Friday, April 30, 2010

Slowly slowly catchee Abrogate.

Abrogate is it?

Watch him and his big words!
Did you swallow a dictionary for breakfast?

‘Excuse me, if you are, as you seem, as a self-proclaimed advocate of the terse vocabulary; then shouldn’t you be really asking me if ‘I did eat me a word-book for first meal?’.

There is a lot to be said for limited vocabularies; I’ll go further and say that a lot can be said with limited vocabularies. I was looking over the output of the last week ( if you thought writing your own blogs was narcissistic, what do you think of a man who starts reading them all the time?). I was looking at the blog, and thinking about how maybe I could with a bit of trimming. Just a bit of trimming here and there, perhaps a little more concentration on clarity; maybe I could do a few less semi-colons; they pop up in the weirdest places; I’m sure I’m using them wrong; and wouldn’t my writing style also benefit from a small monkey on my shoulder who has been trained to stick a pencil sharply into the side of my head every time I wrote a sentence comprising of more than twelve words?

AK! Akaaack!

One thing I have hummed and hawed to myself over has been vocabulary. You dinnae want to patronise the poor wee ladies and lassies, but you don’t want to present yourself as wishing to appear a teensey weeney bit more intellectual than you are either.
So I thought I’d come clean. It’s like this people, If words were butterflies, (or ‘Flutter bys’ if you want to use their original and descriptive pre-Spoonerist appellation) and if someone who likes to use all the different words they can find, is like a Butterfly-collector, then that’s me.
I’m not a very good Butterfly collector mind you, down at the Butterfly club, I’m a figure of pity and scorn; “It’s true he has some exotic specimens” they tell the new members dismissively, “but his Basic collection has almost as many gaping holes in it as that moth-eaten rag he calls a Butterfly Net! Ho! Ho!” they guffaw, as they slap their thighs, blink back the tears and try to remember whose round it is. Bastards.

I care not a jot. I will see a word flutter by and even though my collection requires it, I wont trap it with a dictionary just yet, I prefer the word to come to me slowly, through repeated settings in its natural environment: context. Those who just brutally pluck words from the air and ram them into the cage of definition upon first sighting I call monsters. True, their collections may be larger than mine, and true, they find no problem securing tickets to the annual Flutterby-Catchers dinner dance, (even though I’ve been told they were completely sold out two weeks ago).
But I will hold strong, I will not adopt their methods. I believe the gentle approach is the only way to capture and understand such delicate creatures. I know that if I see a word only rarely, this may never happen, right now there is a big empty space in my collection where the meaning of ‘abrogate’ should be and I have been meaning to…

Wait! What’s this coming out of the ethereal mists? Is it the lesser-spotted ‘abrogate’ in context?
I believe it is.

From Cormac McCarthys Blood Meridian:
Someone snatched the old woman’s
blindfold from her and she and the juggler
were clouted away and when the company
turned in to sleep and the low fire was roaring
in the blast like a thing alive these four yet
crouched at the edge of the firelight among
their strange chattels and watched how the
ragged flames fled down the wind as if sucked
by some maelstrom out there in the void
some vortex in that waste apposite to which
man's transit and his reckonings alike lay

Hmmmnn well maybe not today but soon ‘abrogate’, soon ; I almost have you; one more sighting in context should do it, I hope it wont be too long.

AK! Akaaack!

This monkey's gotta go.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hidin' in the jacks.

Toms again last night but you don’t wanna hear about that so, a few thoughts:

There’s a thing in the thayture, if you go to the thayture oftentimes. Oftentimes in the thayture they have what is called ‘an after-show discussion’. I’ve been to plenty, taken part in a couple, and sometimes even enjoyed them a bit more than the play. But on principle, I’m agin ‘em. I’m completely agin ‘em. I’d go so far as to say the damn things are immoral. I thought I’d explain me point of view.

