Review: The Plough and the Stars

In the year 1916, the Abbey Theatre’s touring production of iconic play, Kathleen Ní Houlihán by WB Yeats, was staged in Limerick. Abbey Director, Fiach Mac Conghail, highlighted this fact at the opening night of The Plough and the Stars—a play set in that fateful year—on October 30 in Mary I’s new Lime Tree Theatre. I think everyone present was glad that this historic relationship between the national theatre and our city has now been renewed.

While there is perhaps a duty to produce classic plays, there is always a risk of being lazy and formulaic. When the play debuted in 1926, there were riots such was the strength of the reaction. This production of The Plough and the Stars seems to inject some of that fiery energy into the play—making the events of nearly a century ago fresh and vital. Director, Wayne Jordan, put a vibrant stamp on this timeless Irish play.

Transferring the focus of the birth of the nation from the bombed out GPO to a local tenement house must have been considered an unusual move by the playwright. Far removed from the glory of the urban battlefield, the poor struggle on regardless. This microcosm still focused on idealism, sacrifice and helplessness in various ways over the four acts, with politics coming in ebbs and flows throughout. I didn’t expect the amount of humour and music in the play either; that was a pleasant surprise.

Firstly, the set was excellent. It was very detailed; girders marked out the rooms and the scene changes had a great ceremony to them. Coupled with the rich sound, sound design and lighting, the actors marching and moving props etc around were a spectacle in themselves. The use of suspended flags was a lovely touch. The set’s versatility was put to good use with the bar in the pub scene doubling as a podium for the speaker at the army meeting (modeled on Pádraig Pearse), for example. Everything flowed well.

The acting from the ensemble cast was brilliant all round. Jack and Nora Clitheroe (Barry Ward and Kelly Campbell) are at the centre of the play. The couple—once like a pair of cooing doves—are torn apart when Jack rejoins the Irish Citizen Army. He eventually fights in the Easter Rising. He came across as a cold character overall in his anger at and his rejection of Nora; not quite idolised as a fallen hero. Nora’s fragile state of mind deteriorates throughout the play as she tries to make Jack choose between love for her and love for his country. Her hysteria verges on hyperbole but just about manages to be believable. The star-crossed lovers are both pitiable figures by the end.

Most of the other characters live in the tenement house. Nora’s sometimes pompous uncle, Peter (Frankie McCafferty) and Jack’s cousin and ardent socialist, The Young Covey (Laurence Kinlan) liven up proceedings with their comic rivalry. The latter’s politics gives food for thought as well as an insight into the trade union movement at the time too.

I thought Fluther Good (Joe Hanly), a witty and good-natured carpenter, was probably the most memorable character. He injected a lot of lively banter and fun into the play, but still managed a credible performance in the sadder moments. Mrs Burgess’s (Gabrielle Riedy), son is fighting in the Great War and she is opposed to the nationalist uprising. There is a very human side to her though, as she cares for Nora in her confused state at great cost. Gossipy Mrs Gogan (Deirdre Molloy) and her seriously ill daughter, Mollser (Roxanna Nic Liam); prostitute, Rosie (Kate Brennan) and a selection of military men feature too. The sense of community in the slum was admirable.

There were many striking scenes, particularly in the final ones as the suppression of the rebellion brings death and destruction to the residents. The portrayal of both literal and emotional conflict is masterful. There is a sense of chaos and uncertainty by the end and not freedom and hope as the uprising sought to achieve. It may be unflattering and bleak but it is realistic. The interaction of all these things makes The Plough and the Stars a very interesting play.

The Abbey brings quality to any production and it’s great that plays of this calibre are touring, and coming to Limerick. The Lime Tree’s state of the art set-up is ideal for theatre and it has several kiddie’s shows, musicals and pantomimes as well as comedy and music still to come in 2012. It will welcome more groundbreaking theatre in 2013 with DruidMurphy—the legendary Galway company’s take on a trilogy of plays by Tom Murphy.

More info at www.limetreetheatre.ie.

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.