Insight to the play can be found here.
Through a busy hotel restaurant in Limerick, a waiter searches for an available table. We find actor Liam O’Brien, stealthily arrived as if through a secret door, already acquiring a spot.
O’Brien, a founder of Bottom Dog Theatre and its regular producer, has a businessman’s suave. Whether greeting the hotel’s proprietor (one of his theatre company’s business partners) or listing off funding figures, his producer style is diplomatic and researched.
Those skills may have developed out of an acute survival instinct. “We’ve never had any regular funding, at all. It’s rare that we can plan ahead”, he says, preparing for the launch of Bottom Dog’s ninth season.
On his route to the stage, he attended the local stage school, Expressive Arts (“They treated you like little actors. It was never the jazz hands-Billie Barry thing”), and later Trinity College, though he had to leave his course due to illness. “I intended to go back but I started working with Island Theatre Company.”
Island Theatre emerged in the mid-1990s and was Limerick’s leading company until its funding was cut in 2008. At the age of 19, Liam was cast in their production of Mike Finn’s play Pigtown, a nostalgic journey through the city in the 20th century. It remains a significant event in local memory.
“In the 1960s and 1970s, Limerick was this immense theatre town. People kind of forget that. Pigtown felt like the first time in years that people went back to the theatre.
“It was about Limerick, and had a great script, cast and direction. But what I think made it so successful was that Island could afford to do long runs. In the first year, we were already booked for four weeks with an extension of one week. It allowed for word to get out there.
“What happens now in regional theatre is that a touring show will be here for one, maximum two or three nights. There isn’t time to spread word of mouth.”
O’Brien considers the company’s closure as a major loss to Limerick’s theatre industry.
“To go to work every night as an actor, and at the end of the week pick up your cheque – that hasn’t existed in Limerick since Island. I feel there’s a whole generation of people after me who never considered it viable to stay in Limerick.”
He’s determined to disprove that theory. O’Brien could likely get work anywhere. A casting agent who saw him in a Manchester production of Brian Friel’s Translations got him a part in Emmerdale for three years. He’s performed in the West End production of The Rat Pack. From a causal conversation with members of the UK company Propeller at the Galway International Arts Festival one year, he landed the clown role of Feste in their international tour of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. But Limerick is the draw for him: “I just want to work with people based here.