On the face of it, an after-show discussion seems like the least immoral act possible.The people talk directly to the actors/author/director whoever, and find out what they think. They’re not for everyone, but they’re entirely voluntary events, a way of making a night ‘special’. Almost like a DVD commentary of the stage. What sort of twisted attitude dismisses such a harmless, audience-friendly and democratic event as ‘immoral’?
Well I’ll tell you what sort of twisted attitude dismisses them as immoral: the twisted attitude I have (and as somebody I know from Finland who is intelligent and perceptive and totally unconnected with theatre came independently to the same conclusion; I cant be completely mad).

I’ve tried to explain in the past why I think that they’re a bad idea but people judge your attitude from your position. If a person is reluctant to take part in ‘an after show discussion’, and they are one of the actors, then it’s fairly natural to presume that it is because they are an actor that they don’t want to do it.
As an ‘Actore’, maybe they’ve had enough of the audience by that stage, they could be plain tired, or maybe they are quite shy and reserved people when they’re not acting (some really are).
As an ‘Actore’, maybe they’re worried people will be critical, and that some articulate critic will point out the shortcomings of their performance in public.
As an ‘Actore’, maybe they’re just snobbish and want to maintain their distance from the crowd; maybe they believe that something of the ‘magic’ of ‘showbiz’ is being whittled away by this vulgar democratic trend where every plebs opinion is considered important.

That’s what people think of your objections as an ‘Actore’. And the same can be said of the ‘Playwright’ position, only it’s presumed; if you refuse to do one these things, that as a Playwright you must be gone so far up your own arse that you think that everything you do is so great and perfect that you’re already to good to learn anything from feedback. That’s what they think. I’ve seen ‘em. I’ve seen it in their eyes. They accept a ‘no’ but they don’t respect your decision. Oh no. ‘Up his own arse’ they say to themselves. I’ve heard ‘em.

People judge you by your position, so now that I’m not in a play and nobody wants me to do one of these things; I thought I’d outline my point of view. It’s not an excuse, this is something I just really feel in my heart and soul is just wrong.
The problem is in the situation. The problem is the unique environment it takes place in, and the assumptions behind it.
Here we have a veritable feast of incorrect notions that prop up ‘the after show discussion’ as a good and democratic thing. I call it ‘the feast of the Assumptions’:

#Assumption one:
Because the people have stopped clapping and are ready to leave;
the play is ‘over’.

This is only ever true from the point of view of the Actors at this time. To the audience member, a play is a raw and new experience. To analyse any experience we have had, in a meaningful way, we need the opportunity for reflection. Immediately after the play is way too soon.

#Assumption two:
People will be honest.

Yeah right. With all the actors, and maybe the writer too, right there in front of them. Some hope. I’ve tried to be honest myself in these situations, if you have any empathy at all to other human beings, it’s practically impossible.

#Assumption three:
There will be useful insights gained over time by the people involved in making it. Insights that can only be gained from going through the process; these insights will be of interest to the audience and help explain the work.

No lads. If you need to explain something afterwards then it wasn’t in the play. I know that it’s true that people are happier to leave the theatre not feeling bewildered, confused or cheated, and that an after-show discussion can help ameliorate these feelings. But that don’t make it right. If the people might go home happier, feeling: ‘Its’ not so bad after all’ or ‘I get it now’. Then their sense of the play has been warped. It is bad, you didn’t get it. Right first time. If the Actors and director didn’t express whatever useful insights they might have discovered in the performance then they failed.

#Assumption four:
There will be useful insights that occur to the outsider, but would never be noticed by someone so ‘close to the work’ as the creators.

This happens, in fact this always happens, and without it’s regular occurrence the whole gig would lose it’s magic. It’s one of the reasons why you never really know what the play even is until you put it on. But plays are designed for audiences to enjoy not for particularly perceptive individuals to find flaws in. If the insight is something that no-one else got, then in terms of an audience led experience, which is what a play is; it didn’t happen. Or it happened for one, and that’s nice but it doesn’t make that persons reaction more valid than the reaction of the person who didn’t notice it.

