eoghan Hussey (Inspector/Huld) and Aiden Kelly (Father/Priest) deserve some credit as the pompous lawyer and the Gospel-type preacher. Emer Hayes has a great speaking voice and her short turn as ‘The Whipper’ (complete with realistic sound effects by two other cast-members) was a memorable one, as was Muireann Hogan as Block, Ellen King as the Laundress and Jack Coffey as the Bailiff. Naming a few is not to take away from the whole; the entire cast did themselves proud. (Full list of cast and crew at end)

One thing that annoyed me slightly was the multitude of accents being used. The scene announcements sound German and although it’s never referred to, it has a distinctly eastern European feel about it. But the audience were treated to a selection of accents like Irish Garda, German, British and American and I thought they could’ve just spoken in their own accents. That’s a minor complaint overall.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 14.16.17So, The Trial had a fair bit of comic relief but dealt with quite a dark subject. You’re never far away from a scene where Josef K. is humiliated, despairing, enduring psychological or physical abuse or wading through bureaucracy to find answers. Many characters are living in a state (or indeed State) of distrust and others just ignore or turn a blind eye. The play begins and ends on a bleak note. But, nevertheless it was interesting and perhaps a relevant piece of social commentary in many ways i.e. the justice system is complicated and sometimes unjust, getting tied up in red tape is unfair and distressing…I’m still not a convert to Kafka!

Director, Ann Blake, did a fine job of bringing out the cast’s strengths and brought a difficult script from page to stage, running a really tight show. LYT is a group of very talented young people, mostly teenagers, but they’re still amateurs. They really rose to the challenge of the professional production values and delivered a high quality performance worthy of the standing ovation it got.

To book tickets, ring 061-774774. More information on Limerick Youth Theatre at www.lyt.ie.

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Long-awaited plans for former Belltable are revealed

There is finally some (official) light at the end of the tunnel for the arts venue formerly known as the Belltable Arts Centre. The Limerick Leader has reported that “Limerick City and County Council has agreed to adopt a new model for 69 O’Connell Street –formerly the Belltable Arts Centre – in order to make it an ‘artistic hub’ in the city centre”.

It is welcome news but there is already a little bit of discord. Why can’t we all just get along? Answers on a postcard.

The New Plans

European Capital of Culture 2020 bid director, Mike Fitzpatrick, announced the hub plans last week and said that a new creative director will be sought to run the venue.

LL shot Limk 2020The reintroduction of the venue is to provide “high quality cultural activity” . A ‘special six-person committee’ will be appointed to independently oversee programming activity for the venue, which will consist of two nominations from the council, two nominations from the Lime Tree Theatre and two nominations from the performing and visual arts sector in the city. Mr. Fitzpatrick said at the meeting that “it’s all about getting lots of people involved” under a “good solid mechanism”.

It is hoped that the café on-site will be developed. The former Sarsfield Credit Union side of the building will be used for rehearsal space and offices for local arts organisations.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said that “under the Limerick Arts and Culture Exchange [LACE], the entire arts and culture community has been included in the new model”. This has been disputed by Monica Spencer of LACE who has said that “the statement about ‘the entire arts community’ being involved through LACE was made without the knowledge of or consultation with the latter organisation”.

Council Director of Services, Pat Dowling, said a Service Level Agreement (SLA) will be drawn up by the authority to enact the new model.

“The collaborative approach to operating the facility into the future is based on a model of shared resources and a shared commitment to ensuring that the venue is developed for the city leveraging off the strong artistic heritage that has existed over the past four decades. While the key focus is to operate the venue with financial prudence with the objective of reestablishing the site as the central arts hub for Limerick, this new method of governance will also be ensuring the input of the artistic community into future programming and venue development,” he said. It has all the right buzzwords/phrases anyway but action is the thing people want to see at this stage.

