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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Theatre this week: Three Sisters/Broken Promise Land

There are two plays on this week that people may be interested in.

70tLimerick Youth Theatre is producing Three Sisters by Anton Checkov in the Daghdha Space in St John’s Square. It is running for another two nights—tomorrow, August 29 and Friday August 30.

The play is directed by John Anthony Murphy and the young cast have worked with a professional crew and designers for five weeks to produce a reworking of the challenging play.

“Set in Russia, Three Sisters centres around the Prozorov family, and in particular the three sisters, Olga, Masha and Irina and their yearning to return to Moscow where they believe their hopes and dreams will be fulfilled. The play depicts their loss as their return to Moscow never materialises and as such their dreams slowly ebb away.”

It starts at 7.30pm; tickets are €10 and can be booked on 061-311100. www.lyt.ie

970627_398822573562736_2087064153_nTheatre at the Savoy will return for its monthly instalment tomorrow at lunchtime with Broken Promise Land, written and performed by Mirjana Rendulic. It is produced by Stone’s Throw Theatre and directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks.

While tomorrow is sold out, there are still tickets for the teatime show tomorrow at 6.05pm and the Friday lunchtime show at 1.05pm.

“Sick of life in her war-torn country, guided by MTV hits and Hollywood sitcoms, Stefica takes on a new name and embarks on a quest for an American education, and ends up in a Dublin lap dancing club. With frankness and humour, she teaches us the tricks of the trade—and shares secrets she can’t tell anyone else. Based on performer Mirjana Rendulic’s own experiences…this piece dispels easy preconceptions about exotic dancers.”

The show had a critically acclaimed run in Lanigan’s Theatre Upstairs, garnering four stars from the Irish Times and described as “captivating” by The Sunday Times.

Bookings by phone: 085-8554341 or at www.limericktheatre.com

Review: A Christmas Carol

69145_10151485230163989_432260590_nMuch like the re-awakening of Ebenezer Scrooge’s festive spirit, I figure this review is better late than never! I got an early Xmas gift of a ticket to go to see Limerick company, Bottom Dog’s new stage adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic at the Lime Tree Theatre on December 12. This was the company’s first foray into children’s theatre and they had the honour of being the first local, professional outfit to grace the stage at the new venue. It was adapted and directed by Myles Breen.

A Christmas Carol has been done to death in terms of stage and screen productions but that’s because it never gets old. It’s a parable easily translated for children, which is about kindness and generosity of spirit. That old curmudgeon, Scrooge—played in all his ‘Bah Humbug!!’ glory by John Anthony Murphy in this case—is a brilliant character. Three ghosts—each representing past, present and future—visit him in an attempt to redeem him but will they convince him to change his ways before Christmas Day?

Murphy was great as Scrooge. Whether grumpy or joyful, he endeared himself to the audience. The all singing, all dancing supporting cast included Pius McGrath, Darren Maher, Joanne Ryan, Marie Boylan and Jean McGlynn. They played multiple parts and imbued all with great enthusiasm and energy.

The ensemble also included Emma Fisher—a puppeteer and award nominated set designer—who was responsible for the excellent stage scenery and puppets used. The set was very versatile i.e. Scrooge’s bed transformed into a backdrop for a daring puppet flight. The puppets, from Tiny Tim to a Grim Reaper-like ghost, were really child-friendly and this element worked very well.

While I approve of not talking down to children, I thought the script was fairly wordy at times. You could feel (and sometimes hear) a few young minds wondering! But that said, it’s good to challenge them. There were plenty of musical and playful interludes to distract so the kids were not bored. They could sing along with Christmas favourites and do the panto classic “He’s behind you!”

All in all I thought the play was enjoyable and engaging. Children’s theatre is difficult to do. Those little people can be the harshest critics! Over 1,300 children attended A Christmas Carol (spread over five shows) and I’m sure they all absorbed a bit of the magic of the piece.

I heart local theatre

On an aside, I think Bottom Dog Theatre Company has had a very productive 2012 with this production and earlier this year with Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. They also staged four rehearsed readings of new plays and piloted a schools programme with a condensed version of Hamlet.