#Assumption five:
If the after-show discussion is properly managed, everyone will have an equal ‘voice.’

No they wont. People aren’t like that, from focus-groups to juries, any analysis shows that some people are just more persuasive than others and actively try to direct the opinions of those around them. Some people, perhaps without point, insight, interest or any other desire but the wish to be perceived as ‘articulate’, will ‘hog the air’ either re-iterating points that have gone before, or taking positions of opposition for the sake of it. Anyone who has ever been in an office meeting knows how a managed discussion can truly bring out the worst in some people.

Assumption six:
Because the play is over, people have made up their own minds.

This is where I find the after-show discussion ‘immoral’. The fact is, if we ignore Assumption#1 and really look at things; there hasn’t been enough time. If someone has a sense of the play, good or bad or otherwise, and then immediately afterwards they are placed in a situation of discussion, the way that discussion goes and whatever consensus is achieved, will colour their perception of their own experience for evermore.
We all like to think of ourselves as individuals with our own opinions, but a group of people who have been behaving like an audience already for an hour or so are more cohesive and easier to sway than a group the same size in off the street. In such an environment, it takes a strong will indeed to hold an alternative point of view and retain it. Basically, it’s immoral because instead of provoking thought and introspection, which is theatre’s noblest aim, the ‘after-show discussion’ promotes blind consensus in a manner not unlike the various group-managing techniques used by minor religions and that we usually call ‘brain-washing’.

As a maker of shows, you already have music, dialogue, emotion and story to manipulate peoples feelings with. That should be enough. If you want to overhear an honest and immediate response to your work, I personally recommend that you hide in one of the toilet cubicles at the end of the show and eavesdrop on whoever needed a slash towards the end. They’ll be honest about it. You mightn’t like what they have to say, but they’ll be honest.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Filmy filmers everywhere!

But what a lot of busy filmy filmers Limerick has been producing of late! Stef has his ‘Psychic Gangsters’ and there was a film commissioned by the Belltable shown on Wednesday and tonight was the first L.I.T. film festival awards. Limerick already hosts a pretty cool and prestigious event for the wee filmy filmers: The Fresh Film Festival. But Simon (firewire) McGuire,(that's his head above, an asset to Limerick if ever there was one,) has organised a separate event to cater for all the media-making adults. Mr McGuire’s event provides a platform for media manipulating students of the Art college, Mary I, UL, and L.I.T, as well as anyone else who wants to have a go, to put their stuff out. Basically, to ‘run it up a flagpole and see if anyone salutes it’. Getting most of the salutes tonight was a vampire movie set in rural Ireland: ‘Nos na ratu,’ which pretty much swept the boards. The clips of it shown weren’t all that engaging, but whaddya know from clips? I’ll put the full results down the end of this rant, soon as I get'em, but first a little about the event itself.
It was technically ambitious, and had a real Oscars feel about it. Sadly, the crowd in the room didn’t seem large enough to justify all this effort, which made parts of the presentation feel over the top. When the production values are big and the audience small, this is perhaps unavoidable, but combined with some technical problems at the start, I couldn’t help but feel that a little simpler and humbler may have been a little bit slicker. Once it started moving, it moved well. The MC was great, and the speeches brief and to the point. For comedy relief there was Limerick uncovered’s Concy Ryan, with his inspirational ‘All this and I’m still on the scratch’ speech.
As for the awards, I’m really in no position to comment because I had thought I was going to see the winning films and not to see the awards ceremony. I was wrong, they showed them during the day so I missed all of the films. Judging by clips wouldn’t be fair so I’ll list the winners and say no more about it, save this:
(Firewire) McGuire’s idea, like all the best ideas, is obvious when you think about it.
As an event, it was ambitious and if it was overly so that’s because it is the festival’s first year, and it hasn’t even figured out what it is yet. The whole evening was in essence a type of rehearsal for the bigger and better event it intends to become. I really hope it does. It’s good for Limerick, it’s good for creativity, and it’s good for life. I recommend if you have a project, then enter it, and if you don’t, then an event like this is exactly the reason to start thinking about one.
From an application process involving forty; the winners were judged from a short list of sixteen as follows:

Name followed byGenre:

Alone in Survival Drama
Books Vs Ebooks Factual
Bottom Dog Factual
Broke Drama
Diva Next Door Factual
Get Even Drama
It Never Happened Arthouse
Latent Adj, Hidden… Arthouse
Nos Na Feratu Drama
Northside Learning hub Factual
Permission to Remain Arthouse
Sola Scriptura Drama
Soul Waves Factual
Sweet Dreams Arthouse
The Eco Village Factual
The Goodbye Bed Arthouse

Psychic Gangsters by any other name

Well I’ve missed ‘Psychic Gangsters’ and I could have made it to the viewing and I like the director (Stef) so I have to ask meself: ‘why didn’t I go?’ ‘What’s wrong with me?’ and the answer is the simple glib truth;’ I don’t know’.
Upon reflection, it must be the name. ‘Psychic gangsters’ is a very cool name, and yet I hate it. It’s cool because it’s two ‘cool’ words that you never see together.
I just think both of those words shouldn’t be cool when they stand for crap things.

Lets just look at it for a minute.
It may sound a bit prissy but it’s no harm to think for a moment about what gangsters are:
The sort of people who would, if they could, get you into debt on purpose so that they would be in a position to put your sister on the game and live off the proceeds are what we call gangsters. The sort of people, who by a process of systematic violence and intimidation, turn the culture of a community into that of a prison, (where the only way to survive is to keep your mouth shut and keep your head down’) are gangsters. There really is nothing cool about that, kids. Robert deNiro, Al Pacino and James Gandolfini are cool because they’re really good actors and they play well-written characters; from their performances, we inevitably get a sense that gangsters are interesting people. Some of them may be, but frankly I doubt it.
The gangster world, like the wild west world is an interesting place to set stories, but the interesting, intelligent, morally conflicted gangster that these stories usually centre around doesn’t exist. That’s not the sort person who is attracted to this profession.
The truth is, that because they are rarely that bright and they are surrounded by people who fear them, real gangsters have an inflated sense of their own importance that would be comical if everyone wasn’t too afraid to laugh at them. Real gangsters are a very far cry from Tony Soprano and a lot more like the character Ricky Gervais plays in ‘The Office’. The violence that is an integral part of their trade is the only thing that anyone could be interested in. They’re a bunch of violent asshole parasites with a childishly selfish sense of responsibility and I’m certainly glad I don’t have any in my life.

The only violence that ‘Psychics’ do on the other hand, is the violence they do to the truth. A psychic must feel a certain occasional sense of self-loathing. They are in constant contact with desperate people looking for answers; answers, which they are incapable of providing. I suppose if a Psychic can be said to be anything it’s a ‘human placebo’. It must be embarrassing to be a placebo. When you meet with actual medicines, which have a real physiological effect, you probably feel like a bit of a phoney. Maybe this is what makes them a far politer form of parasite. I like politeness, so give me a ‘psychic’ over a ‘gangster’ any day. But really, wouldn’t it be a much better world without either criminals or con-artists?

Yeah. Must have been the name. Sorry Stef.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tom Collins Monday night sesh.

I’m a firm believer of the maxim that 'you don’t have to say much to say what you mean'. As an illustration of how a single pen-stroke can speak volumes,-on the wall, behind the bar in Tom Collins, a newspaper headline has been cut out and placed for everyone to see. It says; ‘There’s nothing like a good sing-song to give society back its’ voice’ and someone, (either a member of staff or a long-armed patron,) has underlined the word ‘good’.
Just one stroke of the pen is all it took and high praise becomes brutal criticism.
As an act of expression, I think it’s genius, but considering all the sing-songs and all the people who’ve taken part over the years in Tom Collins, I think it’s a bit unfair. After all, we cant know from this review which night, which singer, which month, which year is addressed with such a bitter response, unless they mean all of them, and if they do, well as I said; it’s unfair.

