Review: The Bachelor of Kilkish

Irish-Barber-Sketch-1I was at the opening night of The Bachelor of Kilkish, the latest from Limerick company Bottom Dog Theatre Company, last week (June 12) in the Lime Tree Theatre.

Written by Bottom Dog co-founder and well-known actor, Myles Breen, the play is about the eponymous ‘bachelor’, Eugene (Brendan Conroy) who is a 65 year old closeted gay man who owns a barbershop in a small, seaside town. His world revolves around the shop and local goings on—chatting with regulars like hotel owner, Pat (Pascal Scott), who drops in every week for a trim and sharing cosy tea breaks with lifelong pal, Agnes (Deirdre Monaghan) and young hotel receptionist, Jacinta (Clare Monnelly).

His polite, low-key existence is shaken up when fun and flamboyantly gay young barber, Ian (Stephen Tadgh), takes a summer job at the shop. As the small-town ‘old guard’ gear up for the summer festival and the Colleen of Kilkish pageant (sher, they’re all lovely girls, ahem), the status quo is under threat and things are about to change drastically…and I’m not talking about the rearrangement of the amusement arcade!

What followed was a play that swung between hilarious and heart-breaking. It dealt with a lot of issues sensitively, such as homophobia and from the other point of view—the experience of being gay in a conservative community, hiding who you truly are and fearful of being the subject of gossip. Other subjects were unrequited love and the simultaneous comfort and claustrophobia of small-town existence.

The contrast between Eugene and Ian is as marked as the dichotomy between a small Irish seaside resort in summer and in winter. The interplay between the two was one of the highlights of the play. Conroy played shy Eugene with great poise and dignity, building towards a new assertiveness and sense of self. Tadgh injected incredible energy to nearly every scene he was in as the witty, exuberant Ian. He has a flair for comedic timing and is wonderfully expressive in the role. The scene where he lip synchs and dances to Miley Cyrus’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ is a contender for the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. The whole audience was in stitches.

The two ladies played their supporting roles well. Both were vibrant in their own style and were convincing in the more morose, emotional scenes too. Pat and his son, Mike (Cillian Ó’Gairbhí) represented the more conservative, ‘conventional’ side of society but came dangerously close to being caricatures a few times. That said, there were a few very realistic incidences of classic Irishman reactions to being in close contact with a gay person very at ease with themselves. The uncomfortable exchanges had great comic realism.

The Bachelor of Kilkish is well written. Breen excels at sharp one-liners and there are many brilliantly funny moments and scenes in the play. This was a blessing and a curse I felt because when the tone shifted to more serious interludes, the audience was still laughing and it was hard to refocus. As I said, he approached the issues with innate understanding and addressed them carefully.

Final-Poster-The-Bachelor-of-Kilkish-Lime-Tree-2014For all the fun, it was terribly sad in parts too. I felt a real sense of empathy with Eugene. I couldn’t help thinking about all the others like him. The play had a good balance of light and shade in that way. It ended on a somewhat predictable, but hopeful and life affirming note.

He has a keen eye and ear for detail, making the setting seem genuine i.e. the townspeople referring to tourists as “swallows” because they fly in for a period and disappear as suddenly or the pompous, self-importance of commanding figures in local communities (we all know one or more!) spouting about reputations and brands.

There was a lot going on and director, Liam O’Brien, pulled all the elements together. The music was beautiful—making the scene transitions flow effortlessly—and the barbershop set was excellent and used in a very versatile way. The lighting was appropriately subtle.

I had a few minor problems with the play. I thought it was too long. It was pushing two hours and 30-45 minutes I’d say and I think if it could be cut back a bit, it should be because it would be the better for it. I thought the subplot involving Jacinta and Mike was drawn out, as were a few scenes generally. But these are small issues with a strong piece overall. (Note: I got a comment saying it ran for exactly 2 hrs 14 minutes with starting late and an interval overrun. I still reckon it was closer to 2 hrs 30 mins (not 45 thinking working it out in more detail). I took the delays into account and looked at my watch leaving at 11pm but I didn’t have a stopwatch. Perhaps it just went on too long in my estimation. My abiding point is: it seemed too long and dragged a bit so it could be cut back slightly. I stand by that.)

