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.

 

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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Kate O’Brien House begins a new chapter

KOB house watchI’m sad to announce the demise of a regular (okay, irregular but still present) item on the blog—Kate O’Brien House Watch.

The need for progress reports is over because, in a hugely positive development, people are living there now so it’d be creepy to carry on. Not that I ever used binoculars or anything! It’s actually hard not to notice Boru House on Mulgrave Street because it’s quite distinctive.

21519001_1The imposing childhood home of celebrated Limerick writer, Kate O’Brien, has had quite the journey over its life to date. Built in 1880, it’s a stunning piece of architecture—a huge, detached, two storey, red-brick Victorian house with lots of period features (see more pics of it in better condition here).

I don’t live far from there and I’ve spent nearly two decades walking past it so I couldn’t help but see a gradual deterioration in its condition over time. It was put up for sale and I assumed that no-one was living in it full time anymore.

KOB house-best Like many vacant houses, it became a target for vandalism, illegal dumping and maybe even squatting and other anti-social behaviour. It was damaged by a fire (or fires) and I really thought it would be razed to the ground some night. I did a post in 2011 showing it at an all time low.

For years, it has been the subject of attention from local politicians, people involved in the arts scene and media. Limerick Civic Trust appealed for it to be preserved and possibly turned into a museum about the author. A relative of the former owners (a conservation architect) even weighed in, offering to investigate options for its preservation and use. There were a lot of suggestions that it should have a cultural or civic use. See archived articles/features about the house/author here.

KOB House-newBut unfortunately, nothing much happened until it was sold in 2012 for around €80,000-85,000 to a private buyer. From then on, the outward appearance of the building started to change and improve. There were tradesmen about the place working. The fading red of the gates and decorative metal railings was painted over with a deep blue. Glass appeared in the windows again. Things were looking up.

Then, when blinds and furniture appeared it was obvious that people were living there, which was another step forward after so many years sitting empty. For all the suggestions put forward, it seems it is destined to be someone’s home again.

IMG_0434IMG_0436In fact, the house is split into apartments. I randomly came across a listing for the two bedroom ground floor flat on the property website, Daft.ie. I’ve included a few screenshots so you get the gist of what the interior is like. It looks like a very sympathetic restoration.

 

IMG_0435It looks like many of the original features of the house have been maintained but some aspects have been modernised i.e. you’d rather that the all important bathroom and kitchen facilities wouldn’t be Victorian-inspired!

Anyways, it’s great to see Boru House restored. Any tenants are lucky to be living in a house with such a rich past. Kate O’Brien was born there in 1897 and no doubt, had experiences/memories that were put to good use in her stories and perhaps even cultivated her writing skills as a young woman there. Hopefully, this important piece of Limerick history will now be preserved for generations to come. Now, much like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, my watch is over.