Unfair? Unfair you say? This from the same man who has spent almost the past week praising/knocking stuff on th’interweb and without the economy and brilliance of that mystery underliner might I add! Unfair? Is there no end to the man’s hypocrisy!

I’m not being a hypocrite.

You’re not? - Well how come your head has just split up into two separate voices?
Is that not proof positive, if any were needed, that what were dealing with here is a two-faced double thinking, equivocating hypocrite!

No that’s just a rhetorical device.

You’d like to think that wouldn’t you! You pensioned-off puddle-of-penguin-piss! Well riddle me this, Socrates; if it’s just ‘a rhetorical debate’ why is one of the voices so aggressive and making all these personal comments, eh? What about that? - You suet-selling, toupee wearing wankshaft! Can’t answer that one, can you?

It is the bloggers...

You festering baboon!

Oh be quiet.
It is the blogger’s fantasy that everybody in the world is secretly reading their pronouncements and admiring their opinions, which (in the blog wet-dream) are so accurate and well expressed that people everywhere have no option but to slavishly adopt them as their own. If it is the reality that their true audience is about five people, and four of those read no further than a headline: ‘What’s he on about today?’ (click to:) ‘Oh Tom Collins’ (click away:) that’s not how the blogger thinks of it, oh no. In the bloggers mind, world leaders pause before every major decision and think, ‘ That blogger was dead right about this thing, I’m so glad I read it. Really helped clarify my thoughts, also I must pop into Toms when this summits over’.
It might be fantasy to imagine a million readers but I think it’s a helpful one when it comes to writing responsibly. It’s not enough to underline the word ‘good’ and leave it at that. I got the advice earlier on in the week to always praise and never niggle; after all there are enough begrudgers in the world and if you sincerely wish to promote an event or individual, surely you should describe them well and leave out the bad bits?
I wont be following this advice. The way I see it, I have an obligation to my millions of fantasy readers to say what’s good about things I didn’t like, and to say what’s less than perfect about the things I loved.
True objectivity is impossible of course, and no one should pretend to have attained it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t something worth striving towards. So, back to Toms;
I couldn’t be objective about the music in Toms because even if I’m not playing or singing myself, my heart is with whoever is. To niggle with a performance in Toms would not only be a pointless crime but I would also risk alienating my own pals so
It’s been quite a challenge to think what to say about Toms, or how to say something that tries it’s best to be objective. I did think of reviewing the audience, but that didn’t work. So finally I came up with this:

The session in Toms is completely random. It is organic and unpredictable by nature and that’s what makes it so great. On the other hand, that’s also what makes it unreliable in terms of quality. The recession, aggressive poaching by a rival bar, and whatever natural cycle these things work by; has meant less customers and musicians of late, a situation that has drained it a little of its pep. This quieter session is preferred by some, and in terms of music, it probably is an improved environment to perform in, but I don’t prefer it. I like the pub to be full of noise and craic and people. Monday had a good vibe, it was neither sedate nor raucous and wont go down in history as the ultimate Toms session of all time, but there was a good mix of musicians, (three really good ones, augmented by a few enthusiastic if technically limited ones) and a happy crowd. The End.

Notice how easy it is to lose your balls when you’re talking about people you know.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Batty Ryan; Life-Coach champion of the world!

