Review: Eggsistentialism, Belltable Arts Hub 9 September

eggsistentialism-e1468285941215Eggsistentialism, 9 September 2016 Venue: Belltable Arts Hub, Limerick. Written and performed by: Joanne Ryan. Directed by: Veronica Coburn

“To baby or not to baby?” That is the question posed in this brutally honest and exceptionally amusing autobiographical theatre piece.

While suffering from a terrible hangover on her 35th birthday, actress Joanne Ryan begins to ponder one of those big life decisions and her search for an answer leads her to fortune tellers and fertility clinics alike. She mines her experience of family, cross-examines friends, observes parenthood in action and does extensive research with the dedication of a PhD student. The result is equal parts theatre, stand up comedy and multimedia presentation.

The writing is sharp, imbued with personality and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Although having a child is an immensely personal decision, motherhood and its place in Ireland and the world get an airing too. At one stage, the audience gets a speedy account of some key moments in Irish legal, social and popular cultural history in the 20th century. Her life (and egg count) might be under the microscope but introducing political context encourages the audience to think and interrogate along with her. Are women defined according to whether they have children or not? Can you have a fulfilling life and legacy without offspring? Do children make your life hell through a canny combination of sleep deprivation and extra housework, not to mention disfiguring your nether regions? There is a balance between the serious and irreverent.

ahppnbooArt imitating life is to the fore here so the acting was very natural. Ryan is a natural comedienne with a line in self-deprecating delivery. I was in tears from laughter a lot. The actress detailing her results on online parenting quizzes and reading excerpts from dodgy 1980s parenting books are particular highlights. But her jocular stage presence is offset with scenes of real poignancy too. She very occasionally slips into lecture mode, bad egg puns and playing for laughs but those are rare and forgivable. She did well to compete with the continual scene stealing of her mother, Gloria, whose recorded voice and opinions play a great supporting role. Rob, her boyfriend, and other voices pepper the piece too.

The production design was outstanding. Hats off to Pauric Hackett (production manager, set & lighting design), Sinead Diskin (sound design) and Neil O’Driscoll (animation). The animations, using 3D projection, augmented the minimalistic set and made things visually interesting, from online news articles to timelines; the cartoons ensure the play isn’t a complete Vagina Monologue. The voice recordings and music are essential to the piece and again, provide variety to the show. Many aspects of the production are impressive. It was conceived first in Hatch LK (a Limerick theatre incubation project) before being developed further with UK outfit, Theatre Uncut, Fishamble’s New Play Clinic and went from page to stage under director, Veronica Coburn.

As a woman in my early thirties, you could say I’m bang on target audience but judging by the positive reaction of the audience comprised of both men and women of all ages, I wasn’t the only one for whom it resonated. Next stop for the play is the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival (12-17 September) and Smock Alley Theatre and I would heartily recommend going to see it.

It’s difficult to stand up alone and bare your real-life hopes and fears to an audience, especially on such a private and simultaneously public topic. The play is confessional, engaging, thought-provoking and damn funny. Joanne Ryan has given birth to a real bundle of joy in Eggsistentialism.

More information on the play here.BT logo

PS: It was lovely to see a nearly full house at the Belltable again! It’s been a turbulent few years for the venue and now it’s back on track with its autumn/winter programme. For more information, click here.

Review: The Field, Quarry Players, Limerick

I went to see The Field by the Quarry Players on Friday night last, February 10.
John B Keane’s play is a heady mix of comedy, tragedy and incisive social commentary. On its most basic level, it is about a farmer’s desire to own the field he has toiled over for years and secure the livelihood of future generations. An outsider threatens that ambition and ‘Bull’ McCabe responds with terrifying force. Everyone around him is pulled into a maelstrom of fear and harsh truths. What will be left in the aftermath?
It’s a powerful play, not least for the portrayal of hunger for land but also for its depiction of the class divide in 1960s rural Ireland.It is also loosely based on an actual case in the fifties, which shocked the country. Taking on possibly Keane’s most complex play is a bold choice for an amateur company and I think it was obvious that a lot of effort went into it. Director, John A. Murphy’s experience in acting and stagecraft, made for a mostly tight performance.
The set—most of the action taking place in an authentic Flanagan’s Pub—was excellent. This was disguised to great effect for the field and church scenes. The sound and lighting design were also very good. The device of the wireless playing music to establish the era and certain scenes was clever. The striking lighting on the closing scene brought the show to a dramatic close. Credit is due to John Ryan (set); Loren Hartnett (sound) and Jay Kavanagh (lights).
The ensemble was good as a whole but there were a few stand-out performances. Paul McCarthy was convincing as the domineering Bull—important because the entire play hinges on him. The farmer is a frightening, vicious bully but when McCarthy let the façade slip, he showed an equally pitiable figure with a skewed sense of social injustice. Beena Day as Maimie Flanagan was great as well. Her feisty demeanour and strong comic delivery brought the character to life, particularly in the closing scenes. As a mother she has a terrible moral dilemma between protecting her family and doing the right thing. The audience got a real sense of this anguish.
Jaime King as Leamy Flanagan did well portraying the teenager tortured by his conscience and struggling to understand the cruelties of the world. Tim Evans gave an energetic performance as Bird O’Donnell. The other cast members included: Finbarr Stanton, Jim Deery, Mark O’Connor, Maeve O’Donovan, Noel Dillon, Kieran McAteer, Jimmy Leonard, Bernie Doyle and Jon Gibbons.
The Field is a true Irish classic. I think the Quarry Players staged it with sensitivity and enthusiasm.
The Field continues from Wednesday, February 15 at 8pmand will continue nightly until Saturday 18. Tickets are €12/15/17; concessionsavailable. They can be booked on 061-319866 or www.belltable.ie.