A Long Road

While I welcome the announcement, I think it’s unfortunate that another important cultural initiative in Limerick has been marred by resignations by experienced personnel at the outset, after what happened at the start of 2014 with Limerick City of Culture.

The Leader reported on 3 July that Mary Coll, Dr Michael Finneran and Karen O’Donnell O’Connor stepped down as directors of Limerick Arts & Culture Centre Ltd, an independent company incorporated nine months ago by the council to oversee 69 O’Connell Street. Also “a number of others – who were approached and accepted a call to form a ‘board-elect’ several months ago – have also resigned, believing the project to be in a state of ‘inertia’.”

It’s a terrible shame because eight months before, in October 2014, there seemed to a lot of optimism at the prospect of a new board and progress in the plans for the venue (reported here).

Mary Coll was quoted, stating: “It is going to be a very smart, interesting group of people with genuine commitments to the arts and making things happen and are not coming in for any other reason other than to support work being done, and I am very excited about it…I think it is very positive. It holds a special place in people’s hearts. The Belltable was a big gap. What it will be next, and how it will fit into the space, will be interesting.”

I have to agree with them about the inertia. The Belltable closed over two and half years ago in January 2013. In March 2013, the company running it was liquidated—owing €2.3 million to 74 creditors. It was a sad end for one of Ireland’s first dedicated arts centres. Aside from being a huge part of Limerick’s arts infrastructure, it had recently undergone a €1.25 million development, largely paid for by taxpayers money. I previously posted about my personal feelings on it here.

In December 2013, at the conference ‘Imagining the Future for the Arts in Limerick; Dialogue and performance’, it was announced that there would be a public consultation on the Belltable’s future in February 2014 and an outcome would follow. The idea that the credit union side would incorporate rehearsal space and offices got a mention then too. The consultations took place in March-April 2014.

Now it’s July 2015 when the plans for the place are moving forward. Why did it take so long? I know the authorities were busy with Limerick City of Culture 2014 but many people feel that the flagship city centre arts venue should have played a bigger part in this event. How long it will take before the new hub is up and running? I think the council needs to publish a solid timeline going forward and stick to it.

Thankfully, 69 O’Connell Street was not left completely idle. It was used for a variety of events such as Limerick Arts Encounter, the Richard Harris Film Festival and more. The Lime Tree Theatre and its manager, Louise Donlon, deserve a mention for the work in helping to maintain activity here. Although it’s a shame that this new management plan didn’t come into action sooner, it’s a case of ‘better late than never’.

Inclusion & Collaboration

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 17.13.42Now to the plans for running the venue; it goes without saying that an artistic director is needed to formulate a creative vision and direction. Recruitment needs to happen swiftly because time’s a wastin’ and it will have to re-establish itself among touring companies and audiences alike.

I think an independent board is vital and those people need to be qualified and accountable. A board of directors, by its very definition, “jointly oversee the activities of a company or organisation”. It’s a serious business. The former board of the Belltable came under heavy criticism when the company was liquidated. Several members of the first new board of Limerick Arts & Culture Centre Ltd have resigned. There is no mention of a new board of directors/management etc in the announced plans.

Will there be an open call for new board members or will they just be appointed behind closed doors? I presume the six person committee is completely separate from the board but will there be an overlap between the two?

Will members of the artistic community will be on the board as well? If so, it would mean ownership and investment beyond bricks and mortar and funding. Business and financial expertise is one thing but having an insight into the local arts scene is important too.

As for programming, in the new structure, there will be two nominations from the performing and visual arts sector in the city. I think this might be a bit low. Perhaps there should be at least one representative from organisations like LACE, the Professional Limerick Artists’ Network (PLAN) and Creative Communities, on the committee as well?

There is a lot of talk about input and inclusion of the local artistic community but that all remains to be seen. It is troubling that LACE says it wasn’t adequately consulted. A lack of good communication at the start will hamper meaningful collaboration.

Models for running the show are all well and good but there won’t be an actual show without the local artistic community. Alienating them at the outset is not a good idea.

