Belltable Arts Hub Reopens!

outside BT

The building decked out for its re-launch.

I was never more pleased to be at launch than last Thursday (7 April) for the official reopening of the Belltable Arts Hub!

It’s been quite a turbulent few years for the venue at 69 O’Connell Street with resignations, refurbishments, noise disturbances, liquidation and the uncertainty that followed all of that. The last time I wrote about the Belltable I did a very long post recounting the whole saga BUT now the second age of the Belltable has finally arrived.

The reopening was a jubilant affair, complete with a street party and flash mobs. Speakers on the night included outgoing board chairman, Brendan Lane and Louise Donlon, Manager of the Lime Tree, who with her team has made a big contribution to keeping the Belltable alive. In a very fitting way Bríd Dukes, the founding artistic director, cut the ribbon—almost exactly 35 years after the centre first opened in 1981. At the time, regional arts centres were non-existent and as one of the first, the Belltable put Limerick on the cultural map.

BT logo

The new logo

The Belltable is now under the auspices of the Lime Tree Theatre at Mary Immaculate College, which has a five-year lease with Limerick City & County Council to run it. Another welcome return is the name, which can be used after “a lengthy litigation process”. Yikes! There was always a question over whether the brand had been damaged but I think that with all the positive memories associated with it, it was worth fighting for.

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Incoming Chairman of the Board, Colm O’Brien, at the new look bar

It has a new Programme Director in Marketa Dowling. As a former general manager of Fishamble: The New Play Company, she will bring vast experience to the role. Additions to the board include Riverdance composer, Bill Whelan and Colm O’Brien—CEO of Carambola Kidz and founder of Limerick’s Theatre at the Savoy. All these appointments will greatly enhance the rejuvenated venue.

The Credit Union building next door has been refurbished too to become offices and rehearsal space for use by local organisations.

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Some of the revamped rooms in the building next door to the Belltable, which is now part of the complex.

Although there have been events on at the Belltable in the past few years. The Lime Tree’s Arts Encounter programming has kept it ticking over splendidly but it will be a step forward to have someone dedicated to developing the venue itself as well as its events schedule. It is also welcome news that the Belltable will be an active participant in the local arts infrastructure again, especially in the context of Limerick’s bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2020.

After the mistakes of the past, I have a feeling that the Belltable Arts Hub has a secure future. I think I speak for many when I say I’m looking forward to attending lots of great events there in the coming years!

The Plough and the Stars not to be missed next week

Local theatre fans are in for a treat next week when The Abbey Theatre brings the Sean O’Casey classic, The Plough and the Stars, to the new Lime Tree Theatre in Mary Immaculate College.

The play got rave reviews and marks a momentous occasion as the first Abbey Theatre main stage production to come to Limerick in over two decades. The tour only visited a handful of places in Ireland and the UK and it will conclude in our own fair city for seven performances from October 30 to November 3. Hopefully, it will be the first of many more local visits by the national theatre.

The plot is as follows: “Set in a tenement house, against the backdrop of the Easter Rising in 1916, The Plough and the Stars is both an intimate play about the lives of ordinary people and an epic play about ideals and the birth of our nation.”
“Amidst the tumult of political upheaval, Jack and Nora Clitheroe are ‘like two turtle doves always billing and cooing’, much to the ridicule of their bustling neighbours.  But when Ireland calls, Jack must choose between love for his wife and duty to his country. Heartbreaking, disturbing and very funny, The Plough and The Stars is an historic play that every generation needs to see.”

Director, Wayne Jordan, has been praised for bringing an “invigorating” perspective and “exciting clarity” to the play. I saw his recent venture, Alice in Funderland, and was really blown away so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this iconic piece. Chalk it down for an upcoming review.

The ensemble cast includes Kate Brennan, Kelly Campbell, Dara Devaney, Mark Fitzgerald, Tony Flynn, Gavin Fullam, Joe Hanley, Keith Hanna and Laurence Kinlan among others.

Tickets are available from the box office on 061-774774 and www.limetreetheatre.ie. It runs from Tuesday to Saturday next week nightly at 8pm and there are two matinee shows on Wednesday, October 31 and Saturday November 3 at 2.30pm. Tickets are €30/€22 (conc.) and €16 for daytime performances.

Exciting times ahead for new Lime Tree Theatre

The Lime Tree Theatre launched its first autumn/winter programme today (August 30) which is sufficiently impressive to throw down the gauntlet to all of Limerick’s other performing arts venues.

The biggest coup for the 510 seat auditorium at Mary Immaculate College on the South Circular Road (only a short walk from the city centre) is the fact it will host the first Abbey Theatre main stage production to come to Limerick in over two decades. The national theatre’s take on the Sean O’Casey classic, The Plough and the Stars, is only visiting a handful of places in Ireland and the UK. The tour concludes in Limerick for seven performances from October 30 to November 3.

But there’s more…

Hollywood actress, Mischa Barton, and Neighbours favourite, Anne Charleston will grace the stage with Steel Magnolias on October 5 and 6. AND never mind the Abbey and yer wan off The OC, there will be a show featuring the hero of many an Irish childhood, BOSCO!! Now that’s what I call exciting. Chalk it down: the Lambert Puppet Theatre will bring Snow White & Bosco on November 17.

