Limerick’s Lime Tree launch

The new theatre will offer a venue for professional tours, director Louise Donlon tells Colette Sheridan

Limerick’s Lime Tree launch

THE new Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick will officially open with the Abbey Theatre’s touring production of Seán O’Casey’s iconic play, ‘The Plough and the Stars’ on October 30.

The theatre, situated in Mary Immaculate College, has a seating capacity of 510 and is managed and programmed by Louise Donlon. Louise has worked with the now defunct Island Theatre Company in Limerick, Druid Theatre Company in Galway and the Dunamaise Arts Centre in Portlaoise and she is currently a member of the Arts Council.

The Lime Tree Theatre’s season started in mid-September with shows including ‘Guerilla Days in Ireland’ and ‘Steel Magnolias.’ Donlon says that it is “a big deal” that the Abbey production is launching the theatre:

“The Abbey hasn’t performed a major stage production in Limerick for at least 30 years. It’s a great introduction of the new venue to the city. People are only becoming aware of it and we really want to make the biggest impact we possibly can. It’s good for the Lime Tree Theatre and for the Abbey.

“As the national theatre, the Abbey needs to go out and re-engage with audiences that it hasn’t played to for years. As well as Limerick, that includes the mid-west. We have people coming from Galway to see the play, because it isn’t touring there. We’re also reaching as far east as Laois. Because we’re right on the motorway, we’re very accessible.”

The idea to set up the Lime Tree Theatre originated in the drama department of Mary Immaculate College.

“The college is much more than a teacher training college. There are 3,000 students here and it has a very broad liberal arts curriculum. When the theatre was mooted ten or 12 years ago, the college was expanding and was in need of extra space. A very large lecture theatre was needed and like other colleges, that space is now also available as a theatre for the community.”

The theatre is funded by a philanthropic arm of the college foundation.

“It has no Arts Council or local authority funding yet. But I will certainly be making applications. We would see ourselves as very much fitting into the national infrastructure for arts.”

The Lime Tree Theatre fits in the middle of Limerick theatre spaces. The Belltable has a seating capacity of 200 and the UL (University of Limerick) Concert Hall seats 1,100 people.

“The Lime Tree is a proscenium arch theatre so it has the capability of presenting theatre that UL doesn’t have. It terms of scale, it has the capacity to stage commercial theatre with large sets that a lot of the time, can’t be fitted into the Belltable. Anecdotally, people are saying this theatre is welcome. Before, if people wanted to see theatre of scale, they had to go further afield. If people wanted to see commercial theatre, the likes of which goes into the Cork Opera House or the INEC in Killarney, it couldn’t be brought to Limerick. We’re now able to stage these kinds of productions. ‘Steel Magnolias’ was a perfect example. It completely sold out in the space of two weeks. When you see that kind of demand, it’s very encouraging.

“Because the Belltable is quite small, an awful lot of companies migrated to Glór in Ennis in the last few years. There’s a lot of people who make up what I call ‘soft theatre’ attenders who wouldn’t get into a car to drive to Dublin or Cork to go to the theatre. Now that the Lime Tree is on their doorstep, they will attend.”

DruidMurphy will be coming to the Lime Tree Theatre next year as well as Corn Exchange’s ‘Man of Valour.’ The theatre will also programme contemporary dance.

“The programme is a mixture of commercial work, community work and what would be called the subsidised sector.”

“Because we’re not funded by the Arts Council, we don’t have the flexibility to support small companies. Until we get funding, that probably won’t be possible. But we will be able to support such companies through acting as a kind of laboratory or hub.”

Donlon describes the arts sector in Limerick as: “small but very vibrant. There’s a lot happening with lunchtime theatre. There’s the Limerick Local Heroes who are a group of interested individuals that have come together to try and highlight what’s positive about the city.”

Donlon is a founder member of Nasc, a network of regional theatres established to promote touring of high quality to the regions. As for being on the board of the Arts Council, Donlon says it won’t help when it comes to seeking funding for the Lime Tree Theatre. “If anything, it could be a disadvantage. There’s a strict conflict of interest protocol,” she explains.

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