Learning from Mistakes

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 09.20.50I obtained some Arts Council correspondence from a Freedom of Information request some time ago relating to the Belltable between the years 2007-2012. Those funding letters indicate issues with organisational/management structure at the former venue going back several years. AC Letter Belltable

In the funding offer letter for 2011-2012 it says: “You should note that further drawdowns from the 15 month funding offered are conditional on the following: 1 In the light of concerns expressed previously regarding the management structure of the Belltable, that a plan acceptable to the Arts Council is put in place to resolve this issue. 2 Procedures laid down in the Articles of Association regarding the rotation of board members should be implemented and proposals in this respect to be notified to the Arts Council. I am available to discuss these matters which need to be attended to as a matter of urgency…”

There was a reference in a funding offer letter relating 2012-2013 to “a lack of clarity in the relationship between the two senior members of staff and the board. This lack of clarity has been referred to on a number of occasions over the past few years and is seen by the Arts Council as contributing to the continuing underperformance of the Belltable”.

So it’s fair to say that the Belltable had its share of internal strife and since the redevelopment, the only ‘good solid mechanism’ at the Belltable was probably the loud machinery from the garage out the back lane, disrupting the performances. It’s important that the new venue develops a structure that works but reviewing and monitoring this structure is equally relevant.

The Belltable’s gradual decline culminated in the venue shutting down with the loss of several jobs and a long list of people left out of pocket. The timing couldn’t have been worse and it was an undignified end for a 32 year old venue of national esteem. I’m not saying this to be negative; it’s a fact! It can’t be brushed under the carpet completely. To use a term often used in theatre; there needs to be catharsis—“The purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art”—and then everyone can move forward.

A Fresh Start

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 08.51.31The new plans are never going to please everyone all the time but at least, at last, there is a plan and with it, a great chance to start again.

Limerick city has been without this municipal arts centre too long and it is needed to contribute towards the development of a lively city centre and the legacy of Limerick City of Culture.

Another welcome addition would be a new name! 69 O’Connell Street- formerly known as the Belltable has a whiff of the ‘Prince/The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’ about it and the potential for confusing visitors is huge. In a previous post, I quoted playwright, Mike Finn, who felt that the Belltable as a brand had been damaged beyond repair. That may be so. Maybe the authorities could do a competition for name suggestions so local people can get involved?

I love the idea of a vibrant café there and I think it should be (A) open later than 5.30pm several days a week and (B) a venue in itself for smaller/informal events such as poetry readings, open mic nights, café theatre etc. I love the idea of the venue being very involved with the community so it draws people in. I love the idea of it running an exciting cultural programme with a passionate team of people behind it again—much like when it was founded with a great deal of hope and enthusiasm in the early 80s. I don’t think I’m alone in holding that affection for the place. It means a great deal to the people of Limerick.

I really want this new venue to grow and thrive so if Limerick secures the designation of European Capital of Culture 2020, this new venue (whatever it’s called) will be one of the best regional arts centres in the country again.

I hope the council can do something special here. I implore everyone involved to grasp the opportunity, harness the potential, return for a rousing second act and there may even be a happy ending.

Community Theatre: Saving The House of Delmege, tomorrow night/Sat 11 July

Moyross sign

The Hollywood-esque sign announcing the Moyross was entering the community theatre scene last year!

After the success of community theatre project, Moyross, last year, a new community theatre group was set up in the north side area. Now, the budding actors and actresses in Moyross Community Drama are preparing  for their exciting debut production—Saving The House of Delmege—tomorrow evening (Friday 10 July).

The venue is the Hunt Museum and the plot is as follows: “Faced with mounting debts from her late, philandering husband’s ancestral home, Lady Constance Delmege desperately wants her only daughter to marry into money – even if it means marrying Norbert, the foppish son of the ‘new money’, neighbouring Caulfield estate.  What unfolds is a story filled with twists and turns, trickery, promiscuity, social climbers, an Italian count and a sulky!”