I really enjoyed The Bachelor of Kilkish and the 350 strong audience did too—showing their appreciation with a long standing ovation. Bottom Dog TC has produced some fine work since it was founded a few years ago and with limited funding.  The play was funded through the ‘Made in Limerick’ strand of City of Culture and I’m glad to say it was money well spent. Funny and touching, this quality of this production really demonstrates what they can do.

I’d recommend it. It’s showing in Kilkee this Thursday and Friday (June 19 and 20) and Friar’s Gate in Kilmallock this Saturday and Sunday (June 21 and 22).

King Lear in Kilmallock

The cast of King Lear in development performing in Kilmallock Abbey

Shakespeare’s King Lear is a tragedy set in a harsh land wracked with moral decay. What better ‘theatre’ for a proposed new production of a play renowned for its “uncompromising bleakness” than the ruins of a 13th century abbey?

Last Friday (April 20), I was one of the lucky few to see key scenes enacted within the ancient walls of the Dominican Abbey in Kilmallock.

The cast and audience were exposed to the elements but likewise the play was laid bare in all its cold beauty.

King Lear in development was funded by the Arts Council and aimed to explore the feasibility of staging a full promenade production of the play. In a promenade play, there is no fixed stage. The interactive element is that audience shares the space with the cast and follows the action around.

Liam O'Brien in soliloquy mode

This ambitious project is the brainchild of Liam O’Brien, an actor and co-founder of Bottom Dog Theatre Company. Internationally acclaimed Shakespeare expert, Rob Clare, was brought in for the planning process and as director. Mike Burke was production manager. Clare also contributed his acting skills to the work in progress along with O’Brien, Des Keogh, Myles Breen and Valerie O’Connor.

Within a few scenes, it was obvious that the production has limitless possibilities. Clare praised the tremendously talented cast and I’d have to agree. In particular, Des Keogh would make a brilliant Lear.There was a haunting quality to it all, not least because of the wind and rain whistling through the abbey’s exposed rooms. The unique setting lifted the play onto another level.

There would be limitations i.e. the risk of bad weather and issues with health/safety and audience comfort. The overall cost is also a very large elephant in the throne room.

But it definitely has the wow factor! If executed in the right way, it has the potential to be spectacular.

While Shakespeare is the most famous playwright in the English language, his work has been reduced almost to the status of ‘closet plays’ [plays read but not performed]. There is a dearth of Shakespeare productions, aside from those staged with exam syllabuses in mind.

How it all began…

Des Keogh and Rob Clare

Liam explained how he has been working on the project for several months. He traveled to the US earlier this year to meet with Rob Clare, who was doing a rehearsed reading of King Lear with a high profile cast.

“I got to be part of that process and observe and read when other actors weren’t available. I basically took notes about the play and formulated an idea of what I’d like. I spent another week with Rob in the States, where we worked together every day, doing specific work on how the text should be approached,” Liam said.

“A lot of people read Shakespeare as it is…Rob has a very defined way of working. I applied that to say, the speeches of Edmund, for example, and did detailed work on that.”

Rob Clare praised Liam’s vision and commitment to “liberating new possibilities and ways of staging”. After the actor returned from the US, he started working with designer Emma Fisher, who was nominated for an Irish Times theatre award for her work on Bottom Dog’s, The Revenger’s Tragedy.

“We spent a week or so in Limerick discussing what it would look like. One of things we discussed were notions of a post Apocalyptic world. King Lear is a very timeless play. It refers to Greek and Roman gods along with hints of Christianity so it could be set before or after, future or past. It’s an out of time play. We talked about how it could be rooted in Ireland. Emma also built a scale model of the abbey,” he said.

The 13th century Dominican Abbey in Kilmallock

Building towards performance…

The actors then gathered for two weeks to work through concepts—culminating in an off-book performance of the work in progress.

“We started with the entire play and then picked specific scenes, which we thought would best reflect the whole. Today was trying to explore how that would work. What we would very much like to see is when the first scene ends, the audience are guided—be it by ushers or by the actors themselves—so that they are moved along somehow and the action moves too.”

