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.

IMG_0450FullSizeRender

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.

HatchLK Theatre Artist Initiative

HatchLK - ImageWith the City of Culture year coming to an end, there is a need for a fresh initiative for theatre practitioners.

HatchLK is a theatre artist development scheme designed to support theatre artists over a period of four months allowing them to develop their craft in a supported environment.

“Based at 69 O’Connell Street (former Belltable), HatchLK will provide participants with resources and space to engage with their own work, collaborate with other theatre makers to progress and hone their craft with support and mentoring.”

“Five participants will be selected and will be encouraged to enrich their own skills, experiment with other members of the programme, promote new ideas and enable the development of new work in a creative environment. The participants will work with the renowned ‘Theatre Uncut’ to create theatre in response to political situations.”

Applications are now open for the scheme, which will run from January to April 2015. Application deadline is this Friday, December 5.

More details from www.hatchlk.com or by email at: info@hatchlk.com.

HatchLK is curated by Maeve McGrath and funded by the Arts Council’s Theatre Artist Development Scheme and supported by Limerick City and County Council, The Lime Tree Theatre and 69 O’Connell Street. With support from The Limerick Spring and LCETB

Cuisle Poetry Fest this week, Oct 15-19

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 19.12.58Beginning this Wednesday and continuing until Sunday is one of my favourite annual celebrations—the Cuisle Limerick City International Poetry Festival.

I really enjoy hearing good poetry read aloud. Reading poetry by yourself is one thing but listening to a poet reading their own deeply personal work adds another dimension to it and brings it to life. I’ve had the pleasure to be at excellent readings by Theo Dorgan, Paul Durcan and Jackie Wills as well as a particularly memorable event down at the Dance Limerick venue in St John’s Square with Donald Hall, Robert Hass and Penelope Shuttle.

Donald Hall, a one-time Poet Laureate of the United States, reading at Cuisle 2009.

Donald Hall, a one-time Poet Laureate of the United States, reading at Cuisle 2009.

This year Cuisle—which is organised by a dedicated volunteer committee—is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special five day run, October 15 to 19.

The line-up of poets and speakers features “some of Ireland’s best-loved and most celebrated poets will join guests from sister festivals across Europe”. The list includes: Caleb Brennan, Paddy Bushe, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Tim Cunningham, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Veronika Dintinjana (Slovenia), Gerry Dukes, Tom French, Barry McGovern, Geraldine Mitchell, Conor O’Callaghan, Edward O’Dwyer, Iztok Osojnik (Slovenia), Sam Riviere, Shedman (John Davies from the UK), Bridget Wallace and Macdara Woods.

The festival includes writing workshops, an open mic night, special tributes to Samuel Beckett, and the launch of the annual Stony Thursday Book (this year edited by Peter Sirr). Tim Cunningham will also launch his new poetry volume. There is a substantial education programme, including readings and workshops for schools.

A composed Penelope Shuttle reading at Cuisle 2009.

A composed Penelope Shuttle reading at Cuisle 2009.

A special series of ‘Poetry in Public Places’ events honours Limerick City of Culture 2014. A Door Into The Dark features a dozen artists from Limerick Printmakers have responded to the work of poets who have read at the Cuisle Festival over the past 20 years. Lightboxes, theatrical sets, and text printed onto porcelain are only some of the methods used in this unique collaboration. Look for these along Patrick Street.

Ghost Sonata is a specially created work by Mark Whelan consisting of one long poem written on the windows of Roches Street. Read it together or read it in pieces. Each fragment resonates with its specific location, creating a special experience for each reader.

Poems on the Air is a collaboration with RTÉ Lyric FM, where recordings of poems by Cuisle Festival favourites will be played in various retail spaces throughout October.

Shedman will bring his famous travelling shed to Limerick. In his own words: “My shed is very accessible. Anyone can come in to tell me their shed stories, to bring anecdotes and poems, pictures and photos, recollections and fantasies.”

An animated Robert Hass reading at Cuisle 2009.

An animated Robert Hass reading at Cuisle 2009.

The poetry of Samuel Beckett is a special feature of Saturday’s programme. At 4pm, there will be a performance of Roundelay—a staged reading by the Fourfront Poets and at 7pm Gerry Dukes will deliver a talk on Beckett, followed by noted actor Barry McGovern performing Beckett’s poetry for stage. Gerry Dukes was a lecturer when I was a student in Mary I and he’s not just knowledgeable but quite entertaining as a speaker.

There are lunchtime readings on Thursday and Friday at 1pm (Sunday at 3pm) in the beautiful Captain’s Room at the Hunt Museum. Evening readings will take place at 69 O’Connell Street (former Belltable) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7pm.

All events are ticketed, on the door, at €5. For the complete schedule and more information, including bios and photos, see www.cuisle.org.

New children’s theatre, Spun, Oct 14-16

Spun pic1

Emma Fisher, designer, writer, puppeteer and performer, and Ann Blake, composer and performer, with the Umbrella Keeper from Spun.

Theatre is a large part of The Bualadh Bos Children’s Festival, which is going on through October here in Limerick. You can find out more in my past post and on the Lime Tree Theatre website but I just want to talk about a really exciting local production coming up next week—Spun.

Spun, running from Tuesday October 14 to Thursday 16, is presented by Beyond the Bark Puppet and Installation Theatre.

Spun is a magical story of friendship and imagination, told through puppetry, animation and song, suitable for children aged 2-6 years and beyond. Have you ever wondered where the stars go during the day?  I keep them in my umbrella,’ said the Star Keeper.  Sail to sea, fly through the air, cast a star to the skies and play with turtles and giraffes…This is the wonderful world at bath-time for Ciaran, a little Irish boy, and Piedva, his friendly spider. Piedva weaves a magical web in Ciaran’s imagination and takes him on an adventure all over the world.  Where will their journey take them?”

Founded by Emma Fisher, a Limerick puppeteer and theatre designer, Beyond the Bark has garnered very good reviews for its productions like Turning Turtles and The Bright Side of the Moon. Renowned international puppeteer, Liz Walker, directs Spun, “creating a gentle introduction to theatre which will transport young audiences into a magical world of adventure and imagination”.

Aside from working in an assortment of projects all over the country, Emma has played a part in many a local theatre production over the past six years through set design, costume design and puppetry. Her work on The Revengers Tragedy, Don Juan in Hell and The Fisherman’s Son in the Limerick Theatre Hub was phenomenal and she was nominated for a prestigious Irish Times Irish Theatre Award for set design in 2009.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 11.30.27I was really taken with her work on A Christmas Carol in 2012 (and I think the hundreds of kids who attended agreed) and more recently she has worked on Noyes Fludde and What Happened Bridgie Cleary.

Spun is also based on an original book by Emma and Thorey Mjallhvit H. Omarsdottir so it is obviously a very personal project.

I would be so bold as to say that Emma Fisher is one of the most creative individuals working in theatre in Limerick. We’re lucky to have her around because her vision has added a tremendous amount to the productions I’ve seen. Good luck to her and all involved in Spun!

If you and your little ones can weave your way to 69 O’Connell Street (former Belltable) this coming week, tickets are €8 and available on 061-774774 and www.limetreetheatre.ie.