Culture Round-Up Sept 15

It’s been a busy September and I haven’t gotten around to blogging very much so I’m going to do a bit of a round-up…

First up, Elemental Arts & Culture Festival (11-13 Sept) seemed to be a success. There was a definite buzz around the city centre and lots of family friendly stuff, which was lovely. I got to a few things as well.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 23.12.34I really loved the documentary, Alive Inside. I’d really recommend it if you get a chance to see it online or on DVD. It follows a social worker called Dan Cohen, who runs a non-profit organisation called Music and Memory. They go into healthcare settings, mostly nursing homes, to show how to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss. The film shows how music can benefit those suffering from dementia, severe mental illness and conditions like MS. They supply headphones and iPods loaded with music, preferably a person’s favourite music. At a basic level, it can give them a pleasurable break from routine but it can also help them remember things, connect with the outside world and ultimately, improve their quality of life. It highlights issues with healthcare systems globally and the way we treat our aging population. But it deals with music as an element of culture, how we experience it and the interplay between music and feelings. It is truly amazing the way people reacted to music i.e. Alzheimer’s patients who didn’t normally communicate are suddenly alert and even singing and dancing in some cases. It begs the question: Could a ‘prescription’ of music be as effective (or more effective) as drugs? It’s a combination of uplifting and heart-breaking but well worth a look.

On the Saturday, I got along to the Fab Lab to see Love Letters from Limerick—an exhibition of traditional sign-writing and the art of hand painted lettering. Local sign artist, Tom Collins, is involved and visiting sign-artists, Sean and Kayleigh Starr, took part too. The pieces on display are very cool—a lot of distinctive signs and decorative items like embossed mirrors. There’s also a new sign that has been created for the project and erected on the side of a building on William Street reading ‘Everybody else is doing it so why can’t we?’—presumably in honour of The Cranberries’ album of the same name. The exhibition is running until this Friday, October 2.

I also called into the Hunt Museum to see Father Browne’s First World War—an exhibition of photographs by the Cork-born army chaplain. He ministered to troops at the Somme, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens and Arras. Some of his photos were stunning. I loved the immediacy of the trench and battlefield shots. By the way, the superb, Ranks: A Limerick Industry, is the Hunt’s current exhibition. Blurb is: “The Ranks flour mills were at the heart of Limerick for generations. This exhibition celebrates and explores the role of Ranks in Limerick’s history through stories from the local community.” If you’re in town and at a loose end before 25 October, I’d urge you to go and see it. I saw it before and it’s quite touching. It’s a huge part of Limerick’s industrial past but the personal accounts are nice.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 21.24.25Also during Elemental, I had a look at Third Bridge by Andrew Kearney and Deirdre Power in Ormston House. The exhibition was “based on the collective action taken in 1983 by then first year students at Limerick School of Art and Design to construct a ‘third bridge’ over the Shannon, built from 180 polystyrene bricks, strung together, bracelet-like, by two 185 meter-long nylon ropes”. The effort “exemplified what Suzanna Lacy would later refer to as ‘new genre’ public art”. Mostly consisting of photos documenting the project, I thought it was very well put together and illustrated an interesting period in the city’s history. I would’ve loved for more photos to be in colour but it’s likely they were shot on black and white film. If they weren’t, I feel an even split between colour and monochrome would have been better but it was still a great show.  

I saw the play, Charolais, that night in 69 O’Connell Street. Told from the perspective of lovelorn farmhand, Siobhán, and a rather snooty French cow, it was very clever. Written and performed by Noni Stapleton, the black comedy is a tale of homicidal jealousy between a woman and a prize cow (literally). The solo performance was excellent—particularly when she was playing the part of the animal—and the writing smutty, raw and hilarious in parts. It premiered in Dublin Fringe 2014 as part of Show in a Bag—an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and the Irish Theatre Institute. I’ve seen some brilliant plays arising out of Show in a Bag including Bandit, Fight Night, The Wheelchair on my Face, Counter Culture and Connected.

