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.

Review: Freud’s Last Session

freud-sometimes-a-cigar-is-just-a-cigarI went to see this in the Belltable on November 28 and reviewed it for Irish Theatre Magazine. Read all about it here.

The play is touring further in 2013 and I would urge people to go and check it out. More information is available here.

Orchard TC has done some sterling work since its foundation. It has an exciting schedule of workshops, a schools programme and productions coming up in 2013.

Elemental Festival to set Limerick alight this Saturday.

The inaugural Elemental Arts and Culture Festival will be on this Saturday, September 15 in various locations around the city. The programme (see end of post) is very exciting with a diverse selection of events taking in street performance, comedy, theatre, storytelling, dance, heritage and much more.

I mentioned some highlights in a previous post including yoga and Tai Chi in People’s Park; a fun day in the Frank McCourt Museum; a talk about unsung heroine, Lady Heath; street entertainment; collecting stories about the River Shannon; the ‘Big Sing’ and demonstrations of forgotten skills. More events have been added since.

There will be a Seasonal Tapas Demonstration—an informative and fun demo on preparing tapas for all occasions—at No 1 Pery Square (€15; booking required; more info at www.oneperysquare.com). Limerick Writers’ Centre will host a Storytelling Playshop with The Oh-Aissieux (booking required; more info from limerickwriterscentre@gmail.com). Limerick City Gallery of Art and Whelan’s Cameras are some of the other venues for events.

There will be a performance by Patterns Dance Collective in the Daghdha Space. This company consists of contemporary dance artists with mental disabilities and/or Down syndrome. They are service users in centres around Limerick City under the umbrella of the Daughters of Charity and have enjoyed a long and successful history of performing locally, nationally and internationally. More info on Facebook.

The Elemental Comedy Lounge in Dolan’s Upstairs will feature the talents of Joe Rooney, Fergal Costello and Choke Comedy Improv (€8-10; can book online) and Ham Sandwich play the Warehouse (€7-10; can book online). More info on www.dolans.ie.

King John’s castle will become the focus of the finale with a spectacular event called Night of Fires. There will be a number of fire-based performances throughout the evening with a variety of performers within the castle grounds. Local magician and escape artist, Steve Spade, will bring the evening to a rousing finish with a debut performance of his illusion, ‘Sacrifice’. In this illusion, he will have to fight for his life to escape being burned at the stake (€6.05; booking required at http://elementallimerick.eventbrite.ie/).

The programme is embedded below but make sure to keep an eye on the festival Facebook page and website for updates. Congratulations and best of luck to the Elemental team.

Review: Underground: Gangstas

I saw Underground: Gangstas in the latest installment of Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy last Thursday (June 28).

Gangstas—a segment of the Underground trilogy—is an original play by Stefan Barry, an ensemble member of Limerick’s Orchard Theatre Company.

The premise was about the under-world and the criminals who thrive in it. It is about a London mobster’s (Stefan Barry) rise and fall; the other main characters include his main enforcer (David Collins) and his girlfriend (Mel White), who both play several more bit parts. The play is in the ‘bouffon’ mode, which is seemingly “a specific style of performance work that has a main focus in the art of mockery”.

‘Bouffon’ has a strong element of clowning so all the characters’ appearances were comically exaggerated in some way and physical comedy is prevalent. It’s really interesting that plays are being produced in this unique style. Director of Orchard TC, Simon Thompson, is a specialist in the area and runs workshops in clowning etc.

The play deals with a gangsters’ place in society, amorality and the power/ attraction of the lifestyle. The kingpin likens them to modern day pirates. On the other hand, it seems to lampoon all the ubiquitous gangster texts and consist almost entirely of clichés. This was perhaps intentional but came across as jaded.

Gangstas is a bit like a theatrical parody on the premise: ‘If Guy Ritchie ever wrote a play…’ It does what the King of Mockney does best—a convoluted plot, which makes light of serious topics like assault, robbery and murder and has likeable characters to anchor it, such as baby-faced assassin, ‘Nice Nick’. Judging by the audience, many of the funniest moments arose from visual gags and plays on pop song lyrics. There were some good one-liners.

The performances by the cast were solid and the play was an amusing diversion from the average lunchtime. But I’m not sure it’s substantial enough for a standalone piece. Gangstas was intended as part of a trilogy and I would be interested in seeing it as part of the whole.

Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy is a welcome addition to Limerick and is great value at €10 a ticket for a play with a sandwich and soup. The next performance is July 26/27 when Galway’s Fregoli Theatre Company will debut, The Sweet Shop, by Maria Tivnan.

Review: 24 Hour Theatre Challenge

I went to see the results of the 24 Hour Theatre Challenge on Saturday last (May 5). The challenge was to gather as many people from the locality and beyond to write/produce several new pieces of theatre in 24 hours.

The performance consisted of three short comedies. It kicked off with the piece Eve of All Saints, which was written by Myles Breen and directed by Yvonne Coughlan. When the audience walked into the Daghdha space (a refurbished former church) there were three actors in-situ in statue-like poses. It was innovative use of the venue too. The show started with two teenagers turning up to spend Halloween night in a spooky church and it quickly became apparent that they were not alone, as the statues began to speak and move.

These included Mary Magdalene and Saint Bernadette. Then a statue of Jesus appeared, only he wasn’t the real deal; he was only Giovanni, the Italian model, who the first sculptures of the Lord were based on. There were some very funny observations about religion and the saints’ lives i.e. Mary Magdalene is tired of still being called a whore after all these years. The play was really impressive. The cast was: Clodagh Callanan, Jared Nadin, Ellen Gough, Vanessa Murray, Maria O’Callaghan and Pius McGrath.

The second offering was The Lovers—written and directed by Darren Maher. From the start, it had the feel of a Shakespearean comedy of errors. Narrators, Jamie King and Pat Cussack set up the story in rhyming couplets and appeared periodically to help things along. They were entertaining, whether skipping or acting as a man and dog in some scenes. The staging was simple—two benches, each with a man sitting on one and when the two girls show up, they each start berating a man for sitting on ‘their’ bench.

Each couple was saying the same words at the same time, which was hard for them because they couldn’t improvise if they slipped up. In spite of a rocky start and a rather disturbing passive aggressive (but ‘funny if it’s not you’ kind’ve way) incident in the middle, it had a happy ending. The Lovers was quirky and amusing. It was definitely the most complex of the scripts in terms of technique/ dialogue and challenged the cast: David Collins, Stefan Barry, Meg Hennessy and Emer O’Flaherty. I was baffled as to why there were two couples saying the exact same dialogue. At first, I thought each story was going to go in a different direction but when they didn’t, it was a little anti-climactic. AND I find it hard to imagine growing fond of someone who sabotages your lunch in a disgusting way. But that’s just me!

The last play was Super Paddy, devised by Mel White and Pius McGrath. Super Paddy was a comic-book style jaunt about an Irish and Limerick-born super hero (every stereotype you can imagine) who must foil an evil plot. His arch-nemesis, Enda, decides to punish Limerick for not paying the household charge or water charges by stealing the River Shannon. Will Paddy sober up enough to save the majestic Shannon, or will Enda succeed in his dastardly plan?

This one got a bit crazy in a good way! It had a narrator in a jester’s outfit; Enda was portrayed by a puppet that looked like a green Elmo with a guy in a purple lycra body suit working it; Shannon was a young actress in a blue dress; Paddy was topless with a cowboy hat, a six shooter and a red cape; there were awful depictions of Irish dancing…the list goes on! It was unpredictable and light hearted—poking fun at current affairs with a lot of physical comedy—and the kids in the audience loved it too. The cast was: Mel White, Pius McGrath, Jamie Walters, Graham Gill, Marcus Quane and Roisin Kelly.

The verdict

Considering they were totally put together in a day, the plays were high quality. Of course, they were slightly rough around the edges but there was a harsh deadline! I’m sure there are things even the groups would change if they had more time. But all of them succeeded in putting a smile on people’s faces and that’s what matters. I’ve seen A LOT worse for €10!

Fiona Linnane, a local composer, wrote original music for all three within the timeframe. Stage Manager, Mags O’Donoghue; technical manager, Loren Hartnett and sound operator, Niamh Begley had a fair bit of work to do as well and everything went off without a hitch. Eva Birdthistle did all the marketing and photography (all the pictures in this post are hers). The playwrights and actors excelled themselves. Everyone put a big effort in and it shows what teamwork can achieve.

Simon Thompson of Orchard Theatre Company had the idea and mobilised all the people involved, including sponsors Limerick City Council, Cafe Noir and Nash’s Mineral Water. It was on as part of Riverfest, which broadened the programme. We need new ideas to keep theatre alive. There is already talk of doing the 24 Hour Theatre Challenge again next year. As Dinah Washington once said: What a difference a day made…