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.
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?