WHEN a touring actor and director as experienced as Simon Thompson begins to discuss why he located his theatre company to Limerick, you feel compelled to sit up and take notice.
Thompson, the founder of Orchard Theatre Company - who open the Belltable’s new Spring season this week with Bouncers - is an alumni of the Royal Shakespeare Company and former director of the Garrick Theatre on London’s West End.
Thompson, from Manchester, trained in Jacques Lecoq’s school in Paris and spent years travelling Europe, working as a clown, developing a broad base in comedy.
As it happens, after a near 25 year career in theatre, Thompson moved here for personal reasons, but he soon liked what he saw.
“Orchard, when it started out, was principally a touring company that toured what we would call old communist Europe - Czechoslovakia, Budapest, then into Italy, Spain, Germany - a lot of the work we originally did was very much clown and mask based, very physical theatre,” explains Simon during a break from rehearsals in the Belltable.
“Due to personal relationships I ended up in Limerick and that was really - we saw an opportunity there in terms of the vibrancy of the city.
“It is a city that has, for me, a guy coming from Manchester, a very close feel to my home city.
“You have such diversity of culture, of people’s backgrounds, so Limerick really attracted me as a city. And the kind of stuff we do, which is predominantly comedy based and quite physical - seems to have struck a chord with an audience here and we have been developing that audience now since late 2009, early 2010,” he adds.
Starting with smaller scale productions in CentreStage and working with Limerick Youth Theatre, Limerick Youth Reach and the Umbrella Project in Limerick for the past couple of years, Simon and Orchard have built a larger network in Limerick, working with Bottom Dog in the Loft on several occasions and steadily building relationships with other organisations.
“We have based ourselves here and we are using local people and we seem to be doing the right things,” he agrees.
“One thing we have done since we based ourselves here is to engage with a lot of other groups - we have engaged very much with Bottom Dog and Richie Ryan in the way that he has often sent an actor to us that is looking for a part.
“It is brilliant that we are all working together as opposed to what can happen in some places is that people can be very parochial. We have got a real melting pot here and we are starting to use each others resources and skills,” he adds.
Following on from putting on some unfinished work at the Belltable’s Scratch series, Thompson sat down with Belltable artistic director Gerry Barnes to discuss the new season in the arts centre. A well known and much loved play called Bouncers, written by John Godber, came up.
“Gerry was looking for an outrageous, rip roaring laugh a minute play to open his season, and we sat and chatted. We both agreed that Bouncers was potentially the script to do that,” says Simon.
The play, a physical comedy with four actors playing the titular roles of nightclub guardians plus a litany of other roles, is a parody of the nightclub ‘scene’ - in this case given a 90s remix.
“The piece made its way onto the stage in the late 80s in the UK and it has gone through a number of incarnations,” explains Simon.
“The version we are doing is called the 90s remix so it is an updated version of the script and it really suits the kind of theatre that we do.
“It is very pared back in terms of sets, our stage setting is four beer barrels and that is it. They get used to make up a car, the DJ booth, the seats in the hairdressers, all of these things, so it is very minimalistic and relies on the comic timing and strength of the writing, so it suits us,” he adds.
The piece relies on the strength of its actors to portray everything from bouncers to lager louts to girls on hen parties - and their hair dressers. Stefan Barry, David Collins, Zeb Moore and Pius McGrath have that job.
“If you look at the guys we have, they have just slotted together perfectly,” he says.
“There is such a team spirit and element of complicity that is almost instinctive at this stage, they know what the other is going to do immediately.”
Bouncers runs in the Belltable until Saturday. See Belltable.