200th post!! Theatre review: Fight Night at the Belltable

I saw the play Fight Night last Friday at the Belltable Arts Centre and it’s a horrible cliché to say that it packs a powerful dramatic punch…but I’m past caring what people think. And that’s at least one thing I have in common with Dan Coyle Jr—the protagonist of the piece.

Dan’s grandfather, father and brother achieved great success in boxing and since he didn’t emulate that he feels like an outsider in his own family. It is only when Dan has his own son that he starts reflecting on his past and what led to the end of his boxing career six years before. Dan decides that to fight his demons outside the ring, he has to get back in it.

Of course, it draws comparisons with films like Rocky or The Fighter but the script—mainly a stream of consciousness style monologue—is emotionally complex with a firmly Irish flavour. The play has the relationship between fathers and sons at its core. Dan Jr must confront his father, his father’s assumptions and the family legacy. But he’s also battling his deepest fears (being a failure and a disappointment) and asking questions about self worth, love and life in modern Ireland.

These are weighty matters but Gavin Kostick’s script broaches the subjects naturally with conversational language. The audience is drawn in by this everyman quality. The movement of time is clear but punctuated by flashbacks and pivotal moments. Lighting and music/sound design were good. The direction by Bryan Burroughs was very solid. All the individual elements of the production were in harmony and the pace never let up.

Aonghus Óg McAnally was outstanding. Firstly, the piece was specifically written for him based on his own proposal as part of the ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative (an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute). It was a winner of both Best Actor and the Bewley’s Little Gem Award in Dublin’s ABSOLUT Fringe 2010. Both awards were well deserved.

His performance was energetic and very physical, incorporating the training regime. He skipped perfectly while talking for what seemed like 10 minutes at the opening and the ritualistic way he taped up his hands was fascinating, for example. Monologues probably pose the biggest challenge for an actor; there’s nowhere to hide! But he never hesitated or wavered in emotional intensity. The gloves were truly off and the play could not but be a total knock-out as a result. It might be a cliché but that doesn’t make it less true!

Fight Night is currently on a national tour and will also be part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival from next Tuesday, October 4 to 9.

Now for a small rant…
The play was top class but the turn-out was extremely poor. I’d say there were 14-15 people in the 220 seat auditorium. It must be soul destroying for an actor to come out and perform for a near empty house. AND there were some extra sound effects at the start thanks to the venue’s infamous noisy neighbour. It was a credit to McAnally as a professional that he still gave it his all under difficult conditions.

I don’t know why the audience was so low for an award winning play. It was covered in local press Ents sections and online; it featured as prominently in the Belltable’s programme as any other production. Granted, it wasn’t a local company. The miserable weather on Friday didn’t encourage punters to venture out and the subject matter/format wouldn’t appeal to everyone. A ‘one night only’ performance is also harder to sell because with a longer run at least you have the possibility of word of mouth marketing.

I’m going out on a limb to say high ticket prices might have had something to do with it. The first three and last three rows were priced at €12.50 and there were €17.50 and €20 options for the rest of it. I don’t think people should be expected to pay up to €20 for a 55 minute performance no matter how good it is. You can’t put a true value on art but people put a price on it all the time! I don’t mind paying a higher price for a large cast and/or high production costs i.e. elaborate costumes, special effects, a big set. But this play had one actor and the set consisted of a stool and a few props.

Myself and my two friends opted for the cheap seats and they were great—one row between us and the stage. The Belltable is still compact enough to have a good view from anywhere in the auditorium so I don’t think a cheap across the board ticket price would have done any harm. I know venues and practitioners have to recoup costs and try to make money but the recession is biting hard for audience members too.

Anyway, I want to know why more people don’t go to the theatre in Limerick and in general? What is so off-putting? Do you dislike certain venues? Do you have a problem with the choice of production on offer? Is the cost prohibitive? Are you intimidated by the theatre? I’m genuinely interested.

Thoughts in the comment box or by email to rfinucanefreelance@gmail.com. Best letter gets a prize…disclaimer: prize may be crap.

Positive reception for Last Year at Absolut Fringe

Following on from a previous post, Last Year—a play in the Absolut Fringe Festival presently—performed by Limerick actress, Maeve McGrath has gotten positive reviews in the Irish Times and Irish Theatre Magazine.

The Gavin Kostick monologue “is a meditation of death from a variety of perspectives” and seen through the eyes of a ward sister of a nursing home it is often a relief at the end of a long life but what happens when she is faced with her own terrifying mortality?
Sara Keating writes in The Irish Times: “The end of Last Year is truly moving, as performer Maeve McGrath drops all defences and embraces her fate.” Although she did feel there were “a few too many strands to Kostick’s play”, the direction by Liam Halligan was praised, the “staging is simple, with music and projected interludes alerting us to the play’s shifting tone before the true nature of things is revealed”.

ITM’s review by Jesse Weaver had some small qualms with the play but added that “McGrath is able by the play’s end to effectively convey the emotional earthquake that Orlagh experiences in comprehending her own fleeting mortality”. Read the full review here.

There are two chances still to see the play at Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin at 1pm on Thursday September 22 and Friday 23. It also features an original score by Eleanor McEvoy.

Last Year is a ‘Show in a Bag’ production, which is an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute to resource theatre makers and actors.
Only five actors are chosen to take part every year and the playwright came to Limerick during the summer to meet local people and listen to their stories before starting work on the play.

At the Belltable Unfringed 2011, I saw Connected—a play devised for ‘Show in a Bag’. The full production was very innovative and funny; it was a highlight of the festival.
So hopefully, Maeve will go on to bring this piece to more audiences nationwide.

Tickets are €10. Book online at www.fringefest.com or 1850 FRINGE (1850 374 643).

Limerick represents at ABSOLUT Fringe 2011

The ABSOLUT Fringe festival will run from September 10 to 25 and aims to bring the best in cutting edge theatre, dance, comedy, music and all round spectacle to audiences this year. It’s a lively programme as always and the website is pretty brilliant so if you fancy doing something arty in the capital, it’ll make it easy for you to pick something good to go to.

You know I’m all about supporting local theatre practitioners so if you happen to be in The Big Schmoke on September 14, 17, 22 or 23 make sure you check out Limerick actress, Maeve McGrath, who will perform in Last Year by Gavin Kostick. It will be directed by Liam Halligan.

The plot sounds really interesting. When you grow old who will look after you? Who will mind your parents when you can no longer cope? Told through one woman’s working life in a Limerick Nursing Home where staff witness death and illness on a daily basis and maintain a brave face even in the most difficult circumstances. This is a life story. This is a nursing home story. The original score for Last Year will be composed by Eleanor McEvoy.

Maeve is the Artistic Director of locally-based, Sidhe Theatre Company. She has acted extensively in theatre and television credits include Fair City and Ballykissangel.

It’s A Show in a Bag Production, which is an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute to resource theatre makers and actors. The play will be on at Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre at 1pm. Tickets are €10. Book online at www.fringefest.com or 1850 FRINGE (1850 374 643).