The following Friday (18 Sept) was Culture Night and again, there was a fabulous buzz around the city centre with all the events going on. I called into LCGA, Limerick Craft Hub, the Hunt Museum, the Fab Lab and the Milk Market but the highlight was an Open House initiative at 4 Patrick Street. The building, formerly a shop before it was boarded up as part of the ill-fated Opera Centre Project, was also the birthplace of famous Limerick soprano, Catherine Hayes. You could only step in to see a limited shop floor space but then a young local soprano read a little bit about Hayes’ global career and sang excerpts from arias from operas Hayes performed in. It lasted 10-15 minutes max but it was a perfect slice of culture. I love the concept of Culture Night (and late opening of galleries/musuems could happen a little more often BTW). The hope is that it encourages people to seek things out on some of the other 364 days of the year.

To top September off, I was invited along to see Waiting in Line by local theatre company, Honest Arts, at the Jonathan Swift Theatre in UL last week. A sharp commentary of Ireland’s social welfare culture written by Pius McGrath and Tara Doolan, I thought it was observant and funny with strong performances. McGrath was particularly impressive. The set design was amazing; no surprise that it was nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award. The settings were projected onto the background (with realistic animations) using 3D mapping technology. This innovative technique is possibly the future of set design and suited the fast pace of the piece very well. Honest Arts garnered positive reviews for production, The Mid-Knight Cowboy, at the Edinburgh Fringe and Waiting in Line showed at the Toronto Fringe Festival. This vibrant, young company is a definite ‘one to watch’.

Unfringed Reviews: Bandit/The Wheelchair on my Face

Fishamble-The New Play Company is one of the most innovative collectives working in Ireland today and its ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative has spawned some excellent work since its foundation.

‘Show in a Bag’ is a collaboration with the Dublin Fringe Festival and the Irish Theatre Institute and gives actors the support and mentorship to come up with their own tourable productions. These plays debut in Bewley’s Café Theatre during the Dublin Fringe. Fortunately, our own Limerick Unfringed Festival was on just after that festival for the first time this year. Unfringed showed two 2012 ‘Show in a Bag’ plays and one from 2011.

I had the pleasure of seeing two of these…two out of three ain’t bad! Hopefully, I’ll see PAYBACK! at some later date.

Bandit

The first was Bandit—on in the Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy slot on October 18—by Brian O’Riordan. The play followed a runner (O’Riordan himself) in the Dublin Marathon who is ‘a bandit’ and so is not officially registered in the race. He’s running away from his mistakes and grief; running toward an unlikely goal—all of which of is revealed as he navigates the grueling circuit.

He was literally running on the spot throughout and played three other characters at various points—a fellow female runner, his little sister and a rival from youth athletics. The use of subtle mannerisms and gestures was key for these segments. He packed a lot of information/story into 50 minutes and rather appropriately, the pace was perfect!

I really enjoyed it. There was a nice momentum to the play, probably down to the physical acting, which carries the audience along steadily but builds towards the end. The plot believability was a little stretched i.e. our hero lives a life of debauchery for years, goes back training for a few months and is miraculously superfit or the the fact that he stole a few grand with no consequences. The character is flawed but O’Riordan imbued him with some charm and wry humour that made you hopeful for him.

The minimalist format of ‘Show in a Bag’ meant that lighting, sound and a few props were used to maximum effect i.e. he would do a slight turn and the lighting would change when he was doing flashbacks and the beeps from his watch counted down the miles. Bandit reminded me a lot of Fight Night (yet another Show in a Bag focused on boxing) so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. That said, O’Riordan’s production and performance deserves praise, as does the mentorship and direction by Bryan Burroughs. I thought Bandit was affecting and energetic—enough to leave a pleasant adrenaline buzz.

The Wheelchair on my Face

This play was devised and performed by actress/comedienne, Sonya Kelly. It was also on in the Savoy, this time in the evening slot on October 26. The play—which won a Fringe First award at the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe—is a stand-up comedy style memoir of the writer’s “myopic childhood”.