I like Joe Rooney. I like his head. I saw him do stand up years ago in the Theatre Royal, (he was the support act for Ardal O’Hanlon), and I was very impressed; while Ardal O’Hanlon struggled with a less-than respectful crowd, (he was practically bullied into singing ’my lovely horse’) Joe, the support,- with less experience and less polished material, handled the situation better, or that’s the way I remember it.
Maybe I just like to think well of Joe because he has a great oul’ head and because he was so brilliant and unforgettable as the gurrier priest, Father Damo. As well as a great head, I also think Joe Rooney has a great name. It sounds like Dublin slang for university;
‘How’s the philosophy doctorate workin’ out for you Anto?’
‘It’s working out deadly!’
‘Ah yeah man, I got a gig teachin’ semantics over at the Joe Rooney’.
‘Noice waaannnn!’

So it was with the happy prospect of seein’ Joe’s head that I set off Sunday night to the Loft Venue to check out the Joe show; ‘Batty Ryan will change your life’.
Sunday night was a weird night for the show, there didn’t seem to be anyone there at Eight O’ Clock, and I was a bit worried for Joe and the Bot-dogs. As it turned out everyone was in the bar, and the place was, if not packed, certainly quite busy. I had to sit at the back. Incidentally, in the earlier review of ‘Language’ I said the seats were mostly wooden and loose. This is not so. The first four rows are the loose chairs, all the rest are these lovely armchair purpose-built things. My bad.
So sitting in my lovely comfy seat, (great sight-lines too), I did have some reservations. I knew in advance that there was a pre-recorded video element to the play, which is a pet peeve. It’s one of those things, like rhubarb, that I know other people like, but cant for the life of me understand why. Rhubarb isn’t food as far as I’m concerned, and film isn’t a live show. There are others who would tell you otherwise and they are many and I am one and I’m probably mad I know but still.
It is my personal experience that whenever the pre-recorded enters into the live, the spell is broken and it’s hard to get back into things again. As well as the video problem there was the problem of the subject matter; I’ve never attended one of these seminar things so I was a little worried that I wouldn’t have a frame of reference for the jokes. I needn’t have worried; it was gas. It was gas and it was brave and it worked. I do have niggles, but minor niggles is all they are and whatever I feel didn’t work, the main thing is I had a great night and haven’t laughed so much in ages.

Okay then:
Niggle #1
(which is a small niggle indeed,) Batty’s polish girlfriend was polish, but she sang about waiting for a permit. A polish person wouldn’t need one so that bit made no sense.
Niggle #2
There were some ‘missed technical cues’ built-in in to the script for comedy value, but on Sunday night there was some actual missed technical cues as well, which became confusing and undermined them as a device.
The video bits. They weren’t a complete bowl of rhubarb, but the voice over that isn’t Batty’s is a ‘mock-dumb-yank spongebob Patrick’ voice that’s entirely unnecessary. The voice of the life-coach video should be played straight. What it says is funny, but a lot less so when said in a ‘funny’ voice. Also, I wasn’t sure when to watch the video and when to watch the actors. The juxtaposition of both is the whole joke but you don’t get it if you can only watch one thing at a time.
The targets it attacks are easy targets, and it doesn’t let up on them. Batty’s ultimately a shallow and materialistic caricature, and so’s his girlfriend. But I thought that his pain after their break-up and her anger at his treatment of him might both benefit from being played that little bit straighter. It could actually be funnier and it would mean that the audience could sympathise with them a little which is what they want to do after a while.
The improvisation with the crowd was brilliant, but the improvisation between each other just came across as a wee bit sloppy. It’s brave to try different things and explore the play but a few tighter parameters about when, and when not, to do this would help the whole thing retain its momentum.
If you’re going to have a gag about going off-key at the end of a song then it helps if you’re actually in key when singing it. Sing it in key up until that point or else lose the gag.
It’s a cheap and easy trick to build a standing ovation into the script of a play. As audience members, the power to applaud for as long as we feel like it and no further is our right. Also one of our rights is the right to sit down or stand up when we clap at the end of the show. This right was taken from us by the mechanics of the play. And the worse of it is, I felt like standing up to show my appreciation, but I couldn’t. I was already standing.