Also, I’d like to congratulate other local companies such as Sídhe TC, Orchard TC, Limerick Youth Theatre and Magic Roundabout TC that continue to make a massive contribution to the local arts scene. This is in addition to amateur groups such as the Quarry Players and the Torch Players and Limerick’s several musical societies.

All of these companies, groups and umpteen individuals keep our cultural pulse strong and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to go to see as many local productions as possible in 2013.

Theatre review: Faust

I went to see Limerick Youth Theatre’s production of Faust at the Belltable Arts Centre last night (Thursday Aug 25). While the play had high production values and several exceptional performances by young actors, I thought the play itself was very hard to enjoy.

Faust is a 19th century tragedy written by the German playwright, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This version was translated and adapted by RD MacDonald.

At the start, the protagonist, Dr Faust, is an old man who has lost his zest for life and shuts himself away with contemplation and the pursuit of knowledge his only occupation. Tempted by the Devil, he sells his soul in exchange for youth, happiness and sexual fulfilment. He sheds any decency he has—corrupting an innocent girl, Gretchen, and committing murder along the way—but is wracked with guilt when she goes insane and drowns their illegitimate child. He tries to rescue her from prison and she refuses to go but will be saved in heaven. We are left to wonder what will become of the damned Faust.

The set/stage dressing was great and the costumes excellent. The sound effects, make-up and music were effective. I’d guess that director, Simon Thompson, had his work cut out trying to rein in a young cast doing a tricky play. They were well-rehearsed. The choreographed sword fight was a brilliant piece of physical theatre, as was Stuart Mackey’s turn as a ‘he-monkey’.



They took a while to get comfortable but the cast of 14 performed very well as an ensemble. They seemed to enjoy themselves and succeeded in a mammoth task of learning a tough script by heart. Jamie Walters was a passionate Faust and skilfully handled the transformation of a complex character. We were sitting three rows from the stage and you could really feel his anguish in the closing scenes. Danielle Sheehan (Gretchen) was also a stand-out; playing the naïve girl as well as she played the fallen woman. She never faltered in what was a confident performance. Jamie King as Mephistopheles (the Devil) was terrific—just the right combination of beguiling, mischievous and sinister.

Gerr Meaney provided some of the best comic moments as Faust’s friend, Wagner, and Gretchen’s brother, Valentine. In the parting speech of Valentine he exclaimed, in a completely expressionless voice, “I’M DYING!” The audience burst out laughing and continued helplessly while he advised his sister to make a ‘proper go’ of being a whore, among other things. Joanne Maloney was funny as Gretchen’s bawdy neighbour, Martha. All in all, LYT has a fantastic amount of talent and potential.

Now, for the bad news. The story synopsis sounds exciting but at two hours running time with all dialogue in rhyme and addressing a multitude of philosophical questions, watching it is more work than entertainment. Aside from the comic interludes and the occasional piece of wordplay, it was bordering on tedious. I was concentrating but even so, the plot and flow of ideas is challenging to follow. This play is very much of its time (1830s) so it’s hard to associate with the characters or the dilemmas involved i.e. a life of knowledge VS a life of experience, what role should religion play in society? Can the erosion of simple values have terrible consequences? I can barely engage with those ideas, not to mind a group consisting mostly of teenagers.

I know it’s hard to get a modern play with a large cast of characters; they don’t write ‘em like they used to! I know that costs can be higher depending on licensing/ performance rights fees. I know not every play allows for re-imagining staging and adapting the script. I know that young actors have to gain some experience in the theatrical canon by performing the ‘classics’. But I still think Faust was the wrong choice of text for a youth company production. LYT might have enjoyed making it (I imagine they enjoy making theatre full stop) but did anyone spare a thought for that integral part of theatre-the audience?

According to specialist site, www.faust.com, Goethe’s Faust is a ‘closet drama’ “meaning that it is meant to be read rather than performed”. That explains A LOT. Also, I read that the author meant the work to be a shining example of the German language. I wonder how much of the play was lost in translation? Answer: Not nearly enough!