The successful production of Tom Barry’s, Guerilla Days in Ireland, will kick off the season on September 19. As part of the Limerick Jazz Festival, the Locke Keezer Group will perform on September 29. Shannon Gospel Choir with special guest, Paddy Casey, will perform on October 13. Brendan Grace brings his comedy stylings on October 18. Trad music’s finest, the Kifenora Céilí Band, will perform on November 18. Another noteworthy event is Ballet Ireland’s production of The Nutcracker on December 13.

In all this, there is a strong local flavour too. The nearby Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ present their musical, Back to the 80s, from November 8 to 11. The Cecilian Musical Society transport audiences to New York for West Side Story from November 28 to December 1. Bottom Dog Theatre Company are doing the timeless Dickens adaptation, A Christmas Carol, from December 10 to 12. Limerick Panto Society will round off the year with Beauty and the Beast from December 27 to January 5.

In the tour, we got to stand on the stage and see the dressing rooms etc. It’s a super facility in terms of design and technical spec. The size of the stage itself gives a massive amount of scope for sets, choreography and so on, which is surely an advantage. I’ve been there for several literary readings but not a theatrical or musical performance, so I’ll look forward to that.

The theatre manager is Louise Donlon, who has extensive experience with companies such as Limerick’s own, Island TC, and Galway’s Druid TC as well as with venues such as the Dunamaise Arts Centre in Portlaoise. She praised the vision of the Board of Management and her hardworking team.

She also expressed her hope that the Lime Tree “will be a significant addition to the national cultural infrastructure and most especially to the cultural, social and economic life of Limerick and the mid-west”.

It’s great to see a venue of this quality in Limerick to complement the likes of the Belltable Arts Centre; the University Concert Hall; the LIT Millennium Theatre; CentreSPACE; the Loft; Daghdha Space; Friar’s Gate Theatre et al. We really are blessed with so many performance sites as well as a vibrant arts scene.

Now, that’s all the enthusiasm and optimism I can muster for today! Outbursts swinging from disbelief to fury accompanied by vigorous fist-shaking and face-palming will resume forthwith…

If you want more information on The Lime Tree Theatre, call 061-774774 or see the website.

I’m there: Ross O’Carroll Kelly creator, like, speaks at Mary Immaculate College

I went to a reading and Q&A session with Paul Howard today, the creator of the most famous Heino swilling, rugby-playing, D4 Romeo in the country—Ross O’Carroll Kelly. The notorious RO’CK has spawned 10 novels, several plays and a column running since 1998 (starting in the Sunday Tribune and now in The Irish Times Magazine on Saturdays).

I’m a big fan. I spent many a bus journey disturbing other passengers with my sniggering at Ross’s antics. The characters are outrageous; the jokes are razor sharp and the plots timely. Ross charts the trials and trends of modern Ireland with tongue in cheek but incisive social commentary. Example: Responding to ex-wife Sorcha asking what kind of world did they bring their daughter Ross replies, (paraphrased) “I know babe. The other night I had a dream about sitting in green fields with Honor and telling her ‘This used to be filled with aportments’”.

The Department of English Language & Literature at Mary Immaculate College (UL) has put one of his books on English course. This just shows that they’ve added lots of good stuff since I graduated, including the lovely building in which the 500 seat Lime Tree Theatre is situated. Head of department, Eugene O’Brien, praised the author for satirising modern Ireland but also read some pieces revealing Ross’s well hidden humanity.

Howard said that he was honoured by his inclusion with literary giants like James Joyce but thought that it was perhaps giving too much weight to his work. He said when he told his wife about it, she agreed they were “definitely reading too much into it”.

He read three extracts, including one from his new ROC’K book, NAMA Mia (or Me-a? maybe?). The author thought it would be fun to make Ross a gigolo so he can at least get paid for being a hoor. He read from his first attempt at writing a sex scene for the Rossmeister, joking that it was suitably romantic—taking place with a cougar in the ladies’ toilet at a Michael Bublé concert. It raised plenty of laughs, with lines like “soon she was bouncing up and down on me like she was on the Wii Fit”.

He’s an engaging storyteller with great comic timing but then, the material is hilarious and the audience was made up of (hard to shock) students. Talking about the Celtic Tiger era, Howard pinpointed the moment when he first heard the phrase and understood its meaning. He described a coffee shop near the Tribune that used to sell a cup of coffee for 50p. It closed and reopened with a revamped shopfront, a fancy title and then sold the “same cup of coffee” for £3.50. That just about sums the madness up!

One person asked how many more books did he think there would be, he answered that Nama Mia would be his eleventh novel and “there will be a twelfth” but after that he isn’t sure what’s in store for Ross. It seems like he can’t quite believe a caricature of people he overheard at rugby matches has come so for, y’know?

Howard was also asked when ‘Kicker’ will come to Limerick and replied that Ross has offered his services to Munster so you never know! That would be, like, focking amazing.

The event was organised by three postgraduate students—Clare Gorman, Louise Brett and Rory Feehan. Well played goys!