She knows how to make an entrance—setting the scene to music, fumbling and bumbling around the stage to demonstrate what it’s like when a person can’t see properly. Then she continued recounting hilarious incidents from her home and school life including how everyone thought she just an affectionate child when she clambered up on their laps and put her face close to theirs and how her bad eyesight affected friendships and activities. She invented an elaborate fantasy world where ABBA lived in her wardrobe and these funny interludes with Swedish accents and the band’s music break up the stories nicely.

When she had her eye test at age seven, it was obvious to all that she needed heavy duty spectacles. She describes the test, the optometrist and the other patients in a very touching anecdote. Her joy at being able to see properly is short lived when the catcalls of “speccy fishy!” start and her angelic First Holy Communion appearance is under threat from her supersized glasses. Some of the material is sad but of course, there is a happy ending.

Director, Gina Moxley, gave Kelly free reign to create her childhood world. The whole show was beautifully structured and told. There was some audience interaction where she got someone to throw a prop ‘tennis ball’; the use of props in general was excellent, from the giant eye-test charts to the ABBA’s Greatest Hits record cover. Kelly’s confessional streak and good humour was endearing. The audience lapped it up.

I may be short-sighted but even I could see why this show is award-winning. It’s funny and warm—a genuine feel-good experience. It is currently touring so catch it if you can.

200th post!! Theatre review: Fight Night at the Belltable

I saw the play Fight Night last Friday at the Belltable Arts Centre and it’s a horrible cliché to say that it packs a powerful dramatic punch…but I’m past caring what people think. And that’s at least one thing I have in common with Dan Coyle Jr—the protagonist of the piece.

Dan’s grandfather, father and brother achieved great success in boxing and since he didn’t emulate that he feels like an outsider in his own family. It is only when Dan has his own son that he starts reflecting on his past and what led to the end of his boxing career six years before. Dan decides that to fight his demons outside the ring, he has to get back in it.

Of course, it draws comparisons with films like Rocky or The Fighter but the script—mainly a stream of consciousness style monologue—is emotionally complex with a firmly Irish flavour. The play has the relationship between fathers and sons at its core. Dan Jr must confront his father, his father’s assumptions and the family legacy. But he’s also battling his deepest fears (being a failure and a disappointment) and asking questions about self worth, love and life in modern Ireland.

These are weighty matters but Gavin Kostick’s script broaches the subjects naturally with conversational language. The audience is drawn in by this everyman quality. The movement of time is clear but punctuated by flashbacks and pivotal moments. Lighting and music/sound design were good. The direction by Bryan Burroughs was very solid. All the individual elements of the production were in harmony and the pace never let up.


Aonghus Óg McAnally was outstanding. Firstly, the piece was specifically written for him based on his own proposal as part of the ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative (an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute). It was a winner of both Best Actor and the Bewley’s Little Gem Award in Dublin’s ABSOLUT Fringe 2010. Both awards were well deserved.

His performance was energetic and very physical, incorporating the training regime. He skipped perfectly while talking for what seemed like 10 minutes at the opening and the ritualistic way he taped up his hands was fascinating, for example. Monologues probably pose the biggest challenge for an actor; there’s nowhere to hide! But he never hesitated or wavered in emotional intensity. The gloves were truly off and the play could not but be a total knock-out as a result. It might be a cliché but that doesn’t make it less true!


Fight Night is currently on a national tour and will also be part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival from next Tuesday, October 4 to 9.

Now for a small rant…
The play was top class but the turn-out was extremely poor. I’d say there were 14-15 people in the 220 seat auditorium. It must be soul destroying for an actor to come out and perform for a near empty house. AND there were some extra sound effects at the start thanks to the venue’s infamous noisy neighbour. It was a credit to McAnally as a professional that he still gave it his all under difficult conditions.

I don’t know why the audience was so low for an award winning play. It was covered in local press Ents sections and online; it featured as prominently in the Belltable’s programme as any other production. Granted, it wasn’t a local company. The miserable weather on Friday didn’t encourage punters to venture out and the subject matter/format wouldn’t appeal to everyone. A ‘one night only’ performance is also harder to sell because with a longer run at least you have the possibility of word of mouth marketing.

