Limerick Unfringed Performance Festival

Dee Burke and Dave O'Sullivan in anu Productions' 'Memory Deleted'. Photo: Owen Boss

Dee Burke and Dave O'Sullivan in anu Productions' 'Memory Deleted'. Photo: Owen Boss

Cathy Walsh in Anu Productions' 'Memory Deleted'. Photo: Owen Boss

Cathy Walsh in Anu Productions' 'Memory Deleted'. Photo: Owen Boss

Memory Deleted presented by Anu Productions
Directed by Louise Lowe
Designed by Sarah Jane Shiels
With: Deirdre Burke, Dave O’Sullivan, Niamh Shaw, Brenda Meaney, Stephen Murray, Robbie O’Connor, Zara Starr, Cathy Walsh, Annette Treacey and Roisin Connelly
Boutique Hotel, Denmark Street, Limerick
Reviewed 28th January

Imagine any sojourn you’ve had in a hotel and imagine if the lamps and walls could talk and tell you of the previous occupants’ stay. At this years’ Limerick Unfringed, the audience was offered a fly-on-the-wall opportunity to observe the weekend guests at the Boutique Hotel in Anu Productions’ site specific, specially commissioned work for the festival. This atmospheric, tension filled piece unfolds throughout the bedrooms, bathrooms and storage areas on the second floor of the hotel. The audience wanders through the rooms and tries to make sense of what they are seeing. In this reviewer’s case, the first room entered was the scent filled room of a girl in a light robe and suspenders, performing erotic dance; then a closet with an assemblage of ancient and new style luggage and onto an awkward surveying of a chaotic chamber strewn with the colourful paraphernalia of babyhood where a mother tends to a young child.

The central focus of the production takes you to the room of a couple who initially communicate through expressive dance in a weave of passionate tumbling, twisting and caressing. A not too large double room with lounge area hosting a cast of eight and an audience of ten or so might seem too tidy a space for this entire goings on. And yet somehow the space is managed adeptly as our protagonists gracefully respond to the atmosphere and architecture of a typical nicely upmarket hotel room. The mood is set with lamp lighting, music from a stereo, dance and movement and it takes a while before any dialogue begins and even when it does, it is sparse. As the couple canoodle on a couch in choreographic sensual communion, a chambermaid sits on a chair, cups her face in her hands, makes varied bored gestures interspersed with burst of energetic dancing. There’s someone else making noise in the en-suite. The principal protagonists react and respond to each other in the space juxtaposed against flash back scenes of other guests and the hotel staff responding in different ways to their situations. The vibe of the setting creates a sense of imminent human pain and before a syllable is spoken the small audience is drawn into anticipation and a kind of ceremonial circle emerges; the cast providing one half and the audience providing the other. The energy between is intense; the small audience might be invisible voyeurs sitting on ringside seats. And that is exactly what we feel like. We are not performed to. Rather we behave like peepers drawn into the development of a plot about a man and a woman desperately trying to make a relationship work against the backdrop of the male’s entanglement with his dead wife. Her ghost played by Niamh Shaw constantly haunts the husband (Dave O’Sullivan) and glimpses of other lives in the hotel are revealed, sometimes in alternate performance and at others simultaneously. This device requires the audience to divide attention or ignore a scene, much as an eavesdropper in a cafe might do when trying to listen to two different conversations. Louise Lowe’s direction and the subtle but gently energetic performances from Sullivan, Shaw and Brenda Meaney who plays the grieving man’s girlfriend are strong enough to create an evocative moving story through the heart of love, pain and loss.

The effectiveness of gestural communication and movement is manifestly exploited by the performers in multiple aspects of intimate behaviour that human beings deposit only when alone or in the company of people they are totally at ease with; the picking of one’s own toenail, restless bored breathing and sighing, a man stroking and playing with his lover’s toes, sideway’s looks, pain filled facial contortions; attempts to utter sentences that end in wordless frustrations.

A hotel is host to multiple human interactions of theatrical proportions and Anu Productions have created in Memory Deleted a memorably lingering insight into the lives of passing inhabitants and the staff that clean up after them. The collective vision of designer and director is beautifully realised in a performance where installation, dance and music blur into a composite blend of revealing human endeavour and emotion.