Theatre review: Bouncers at the Belltable

The cast of Bouncers by Orchard Theatre
Company, Limerick. Picture: Eva Birdthistle.
I went to see the play, Bouncers, by Orchard Theatre Companyin the Belltable Arts Centre Thursday night (February 2). It was great to see thevenue bustling and the auditorium nearly full, especially for a local company.
Bouncers, by John Godber, isa parody of the nightclub scene with the four doormen playing over 20 partsillustrating the various characters out for a good night at Tropics—the hottestspot in town. These range from the tetchy bouncers to group of girlscelebrating a 21st to a bunch of teenage lads aiming to score. Butwill it be a good night for all?
It’s a brilliant premise fora play and there are plenty of observations about the human condition. The 70minute piece was fast-paced, morphing constantly from one group to another punctuated by interludes like a speech by philosophical bouncer, Lucky Eric, aself referential cry of “social comment!” or a spiel by the cheesy DJ.
The physical comedy was really well choreographed andexecuted. Whether fighting or dancing, the cast tackled it with energy. Thatmomentum is an essential part of Bouncers. Theensemble cast—Stefan Barry, David Collins, Zeb Moore and Pius McGrath—had achallenging task. They approached it with enthusiasm and an admirable shamelessness! The best moments wereprobably when they were playing the giggling young women. You can’t help butlaugh at men in suits portraying tipsy women, provocatively dancing aroundhandbags. The set was simple buteffective, beer barrels doubling up as chairs, bar counters and a DJ booth. Theprops were minimal, like handbags for the ‘ladies’. The lighting design wasvery good, seamlessly creating scenes and settings. There were undoubtedly touches of brilliance.
The actors did their best butthe performance was uneven in parts. The dynamic between the bouncers wasn’t convincing;they’re joking one minute and fighting the next. I felt the script didn’t liveup to the promised hilarity. I didn’t like the glib spoken characterdescriptions, for example, and the rap at the start was awful.  All the characters were stereotyped vignettesand obnoxious ones at that. There wasn’t one redeeming quality among the hardmen, lager louts and ditzy female characters. The humour was fairly low browand obvious, aimed at easy targets. I’m not a prude nor do I have an issue withswearing. But there are only so many smutty jokes and crass observations aboutsex or bodily functions even I can take. On the whole, I found the playmildly amusing with a few laugh out loud moments.
As for social commentary,it’s all been said! We all know nightclubs are full of pissed up people. Sometimes,they make fools of themselves. Without the benefit of beer goggles, bouncers arefully aware and often don’t like what they see. They have to put up witheverything thrown at them while hoping it’ll be abuse and not a glass. Nothingnew there. The attempt to inspire empathy with references to Eric’s maritalbreakdown was too vague to make an impact. The play was first performed in England in the eighties and the play was advertised as beinga “nineties remix”. I didn’t see anything to suggest that with all the Whamsongs and talk about perms but then again, I don’t think it matters too much.
Now, before you get the pitchforks out…Although it was abit too Roy‘Chubby’ Brown-stylefor me, the majority of the audience seemed to be laughing throughout. Bouncers was entertaining in parts but definitely not a play forthe easily offended.
The show is moving on to other venues shortly.
Cork:
CamdenPalace, Feb 9 and 10at 8pm. 
Bookings 086-1086767.Tickets €15 and €12 conc.

Cork Arts Theatre, Carroll’sQuay. Feb 19 at 8pm.
Bookings 021-4505624. Tickets€15 and €12 conc. 

Kerry:

Chapel on the Hill,Kilorglin, Feb 23 and 24 at 8pm.
Bookings 086-1086767. Tickets €10. 

Moll by Newport Drama Group (Jan 27-29)

I had the pleasure of seeing Newport Drama Group performMollby John B Keane Friday night (January 27).

Community halls play host to many things nowadays butunfortunately, amateur drama is becoming a rarer sight.Newporthas a strong tradition of local theatre and the Newport Players were a fixturein the community calendar until several years ago. Judging from the largeattendance, plays have been badly missed in theNorth Tipperarytown.
The play itself—one of the Kerry playwright’s laterdramas—is a lively comedy about life in a rural parochial house and in theseventies. The natural parish order is somewhat challenged when the Canon hiresa new housekeeper, Moll. She quickly makes her mark on the house and thecommunity, much to the distress of the two curates.
The play was well chosen; it got plenty of laughs and wassuitable for all ages. The production values were very high, probably owing tothe experience of producer, Tim McInerney. The set could have rivalled manyprofessional plays.
The acting, all by enthusiastic amateurs, was great allround. Their comic timing was spot on. The trio of priests—Paraic Kennedy,Kieran McCabe and James Collins—interacted well. All their individual quirksshone through; the gullibility of Canon Pratt (Kennedy); the frustration ofFather Brest (McCabe) and the easy, trusting nature of Father Loran (Collins).Mary McCabe, as the conniving Moll, was hilarious. Let’s just say she’s theopposite of meek Mrs. Doyle in Father Ted…although the bumbling priests bearmore than a passing resemblance to the characters in that particular sitcom!The supporting cast of Jimmy Clery, Cathríona O’Brien, Olive Buckeridge andPaul Dunne also made for some very funny moments.
Most impressive of all was the community spirit in theorganisation of the production. It was obvious that a lot of time and effort went intoit from the cast, crew and front of house staff. Hopefully, the rejuvenatedtheatre group will continue for many years to come.
The final night of Moll will be tonight, Sunday January 29. The play is in Newport Community Hall and tickets are €10.