Des Keogh and Myles Breen

He praised the Arts Council for supporting the project with an €18,400 grant. Limerick County Council; the Office of Public Works and Friar’s Gate Theatre. Liam paid tribute to his colleagues in Bottom Dog, Mike Burke and Myles Breen. Local people also played a vital part.

“There’s a real sense of support; that you’re in town to do something,” he added.

Parts of the project were also filmed for officials and other interested parties.

“We’re going to put together some kind of 10-15 minute trailer of what we’ve done and seek their thoughts, good and bad. I’m very interested in what people have to contribute. The last few weeks have allowed us to identify challenges,” Liam said.

Complex aspects of a full production would include how to stage the storm scenes (Clare said one option could be live drumming outside the walls) and Cordelia’s hanging scene. While there is a small indoor area in the abbey they are considering the logistics of putting a temporary covering over some other areas.

The next steps…

Des Keogh and Liam O'Brien

“The next thing will be to collate all the data, put it all together in a package and then to return it to the Arts Council. Hopefully in the next six months there will be another project application window and if it’s feasible—which is what we have to arrive at—we’ll apply for a significant grant to stage a whole version.”

Liam has hopes that the production would include side-events such as a Medieval market/fair and street performers to add to the carnival atmosphere. I think a summer day moving into dusk would be the ideal time to stage it. The sunshine might refuse to play along. As Shakespeare himself said: “sometime too hot the eye of Heaven shines and often is his gold complexion dimmed” (Yes, I’ve sunk so low as to make a joke about a sonnet! Don’t judge me). As you see from the pictures below, the abbey is gorgeous in the sunlight.

 

 

 

 

 

“I think we should shoot for the sky. A lot of our ideas are big but we need things that are more exciting that just going into a theatre space. We need audiences to get excited about event theatre; to maybe hop on a bus and make a day/night out of it”

“People have to want to come. If we can create something big and epic I think it would encourage them.”

Speaking about theatre practitioners and artists in Limerick, he added: “We want to live here and make work here, which is a very difficult thing at the best of times as an artist. If we can identify in not just the city but the county and the mid west area, that there is a desire to see this I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to make this work.”

Theatre: Love, Peace and Robbery at the Belltable, this Thursday to Sat Nov 26

MagicRoundabout Theatre Company will present Love, Peace and Robbery at theBelltable from this Thursday, November 24 to Sat Nov 26. The play by LiamHeylin—starring Myles Breen, Jay Red and James Moroney—is a “hilarious andmoving play about a post office heist”.

The description reads: “Two ex-cons, Darren and Gary, are just out of Limerick prison and required toattend a daily substance abuse program. This, along with a pair ofcourt-ordered curfews, leaves them with limited opportunity to reconnect withthose they’ve wronged in the past: girlfriends, stepsons and one particularlyput-upon terrier.”

Overcans of Dutch Gold and the occasional spliff , the men reassess their lives,their relationships and the personal responsibility that they bear for thosearound them. The mantra is ‘never again’ but that’s a long hard road beset onall sides by thwarted desires: Darren’s desire to emigrate and reconnect withhis ex and Gary’s desire to regain therespect of his stepson. Both desires could be fulfilled. If only there was a wayto make some quick and easy money…” 

The play was first produced by Cork’s Meridian Theatre Company in 2007 and waswell-received when it played at venues around Ireland. The Magic Roundabout production debuted in July lastand is now returning to the Belltable stage. MR was founded in 2010. Their first production was the intense “stand-uptragedy”, Spinal Krapp by Darren Maher—which went on to show at the Electric Picnic and Body& Soul festivals after a run in the Unfringed Festival (review here). Thecompany did a fantastic rehearsed reading of cult play, Two Gentlemen ofLebowski back in June (review here).

Unfortunately I missed thefirst run of Love, Peace and Robbery because I was on holiday so I’m reallylooking forward to seeing it Thursday night. The director is local playwright and actor, Darren Maher and the play’s producer is another veteran of the arts scene actor/director, Zeb Moore. And remember, there’s a specialplace in Heaven (or insert own derivative of the afterlife >here<) forpeople who support local theatre. 

There’s a short video promo here. Tickets are€12/10 and available on 061-319866 or www.belltable.ie