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June 29, 2016

Support your local Shakespeare

There was a rumble in the media lately about theatre-goers not minding their manners. There were letters in the national press giving out about noisy punters who spoiled the theatre experience for others by clinking glasses, rattling ice and, of course, failing to turn off those ubiquitous mobile phones. Most of the comment was generated as a result of a production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Eugene O’Neill that ended a two-week run in the Gaiety on 13 October.
Not only did the noisy punters come in for criticism– so too did the Gaiety itself. Many felt that they should change their policy of allowing drinks into the auditorium and there were complaints too about the noises from the foyer permeating into the auditorium during the performance.

Others complained about bare bulbs at the back of the theatre that were lit throughout the performance, causing distraction and general discomfort for the audience members unfortunate enough to be sitting there.
h4. Lack of respect
Disgruntled theatre-goers rang in to Joe Duffy’s Liveline and ranted about the general lack of respect displayed by some audience members and all complained bitterly about mobile phones.
One poor man recounted a tale where he unwittingly became the object of scorn and was merely owning up to it so that it might prevent embarrassment for others.
He had been to an amateur production of a show in which his daughter was playing the lead.
He had switched off his mobile phone but, right in the middle of her most important scene, his phone went off. Although his phone was switched off, the alarm was set. He wanted to tell the nation that, if your alarm is set, it switches the phone on again when the alarm time comes around. Mental note to self: check alarm status and clear reminders before entering theatre.
I didn’t know that little piece of techno trivia and I felt sorry for the poor man who found it out the hard way. His daughter, he said, is just about talking to him again.
h4. Empty houses
But if there’s one thing worse than a noisy audience, it’s no audience at all. Or at least a paltry one. My most recent theatre outing was to the Dunamaise Arts Centre in Portlaoise to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s All The Great Books (abridged) show and the 240-capacity theatre was less than a third full.
The three über-talented members of the company delivered just under two hours of side-splitting, intelligent comedy as they raced through the classics and gave the likes of War and Peace and Don Quixote the irreverently-clever Reduced Shakespeare treatment. And there was only a handful of people there to enjoy and appreciate it.
I made excuses for the absence of Portlaoise locals, telling myself that because it was Thursday and therefore a school night people were reluctant to turn up. The show was running on the Friday and Saturday as well– maybe those nights would put bums on seats.
But I went back on the Saturday night and it was the same story. It’s embarrassing to sit in an almost empty theatre as the cast on stage give it their all. And it’s not as if the Reduced Shakespeare Company are an unknown quantity in Portlaoise– they brought their Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) show there a few years ago and played to packed houses.
h4. Abridged acts
They’ve also had exposure on national television– who remembers an hilarious three-minute segment on The Late Late Show some years ago when they abridged an entire series of Glenroe?
They also did a TV3 slot this time round as they kicked-off the tour. This is the company who had three shows running in the West End in London at one time, with two of them– The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and The Complete History of America (abridged)– winning the distinction of being the West End’s longest-running comedies. But somewhere between their last visit to Portlaoise and this one, something has started to rot in the state of regional theatre.
And Portlaoise is not on its own, it seems. As we left the theatre on the Saturday night, we stopped to talk to Noah, Ryan and Dustin who comprise this troupe of the Reduced SC. With true diplomacy, they commented that yes, the houses were a bit disappointing, but they praised the audiences as being mannerly and receptive and out for a good time. And Portlaoise, they said, was not the worst.
Their last stop had been New Ross. They played to 13 people on one of the nights. At €15 a ticket (€16 in some venues), I don’t understand what’s happening here. Has the Celtic Tiger screwed us to the point that Sky Sports blows the entire entertainment budget for a year?
Has the fact that regional arts centres are linked to and funded (at least in part) by county councils made management lazy about advertising and promotion? Whatever the cause, it’s a sad state of affairs when world-class acts can’t fill a small hall in provincial Ireland.
h4. Hue and cry
Even the home-grown acts struggle– I went to see Mick Hanly a little over a year ago and there were about 30 people dotted throughout the theatre. Mind you, with consummate professionalism, he turned it round and made it a warm, intimate experience. Everyone ignored allotted seat numbers and gathered together near the front. It was a great evening. But the fact remained– the hall was all but empty.
The silly thing is, if these theatres were to close, there would be an enormous hue and cry from the general public – the same general public who probably haven’t seen the inside of the place in years. There’d be weeping and wailing and accusations that Dublin and Galway get everything by way of arts and culture. For a country with such a healthy tradition of supporting the arts, we’re slipping. If these regional facilities keel over and die, we have only ourselves to blame.
For those of you who still enjoy a good night out at the theatre, the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s All The Great Books (abridged) continues its tour at the following venues: October 26 and 27, Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick; November 1– 3, Backstage Theatre and Centre for the Arts, Longford; November 5– 7, An Grianan, Letterkenny; November 8– 10, Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo; November 12– 14, Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny. It’s world-class stuff on your doorstep. And it’s hilarious. Go along and enjoy.
But don’t rattle your ice. And double-check that mobile phone.