Beast presented by Bookshelf
Written and directed by Elena Bolster
Set and Costume Design: Elena Bolster
Lighting Design: Eoin Kelly
With: David Heap and Hannah Scott
Belltable offsite space at 36 Cecil Street, Limerick
Reviewed 29th January

The Irish premiere of Bookshelf’s Beast by Elena Bolster was to be a much anticipated event at this year’s festival after a very successful run in Edinburgh last autumn. Part poem, part drama, it tells the story of an ageing artist and his muse, a prostitute. Performed mostly in alternate monologues by the artist Egon (David Heap) and muse Valie (Hannah Scott) and interspersed with scenes on a background whirring screen of nautical life that inspires the artist. Bolster’s writing shares rich lyrical poetic language with strong direct provocative dialogue to which the actors respond wonderfully, each delivering their own unique signature on a doomed affair, that began as a lusty trick and survives for most of the reasons that long liaisons endure; a mixture of love and hate, need and want and comfortable familiarity in the face of despair and loneliness. Heap’s performance is an all round inhabitation of his character as an elegantly shabby and lustfull man trying to make sense of what conventional couples might barely give thought to. Though cynical, he is vulnerable. Valie is more knowing, more direct and played by Scott in a winking, teasing playful sort of way. Egon tells it as he struggles to understand it. Valie tells it as it is. Where the artist prevaricates she cuts to the chase but ultimately what Bolster’s script depicts is that the similarities between the odd couple outweigh the differences. Directed by Bolster on a simple set with two microphones, sometimes used by the actors as they turn their backs to the audience (but superfluous device to the play) and the Super8 background screen, audiences need little else to appreciate the elaborately poetic language of love and lust that both actors deliver with passionate engagement in their roles.

Spinal Krapp
Written, directed and presented by Darren Marr
Set Design: Celene Natasha Murphy
Lighting Design: Kevin O’Malley
With: Zeb Moore
Belltable offsite space at 36 Cecil Street, Limerick
Reviewed 29th January

Spinal Krapp by Dublin born and Limerick adopted playwright Darren Marr is described as a stand up tragedy and this is an apt description. Actor Zeb Moore sits on a chair on a bare stage, beside him on a stool a small lethal looking iron bar. In a comedic opening Moore warns us that we are watching an actor acting. He was brought up in an over crowded house in an over crowded Dublin working class estate, in a time when there was no "interwebbery" and landlines were not called landlines. Wallpaper was the norm decor but in their house it was not the posh kind with the velvety plush. Parenting in his household was of the tea and cigarettes variety and whoever "tornd" the wallpaper was in for a fair beating. Whenever love is demonstrated the young boy thinks, "tomorrow you will be sober and this feeling will be over." As a child he had an easily bleeding nose and this was an advantage because violence could be seen to be done easily. The iron bar represents the weapon that beat a twelve and a half year old boy to within an inch of his life. This boy grew up to be "an inarticulate bundle of emotion," but understanding that bullies were made. He tells us that, "the things he did to me, somebody probably did to him. Is that not how monsters are made?"

Marr’s monologue is crammed with references to eighties’ popular culture and music. Moore’s task is big; he has to deliver the cruelty of his character’s story, break into schizoid frenetic lapses, alternate between pathos and humour and sing lines of among other popular eighties songs Zz Top’s 'She’s Got Legs'. Keeping track with this tragic story and the momentous comic episodes and all the cultural references is a bit of a challenge for a lunchtime audience at the Belltable’s off-site space on Cecil Street. But so too is such an assaulting and brutal fifty minute monologue difficult to impart with all its nuances of character and reference. But Moore is up to the job. In a multidimensional performance he delivers the textural essence of a character in conflict hiding behind good stories, maybe real or maybe fabricated that serve to divert from the reality of who he is or what he has become. The writing is clever. It’s a story that makes you laugh and leaves you sad. And if you grew up in the eighties, your sense of the decade is fully reignited.

Breda Shannon is a freelance writer and contributor of book reviews to The Irish Examiner

  • Review
  • Theatre

Limerick Unfringed Performance Festival by Various

27 - 31 January, 2010

Produced by Various
In Belltable Arts Centre

Other productions at the Limerick Unfringed Performance Festival 2010 included:

Cirque de L├ęgume, Winner of Bewley’s Theatre Award - Dublin Fringe Festival 2009
Rolling by Daghdha Dance Company present
Cleaner by Asylum Productions