The brighter side of my experience tonight shall be under the heading Giggles:

Joe Rooney’s ‘Freddie Mercury’ impersonation, (with a little bit of Ken Dodd thrown in). I will take with me to the grave.
I was right about Joe Rooney’s head, the man has a great head. His experience with stand-up really showed. There were bumps in the show, as mentioned above and bumps might sound dreadful and might well have been dreadful but for Joe’s ability and presence, he recovers extremely quickly and he takes everyone with him.
Sharyn Hayden is excellent, well-observed and spot on in her delivery and doesn’t need lines to be hilarious.
The show is so high-octane that you feel a sense of exhaustion must creep into the performance at some stage, and though there is an inevitable loss of focus with improvisation, there was never a dip in energy.
Audience interaction. There were one or two ‘victims’ who got a little extra rubbing but overall the sense was that the entire audience was taken the piss out of now and then and nobody was singled out and bullied mercilessly for the night.
It’s a great idea and it works so well. It’s billed as pure comedy, and it’s played as pure comedy, but it manages highlight the very worst about modern Irish society at the same time.

So it’s true what they say; ‘there’s no show like a Joe show’ and although it’s even more true to say; ‘there’s no show like a Joe and Sharyn show’ that doesn’t sound half as good, and is unlikely to catch on. Following Batty’s advice I’m off to live my life; I’m going to ‘make this day count’ and no longer ‘count the days’ and when the Recession comes knocking on the door, I wont answer!( I shall be inside on the sitting room floor, hiding behind the sofa of success!)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lofty aspirations

On Friday night I went to see Myles Breen’s one-man show ‘Language unbecoming a lady’.

It was my second time seeing the show, and my first view of the new ‘Loft Venue’ upstairs in The Locke Bar. ‘The Loft’ is a great spot and no small amount of credit is due to the ‘Bottom Dog’ folk for carrying out the tremendous amount of work required to change a good idea into an impressive reality. The Loft isn’t big, it’s not perfectly soundproof and it’s seating comprises mainly of loose, (if surprisingly comfortable), wooden chairs. In comparison to a purpose built theatre, it has its’ limitations; but it has its’ advantages too.
Presentation will always be a big part of showbiz, and this aspect of the venue is completely flawless. From the illuminated posters on street level, to the sign on the door, to the black uniform and logo bearing nametags worn by the front-of-house staff, everything about the look and feel of it said ‘professional’.

Although compact, (seats about 50), for Bottom Dog’s purposes, the size is ideal. It’s intimate without being poky and the practical demands of a smaller venue, (i.e. that shows must run longer to accommodate an audience that would fit into another venue on a single night) can only improve the quality, as individual shows have an opportunity to generate a momentum on their own merit, and theatre’s ultimate marketing tool; ‘word-of-mouth’ gets a chance to create, or negate, interest.

Evidence of this democratic marketing tool in action can be found in the history of ‘Language Unbecoming a Lady’. Conceived originally as a small and unambitious contribution to the Limerick gay pride festival, ‘Language’ found an audience by ‘word-of –mouth’ that crossed the boundaries of young/old, local/national, gay or straight and was comprised instead of people who want to see a good show, well-written and performed to perfection by an experienced and talented actor.
Myles wrote it for himself to play and its’ so well tailored to his strengths that it is impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. As one might expect in a play about a drag queen, there are is a bit of singing to old records, dancing to disco, and plenty of the ‘trade-mark’ gay-man-double-entendres. What is unexpected is how masterfully the script weaves these clichéd conventions into a real and accessible human story that swings with all the emotion of a manic depressive and still manages to take us with it every time. That’s not an easy thing to achieve; Liam O’Brien has directed a fine balance between humour and pathos and there is more than one scene that, in the hands of the less experienced team, would easily have become melodramatic or over-sentimental. ‘Language’ gets the mix right and manages to make it look effortless.
It’s a fact of life that there are people who wont like the sound of the subject matter or feel that it’s not the sort of play they’d like to see; perhaps presuming they’d find it difficult to relate to the main character. When I first attended this play I thought it was going to be about homosexuality, and it is, in a way. It certainly deals with it, but its’ strength is in the way that it deals with it as a fact rather than an issue. The core of the story is essentially the private world of an Irish male, living his life and coming to terms with the changes in himself and the world around him. Perhaps it’s not one for the kiddies but you can bring your sweet conservative catholic mum, and you mightn’t think it, but she’ll love it.

The play continues until the first of May, if you go and see it you will be supporting a brave new project that can mean only good things for Limerick, and if you don’t go and see it, you’ll miss one of the best shows in town this year.

All pics 'stolen without so much as a by-your-leave' from Bock the robber. Check out his images if you want to see how lovely the Loft Venue is.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Beyond the Roundabout

‘Beyond the Roundabout’ is a laudable concept; as a response to the biggest event in this city in living memory, the Belltable (with the support of the Arts Council) have commissioned independent film-maker,Nicky Larkin, to engage with the regeneration of certain parts of the city over an eight month period.
I went to see the film on Wednesday night.
I had a personal interest because I had met with the affable Mr Larkin a number of times when he was filming, usually in my neighbour’s house in Weston gardens. The night of the screening the same neighbour was standing outside the Belltable distributing leaflets that explained his decision to have his name and his input removed from the film. He had been ejected from the Belltable before I arrived, on the grounds that he was prejudicing the opinions of the audience before they had even seen the film, which was a fair point; he had certainly coloured my expectations. From his reaction to the preview, I had imagined a one-sided uncritical vindication of the Regeneration Project.

I was surprised.

Mr Larkin’s film is not a documentary with bias, nor is it an even-handed documentary. It is not a documentary at all, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It is a collage of well-composed and often poignant imagery that proceeds at a deliberately measured pace, giving the audience plenty of time to think about what they are seeing. A technique that was, certainly in the beginning, extremely effective.

For those of us who live alongside the decay and devastation of some of these areas it can become easy to ‘block it out’ after a while and not really see it anymore. Sitting in a darkened room and sharing the collective horror and disgust brought it all back. Mr Larkin’s portrayal of sheer ugliness was unflinching, and was done well.

Unfortunately for a film of 45 minutes length, he didn’t portray anything else. His use of black space, silence, and half-heard echoes, which gave the film a disconnected dream-like quality in the beginning, became simply annoying after a while. The (unidentified) voice of Brendan Kenny is heard passionlessly defending himself against accusations that nobody makes. The Residents, when they appear, are nervous, and the combination of nerves, strong accents and poor sound quality make them incomprehensible. Also, while what we do see of the Regeneration areas is beautifully shot, we don’t see very much of them. Mr Larkin was economical enough to use the same burnt-out house at least five different times in long-lingering shots from different angles. This may have been deliberate, but combined with the black spaces and poor quality sound, it just came across as lazy.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking of all was his depiction of children as gangland gargoyles, either literally voiceless, with the soundtrack removed or “scobing it up” for the camera; singing rap-songs about stabbing and ‘giving the finger’.

It is very hard to know what, if anything is meant by any of this, and it can be argued that as a piece of Art,- Mr Larkin’s film doesn’t have to mean anything at all. But if this is the case, why include the voices of Mr Kenny and the residents discussing Regeneration? Mr Larkin’s talent and concern is clearly imagery; the inclusion of unidentified opinions and musings seem totally unnecessary to his film as Art and feel more like an attempt to pay literal lip-service to the films stated objective.
Aesthetically, it undermines the experience and confuses the audience as brains search desperately for a connection between the images and soundtrack, before finally giving up in frustration.
The Aspirations of the Belltable and the Arts council in commissioning this work remain laudable, so it is doubly tragic that so much time, money, labour, and good intentions on what amounts to a visual cliché of gangland limerick that illustrates very little except perhaps Mr Larkin’s skill as a photographer and his limitations as an editor.