AS the well-known mantra from Field of Dreams goes, if you build it, they will come. In theatre circles, you have to book it and then hold your breath to find out if the appetite for a show translates into bums on seats.
The Lime Tree Theatre, approaching six years in existence, has taken a major punt by booking eight shows in the - currently - blistering hot summer season with the Abbey Theatre’s Jimmy’s Hall. But for venue boss Louise Donlon, looking around for a follow-up to the success of last summer’s Angela’s Ashes The Musical at the 510-seater venue for this July, there was no hesitation.
Jimmy’s Hall, telling the true story of Leitrim farmer Jimmy Gralton, the only Irishman deported from his own country, is a “beautiful show that speaks to the heart” and is stunningly retold by the Abbey, returning for a fourth stint at the Lime Tree and kicking off its tour of the musical, was a roaring success for the theatre last year. For the Lime Tree and Ms Donlon, it is simply “the highlight of our year”.
“The fact that they wanted to open the show here is a mark of where the Lime Tree is seen now as a crucial part of the whole theatre infrastructure in Ireland,” says Louise.
“So this is a key moment for us that the Abbey is opening its big summer blockbuster, following on the heels of Angela’s Ashes last summer.”
The musical tale of Frank McCourt’s memoir was a “gamechanger” for the Lime Tree in the summer season, traditionally seen as tough for theatres the world over. It proved to the venue that if the show is good enough, people will come.
“We were really on the lookout for something that would work in the summer again and we when got the call from the Abbey, I didn’t hesitate for a moment, I knew this was the perfect follow-up,” she says.
“Ok, it is a new show and not one that people will be aware of, but it has an impact and I believe the Abbey were totally taken by surprise last summer, because it just took off, people loved it, the punters flocked to it, tourists, locals - it was just a real feel good show.”
Jimmy’s Hall features the central character railing against the establishment via his dancehall, and the stage version, adapted from the Ken Loach film, is bursting with song and music, dancing and plenty of real life trials of the heart.
Sarah Madigan, who plays the role of Marie and whose family hails from Limerick - including her grandmother, who lives in Monaleen - said “people can definitely expect a lot of music, a lot of dancing, there will be tears, there will be laughter.
“We have the most incredible cast and it is a beautiful show that just speaks to the heart and you will have a great night as well,” said Sarah.
Sarah Lynch, who hails from Caherdavin and is now the Abbey’s touring producer, said it was “pure entertainment”.
“The voice and harmonies are superb, the music is amazing, and it is a bloody good story, so you really do tick all the boxes. When we opened it, people were dancing in the aisles - and crying,” she laughed.
For Louise Donlon, the Abbey has that guarantee of quality that audiences have come to expect.
“The actors are all top notch, the musicians, the production values are superb, you know going into an Abbey show it will be beautifully made, it will look fantastic,” she says.
“I was at it in the Abbey last year and literally people jumped to their feet. It is a great story and really interesting and the way they have adapted it, lots of music, lots of Irish dancing with a contemporary, wild feel to it.”
So the show is booked and runs for eight nights and, as the Lime Tree positions itself to take in such shows, it needs the support of local audiences to show support in return.
“They absolutely do and it is still a big challenge for us,” says Louise. “It is a lot of seats to sell and the weather is fine, people want to be outside, but we are trying to make it, if you want to keep this coming, we need the support of audiences, it isn’t going to work unless people make the decision to come into a nice cool theatre on a sunny summer’s evening and have a fantastic night out.”
Jimmy’s Hall runs from July 14-21. See www.limetreetheatre.ie.
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