A big noise in Pigtown

I went to see a superb production of the play, Pigtown, last night (June 19) in the Belltable. The newly founded Belltable Community Theatre Project—a cast of mostly amateurs—performed Mike Finn’s award-winning play and it will run until Saturday June 23. The play was dramatic but what happened AFTER the play was equally so. Someone other than Mick Daly—maverick garage owner out in the lane backing onto the theatre—made a big noise about…noise.

Pigtown was made famous by local professional company, Island Theatre Co. but I didn’t see it the first time around. I’m going to join the ranks of many in saying it is a truly exceptional piece of writing; often pure poetry and by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. It’s a bonus that it’s all about the rich history of this fair city of ours. It’s a real love letter to Limerick and since, to quote a line, I was “bred and buttered” here, I really enjoyed it. The vibrant ensemble did it justice, anchored by a brilliant performance by John Anthony Murphy as main character, Tommy Clocks. In short, it’s the best thing I’ve seen in the Belltable in quite a while.

There was a harrowing scene in it where a local Garda expresses his frustration at people who hear terrible things but conversely, refuse to listen. Now, anyone who has been at the Belltable for an event since it reopened in late 2010 has most likely realised that there is a serious issue with noise disruption there.

This is as a result of a long running dispute with Mr Daly, whose business is in the lane behind the stage of the theatre. As reported in the local press, it boiled over last week about the noise coming from the garage interrupting Pigtown.

Most of the events I’ve attended there in the last 18 months, have been spoiled in varying degrees by a symphony of clanging, hammering, drilling, engine revving and other grating sound effects. To use a bad pun, it drives me mad. Nearly everyone I know has been treated to my ranting about this. I try not to refer to it in published reviews etc because events/performers deserve to stand on their own merit. I also didn’t want to damage the venue’s reputation by pointing it out BUT the failure to resolve the issue is doing enough damage as it is.

I was inspired to break the silence by the playwright, Mike Finn. He asked the audience to sign a petition seeking to compel the Belltable and Limerick City Council to resolve the problem. Last night, he stood up in front of the audience and got to the heart of it. The audience and practitioners shouldn’t have to suffer because there is a dispute between two parties. Both of them feel that they have the genuine grievance and that they are right.

Mr Daly feels that the extensive renovations to the building disrupted his business, which I’m sure they did (as any building site on your doorstep is going to do). He said he was there before the Belltable, which is true. He says he is entitled to work in his business any time he pleases, which he is. He claims the noise was always there but no-one noticed before the renovations. I would argue that most mechanics keep daytime hours and it is a mighty coincidence that extremely loud activity takes place during performances. He knows there is a theatre beside his business and could choose to be quieter out of respect to the audience. If it is a ploy to get at the management, you have to admit that it’s rather ingenious. But unfortunately, it is punishing all the wrong people; people who invest in the arts.

The Belltable management/board etc got funding for a major development and set out to execute it. The planning permission was granted. It was major work, so the venue had to run a programme in another building. Did they make enough allowances for the effect that this work would have on the neighbouring businesses? Could they have done more to lessen/ease the burden of the disruption? I don’t know. Do I believe the Belltable (and possibly other parties) have tried to resolve the dispute? Yes. Has it worked? Obviously, it has not.

The real question is: can this situation continue? NO!

Firstly, the fact that the Belltable had to reduce capacity and stage shows in a lesser venue for more than a year lost it some ground as a venue. It cannot afford to further alienate its audience. The noise is also an obstacle to attracting new audience members, as is a dearth of high quality productions/events on the programme. The pool of production companies/organisations in Ireland is small. People talk. Artists are protective of their work. There is a real risk that companies won’t bring work to Limerick at all. It’s probably already a factor and the city can ill afford any further disadvantage.

That Limerick Leader article refers to the cost of monitoring the noise at €3,000 a month. So I’m paying money to the Belltable to subsidise this nonsense when I can’t even hear the dialogue of the play! And taxpayers’ money paid for the €1.3 million redevelopment of the Belltable. It’s a farce straight off the stage.

Without placing blame on either party; the dispute is petty and ridiculous. Everyone is losing out. The Belltable is preoccupied with its noisy neighbour where it should be focused on fulfilling its remit and fighting for its future.

Seemingly, Cllr. Tom Shortt is going to try and set up meetings to resolve the issue. I hope there will be a happy ending to this particular saga. I just want to watch a play in peace! It’s not too much to ask, is it?