This comedy costume drama, set in Limerick the early 1900s, will feature a cast of Carrie Barrett, Lucia Brunetti, Majella Conway, Ursula Dundon, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Philip Hackett, Ger Purcell, Leanne O’Donnell and Conchi Ortiz.

During Limerick City of Culture 2014, many Moyross residents took part in workshops with Dublin-based, Theatre Club for Moyross and also with playwright, Mike Finn, and writer, Helena Close. In September 2014, Moyross Residents’ Forum invited to begin a weekly drama workshop.  Since that time, a group of 11 regular members, and as many occasional workshop participants, have attended the weekly workshop in Corpus Christi School.  The result of all of these workshops is a new devised piece of drama, Saving the House of Delmege.

According to drama facilitator, Monica Spencer, “the cast of the new work are new to this style of performance although Sheila Fitzpatrick-O’Donnell, Lucia Brunetti and Phillip Hackett are regular readers of their own poetry in the White House on Wednesday nights.  Sheila, along with Majella Conway and Ursula Dundon also performed in Moyross, the play.  All cast members are incredibly enthusiastic about the project and each one is delivering performances in rehearsal that belie their level of experience”.

Saving the House of Delmege is on at 7pm tomorrow and there will also be a show on Saturday 11 July at 3pm. Further performances will take place in Moyross in September/October with details of dates and venue to be announced.

Tickets are €5 and booking is recommended because audience numbers are limited to 50. Booking on moyrossdrama@gmail.com or 087-6047262.

This is one of the many community based drama initiatives taking place in Limerick at the moment.  It has support from The GAFF as well as from PAUL Partnership, Limerick City and County Arts Office and from LCETB.

 

Local Arts News: Good and Bad

Welcome to 2015!! After an truly packed arts calendar in Limerick last year, I hope that momentum will carry on and I’m sure the community- whether practitioners or audience members- will guarantee this. Limerick will be one of the cities vying for European Capital of Culture 2020 and after a great City of Culture 2014 year, we’ve shown that ‘Yes We Can/Is Féidir Linn’ spirit that is essential to win the prestigious bid. Now onto some news…

The Good…

The Arts Council has awarded €1.8m in funding to Limerick arts organisations—a 3.5% increase on last year, The Limerick Leader has reported.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra received €860,000; the Association of Irish Choirs received €125,000; Limerick Printmakers, €60,000; Fresh Film Festival, €53,000; Dance Limerick, €125,000; EVA International, €222,000; Limerick City Gallery of Art, €112,500; Limerick Arts and Culture Centre (69 O’Connell Street, former Belltable) and the Lime Tree Theatre, €125,000 and Friars’ Gate Theatre, €20,000. The Limerick City and County Arts Service received €102,000.

The results of the funding means that there will be some great theatre, dance, music, film, visual art and more in local venues this year. Huzzah!!

On the Wire (7)On The Wire—a Made in Limerick project for City of Culture 2014—has been nominated for a prestigious Irish Times Theatre Award for Best Production. The piece, about World War I as seen through a local lens, was really excellent and a true highlight of the year. The atmospheric venue in the Sailor’s Home was complemented by amazing set/production design and the performances were superb. On the Wire was written and performed by Marie Boylan, Mike Finn, Conor Madden, Amanda Minihan and Shane Whisker as was directed by Terry O’Donovan  for Wildebeest Theatre Company.

Limerick City of Culture was also nominated for the Judges’ Special Award. Congrats to every involved with both nominees. The awards ceremony take place on February 22, at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

The Bad…

It is with heavy heart that I say that one of my favourite regular theatre fixtures in Limerick, Theatre at the Savoy, is taking a break for the next while. The good news is that the venue, the Savoy Hotel, was purchased last year and will undergo some refurbishment—including the areas near the lobby where the monthly event has taken place since 2012.

A statement released said that “regrettably, Theatre at the Savoy will…go dark for the next few months”.

“Theatre at the Savoy opened its doors at The Savoy Hotel in Limerick in 2012 and since then has brought almost 70 different quality national and international productions to Limerick. In three short years, Theatre at the Savoy became a renowned fixture on the theatre touring circuit.”2dbbda33-04c7-4c82-ba5c-b866bd033f7c

Colm O’Brien, Maeve McGrath and Pius McGrath of Payday Productions (which ran Theatre at the Savoy) acknowledged “the management and staff of The Savoy Hotel along with the management of The Lime Tree Theatre for invaluable support over the past three years. Most importantly we would like to thank our loyal audience and members of the local press without whom Theatre at the Savoy would simply have been a good idea, instead of the cultural success it became. Thank you all”

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing lots of the productions over the last few years and greatly enjoyed most of them. Personal highlights for me included I Do, Bandit, My Life in Dresses, The Sweet Shop, The Wheelchair on my Face, Dorset Street Toys, A Chip in the Sugar and Songs of Joyce to name but a few. The event showed that there is a hunger for lunchtime/café style theatre in the city. We can only hope that Theatre at the Savoy returns with gusto later in 2015.

Big Beautiful & Oldest Woman subjects for local theatre/opera this week

2014 is coming to an end and so is Limerick’s tenure as City of Culture but there is still some great work to come so do keep an eye on the local press and social media for details.

big_beautiful_woman_156x110Two such quality productions are on this week. First up, local theatre company, Magic Roundabout premiere their new play, Big Beautiful Woman, by Darren Maher.

It will run from tomorrow (Wednesday December 10) to Saturday December 13 at 8pm nightly at the Red Cross Hall on Cecil Street. This venue was the off-site setting for the now defunct Belltable Arts Centre when it was undergoing refurbishment and it’s a great space. I’m delighted it is now a new Theatre & Performance Hub for local practitioners to develop/stage work—a purpose it was mooted for way back in 2011 but has now thankfully fulfilled.

The blurb is as follows: “Under the real shadow of a gargantuan puppet, and the figurative shadow of a looming deadline, a ‘resting’ actor and a would-be author pitch a series of increasingly bizarre narratives at each other in an attempt to find the true and historical Limerick-based story that will wow an audience and propel them to the big time.”

“They are hampered in their labours by the attentions of distractingly beautiful French people, a series of embarrassing costume malfunctions, unexpected physical exhaustion and an inability to commit to any one true story that can sum up the city that they love.”

Tickets: Adults €15/Concession €12 and all Wednesday tickets are €10. Booking on 085-2085737 or magicroundabouttheatre@gmail.com.

This Friday and Saturday (December 12 and 13) The Lime Tree Theatre and Wide Open Opera will present The Oldest Woman in Limerick.

“As you casually pass an elderly woman in the street or on the bus, do you ever pause to consider the treasure trove of life experience that lies within? If her thoughts and memories could sing, what would they say? If her reflections, achievements and regrets could come to life, what would they be like? The Oldest Woman in Limerick is a unique performance celebrating the individual lives and remarkable stories of older people from the city of Limerick told through the medium of opera.”

Devised by award-winning team of Brian Irvine (music) and John McIlduff (text), this opera actually searches for the oldest woman in Limerick and in doing so meets up with scores of individuals with plenty to say.

“Everything is documented and anything might surface in the opera. Bizarre encounters, chance meetings and poignant reflections are all in the mix. Performed by a specially assembled team of singers and instrumentalists with locally based choirs, this specially commissioned opera will engage and entertain you, reflecting a great range of human emotions and celebrating the life-affirming joy of the human voice.”

The cast includes Sylvia O’Brien, Sharon Carty, Emma Nash, Rachel Croash and Limerick’s Sarah Shine.

Tickets are €25/Concessions €20 and are available on 061-774774 and www.limetreetheatre.ie.