I’m going out on a limb to say high ticket prices might have had something to do with it. The first three and last three rows were priced at €12.50 and there were €17.50 and €20 options for the rest of it. I don’t think people should be expected to pay up to €20 for a 55 minute performance no matter how good it is. You can’t put a true value on art but people put a price on it all the time! I don’t mind paying a higher price for a large cast and/or high production costs i.e. elaborate costumes, special effects, a big set. But this play had one actor and the set consisted of a stool and a few props.

Myself and my two friends opted for the cheap seats and they were great—one row between us and the stage. The Belltable is still compact enough to have a good view from anywhere in the auditorium so I don’t think a cheap across the board ticket price would have done any harm. I know venues and practitioners have to recoup costs and try to make money but the recession is biting hard for audience members too.

Anyway, I want to know why more people don’t go to the theatre in Limerick and in general? What is so off-putting? Do you dislike certain venues? Do you have a problem with the choice of production on offer? Is the cost prohibitive? Are you intimidated by the theatre? I’m genuinely interested.

Thoughts in the comment box or by email to rfinucanefreelance@gmail.com. Best letter gets a prize…disclaimer: prize may be crap.

Positive reception for Last Year at Absolut Fringe

Following on from a previous post, Last Year—a play in the Absolut Fringe Festival presently—performed by Limerick actress, Maeve McGrath has gotten positive reviews in the Irish Times and Irish Theatre Magazine.

The Gavin Kostick monologue “is a meditation of death from a variety of perspectives” and seen through the eyes of a ward sister of a nursing home it is often a relief at the end of a long life but what happens when she is faced with her own terrifying mortality?
Sara Keating writes in The Irish Times: “The end of Last Year is truly moving, as performer Maeve McGrath drops all defences and embraces her fate.” Although she did feel there were “a few too many strands to Kostick’s play”, the direction by Liam Halligan was praised, the “staging is simple, with music and projected interludes alerting us to the play’s shifting tone before the true nature of things is revealed”.

ITM’s review by Jesse Weaver had some small qualms with the play but added that “McGrath is able by the play’s end to effectively convey the emotional earthquake that Orlagh experiences in comprehending her own fleeting mortality”. Read the full review here.


There are two chances still to see the play at Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin at 1pm on Thursday September 22 and Friday 23. It also features an original score by Eleanor McEvoy.

Last Year is a ‘Show in a Bag’ production, which is an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute to resource theatre makers and actors.
Only five actors are chosen to take part every year and the playwright came to Limerick during the summer to meet local people and listen to their stories before starting work on the play.

At the Belltable Unfringed 2011, I saw Connected—a play devised for ‘Show in a Bag’. The full production was very innovative and funny; it was a highlight of the festival.
So hopefully, Maeve will go on to bring this piece to more audiences nationwide.

Tickets are €10. Book online at www.fringefest.com or 1850 FRINGE (1850 374 643).

Limerick represents at ABSOLUT Fringe 2011

The ABSOLUT Fringe festival will run from September 10 to 25 and aims to bring the best in cutting edge theatre, dance, comedy, music and all round spectacle to audiences this year. It’s a lively programme as always and the website is pretty brilliant so if you fancy doing something arty in the capital, it’ll make it easy for you to pick something good to go to.

You know I’m all about supporting local theatre practitioners so if you happen to be in The Big Schmoke on September 14, 17, 22 or 23 make sure you check out Limerick actress, Maeve McGrath, who will perform in Last Year by Gavin Kostick. It will be directed by Liam Halligan.

The plot sounds really interesting. When you grow old who will look after you? Who will mind your parents when you can no longer cope? Told through one woman’s working life in a Limerick Nursing Home where staff witness death and illness on a daily basis and maintain a brave face even in the most difficult circumstances. This is a life story. This is a nursing home story. The original score for Last Year will be composed by Eleanor McEvoy.

Maeve is the Artistic Director of locally-based, Sidhe Theatre Company. She has acted extensively in theatre and television credits include Fair City and Ballykissangel.

It’s A Show in a Bag Production, which is an artist development initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute to resource theatre makers and actors. The play will be on at Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre at 1pm. Tickets are €10. Book online at www.fringefest.com or 1850 FRINGE (1850 374 643).