Theatre review: Bouncers at the Belltable

The cast of Bouncers by Orchard Theatre
Company, Limerick. Picture: Eva Birdthistle.
I went to see the play, Bouncers, by Orchard Theatre Companyin the Belltable Arts Centre Thursday night (February 2). It was great to see thevenue bustling and the auditorium nearly full, especially for a local company.
Bouncers, by John Godber, isa parody of the nightclub scene with the four doormen playing over 20 partsillustrating the various characters out for a good night at Tropics—the hottestspot in town. These range from the tetchy bouncers to group of girlscelebrating a 21st to a bunch of teenage lads aiming to score. Butwill it be a good night for all?
It’s a brilliant premise fora play and there are plenty of observations about the human condition. The 70minute piece was fast-paced, morphing constantly from one group to another punctuated by interludes like a speech by philosophical bouncer, Lucky Eric, aself referential cry of “social comment!” or a spiel by the cheesy DJ.
The physical comedy was really well choreographed andexecuted. Whether fighting or dancing, the cast tackled it with energy. Thatmomentum is an essential part of Bouncers. Theensemble cast—Stefan Barry, David Collins, Zeb Moore and Pius McGrath—had achallenging task. They approached it with enthusiasm and an admirable shamelessness! The best moments wereprobably when they were playing the giggling young women. You can’t help butlaugh at men in suits portraying tipsy women, provocatively dancing aroundhandbags. The set was simple buteffective, beer barrels doubling up as chairs, bar counters and a DJ booth. Theprops were minimal, like handbags for the ‘ladies’. The lighting design wasvery good, seamlessly creating scenes and settings. There were undoubtedly touches of brilliance.
The actors did their best butthe performance was uneven in parts. The dynamic between the bouncers wasn’t convincing;they’re joking one minute and fighting the next. I felt the script didn’t liveup to the promised hilarity. I didn’t like the glib spoken characterdescriptions, for example, and the rap at the start was awful.  All the characters were stereotyped vignettesand obnoxious ones at that. There wasn’t one redeeming quality among the hardmen, lager louts and ditzy female characters. The humour was fairly low browand obvious, aimed at easy targets. I’m not a prude nor do I have an issue withswearing. But there are only so many smutty jokes and crass observations aboutsex or bodily functions even I can take. On the whole, I found the playmildly amusing with a few laugh out loud moments.
As for social commentary,it’s all been said! We all know nightclubs are full of pissed up people. Sometimes,they make fools of themselves. Without the benefit of beer goggles, bouncers arefully aware and often don’t like what they see. They have to put up witheverything thrown at them while hoping it’ll be abuse and not a glass. Nothingnew there. The attempt to inspire empathy with references to Eric’s maritalbreakdown was too vague to make an impact. The play was first performed in England in the eighties and the play was advertised as beinga “nineties remix”. I didn’t see anything to suggest that with all the Whamsongs and talk about perms but then again, I don’t think it matters too much.
Now, before you get the pitchforks out…Although it was abit too Roy‘Chubby’ Brown-stylefor me, the majority of the audience seemed to be laughing throughout. Bouncers was entertaining in parts but definitely not a play forthe easily offended.
The show is moving on to other venues shortly.
Cork:
CamdenPalace, Feb 9 and 10at 8pm. 
Bookings 086-1086767.Tickets €15 and €12 conc.

Cork Arts Theatre, Carroll’sQuay. Feb 19 at 8pm.
Bookings 021-4505624. Tickets€15 and €12 conc. 

Kerry:

Chapel on the Hill,Kilorglin, Feb 23 and 24 at 8pm.
Bookings 086-1086767. Tickets €10. 

Bouncers at the Belltable next week

The latest production byOrchard Theatre Company, Bouncers written by John Godber, will take to theBelltable stage next Wednesday February 1 until Feb 4 at 8pm.

The play is adapted for an Irish audience, directed by Simon Thompson and the cast includes Stefan Barry,David Collins, Zeb Moore and Pius McGrath.

The blurb reads: “Bursting with imagination and wit and presented by justfour actors, Bouncers is an outrageous and hilarious parody of the nightclubscene. The four brutish bouncers of the title portray over 20 differentcharacters as we are invited for a night out on the town. We see them as gigglygirls and lads on the make preparing for the big night out as we follow theirprogress to the dance floor. There, we also meet an entire cross-section ofrevellers, including Hooray Henrys, pogoing punks and drunken slobs! Theevening’s events arc set against the tatty glitzy glamour, flashing lights andpulsating beat of the nightclub scene.”
Exploringthe secret life of bouncers sounds like a great idea. Since I don’t drinkanymore, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the amount of crap door-staffhave to put up with!
OrchardTC has made a real impact on the local theatre scene since it was founded and I’msure its first production of the New Year will impress. Limerick is only the first stop ona tour of venues in Cork, Kerry and beyond. Ticketprices at the Belltable are: €12, €14 and €16. Bookings on 061-319866 or www.belltable.ie/.  
Here’sa sneak preview: