Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Johnny I Hardly Ye: Jim Nolan Premiere at Garter Lane

Garrett Keogh Michael Hayes  Irish Times photo

It is a feast or a famine and this week, not one but two new professional theatre productions opened in Waterford venues. My review of a Eugene O Neill revival at the Theatre Royal is posted here. At Garter Lane, there was that rarest of theatrical events - a world premiere of a brand new play. Better still, one with a living playwright in the house, a real set, a convincing cast of characters on stage and off  and a plot with plausible contemporary moral dilemmas.

Jim Nolan's new play was eagerly anticipated and the consensus among opening night punters was that it lived up to high expectations. Set in a provincial newspaper office with a raggedy band of hard pressed hacks in the throes of being  taken over by a hard nosed media consortium, it weaves in a reference to WW1 and  a dubious 1916 commemoration thread. The title I understand comes  from a thread where a report on a damaged war veteran is sanitised  to present a  shinier happier version of history. As ever, Nolan's  dialogue is fast paced, witty and rings true- a feature confirmed by several of the local pressmen present from the News &Star and Munster Express.  Many of the other Jim Nolan hallmarks are present; the redemptive power of amateur choral singing, the Sylvie style declamatory monologue towards the end, a cast of recurring offstage characters.

Although serious issues were at the core, there was much humour in the day to day work-room banter and the first night audience laughed heartily throughout. There was a strong performances across the ensemble. Michael Hayes is familiar from the TV adverts for a certain phone company, (yes the one with the Sue the pig in it). His  culchie mammy's boy, Lenny Harris could have been downright corny but it wasn't. Lenny won us over and we laughed with rather than at him. Tall and imposing, Ciaran McMahon was arrogance personified. Jenni Ledwell was a matronly pragmatist and the veteran Abbey actor, Garrett Keogh the flawed hero/ deputy editor making a final principled stand . Ema Lemon made her professional debut in the role of  eager junior reporter, Lisa Reilly.

There was a air of civic pride in the local provenance of the event. Critics from the Irish Times and Independent attended along with  journalists from the local press. Best dressed man was Liam Murphy,  looking dapper in navy blue pin stripe. 'Yes indeed-the occasion of a new Jim Nolan play deserves no less', the arts critic of the Munster Express quipped. Waterford Blackwater No 5 Gin served at the interval was a treat. A standing ovation rolled into a tribute to the late Richard 'Tich' Meagher. After the show , thespians, crew and patrons repaired to recently reopened Tully's Bar (formerly McLoughlins)  across the road to mull over the evening.  It was like old times.


iframe src="" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen>
Jim Nolan : Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye from on Vimeo.

A Moon for the Misbegotten Irish Premiere at Theatre Royal


 James O Neill sailed to America from the South East of Ireland in 1850 where he had a successful career as an actor. So it was fitting that the first professional production of a work by his famous son, Eugene should have an Irish premiere in Waterford. Luminaries from the Irish theatre scene and local arts and business community turned out to fill the house for the opening night of A Moon for the Misbegotten directed by Ben Barnes at the Theatre Royal last night.

James O Neill
 It is a play of two halves each focussing on a relationship between a trio of central characters. In the first act we meet Phil Hogan, Irish American tenant farmer a father figure from the Big Maggie stable of frightful parents. Having dispatched the last of his sons, Mike (an excellent cameo from Cilian Jacob in his first professional role), we have an extended dialogue exploring the relationship between the garrulous Phil and feisty daughter, Josie.  Mark Lambert and Kate Forbes are excellent in portraying the nuances of their roles. 

Donald Sage Mackay
Phil it appears is anxious that his farm will be sold to his wealthy next door neighbour. There is a humorous cameo from Michael Quinlan in the role of Harder who pops in to complain about Phil's pigs in his pond. The only solution it seems is to trick his genial alcoholic landlord, Jim Tyrone into a shotgun wedding with Josie. The meat in the final act is an extended late night dialogue between Jim played by American actor, Donald Sage Mackay and Josie, two ‘misbegotten’ souls whose bluster and bravado is exposed under the moonlight as camouflage for the  feelings of guilt and desolation both harbour. Mackay, a familiar face from many TV and film appearances is an imposing stage presence convincing in conveying good humoured nonchalance in early scenes and torment in Act 3

 The production is visually very pleasing. Joe Vanek's tall triangular farmhouse set inspired by the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, frames the action evoking 1920's rural Conneticut.  Over the course of the play the Anne Wrightsons' striking  lighting effects bathe the set in a palette of orange, blue and sand as day turns to night. I

'May you rest in peace forever in forgiveness and peace' Josie's words to a departing Jim steer an evening of turbulent, powerful emotions to a conclusion of  peace at last.

Final night in Waterford Sat 12th March moving to Belfast and Rochester NY

Pennsylvania Barn Wyeth
Related posts Jim Nolan Premiere at Garter lane Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye: Premiere at Garter Lane



Friday, March 11, 2016

Drums and Guns at Lir

I went to see Drums and Guns, a words and music presentation devised by Iain Burnside with a dozen performers drawn from the vocal programmes at RIAM  Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Juilliard School.  We heard a great range of material based on the theme of war and insurrection in a semi staged format. The set list is posted below. There was much to enjoy and  I was moved, amused and thoroughly entertained over the 70 minutes. I loved the tongue twisting music hall songs beautifully enunciated  by the Guildhall ladies. There three baritone combination was richly sonorous.

 Pushed to pick a stand out moment,  Dutch baritone, Rick Zwart gave me goose bumps with his acapella rendition of Eric Bogle's, And the Band Played Waltzing Mathilda with the company joining in a Stephen Foster-esque final chorus.  It was as if I'd  never heard this song before .  I don't think Bryn himself could have delivered a better version of All Through the Night delivered in Welsh by Mr Zwart with all male chorus.  Irish performers  among the party were Sarah Brady,  Eadaoin Copeland, Callan Coughlan and Sean Boylan. The Guildhall team were Claire Lees, Felicity Turner and Michelle Santiago and Rick Zwart.  Representing Juliard were Julia Wolcott, Dominik Belavy Adam Rothenberg Matthew Swensen.

More of this kind of thing please!

ps I was delighted to meet musical legend Brush Shiels in the foyer. Brush tells me he is busy gigging in Germany and Holland.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Tús Maith for Ortús

I caught the final recital of a weekend festival dedicated to chamber music by a young ensemble, some of whom are still in their teens. My review appeared in Wednesday's Irish Examiner.

The  finale was as Francis Humphreys comprehensive programme note eloquently put it ‘a triumphant blaze of sound’
Ortús have made a tús maith. With the support of mentor Adrian Petcu and the imprimatur of board members at West Cork Music Festival and pianist Barry Douglas, the future looks bright, a future these young players have shown  willingness and flair in shaping for themselves. We wish them well.

Vivre Musicale: Schumann Song Studio at RIAM

Mezzo Eimear McCarthy Luddy

On Wednesday, Vivre Musicale a collective of singers and musicians attached to the Royal Irish Academy of Music presented an evening of work by Clara and Robert Schumann. I regret I missed songs by Clara but there was enough of a feast in two song cycles from Robert's Liederjahr from two excellent young singers and a Fantasiestucke on clarinet from Berginald Rash. Baritone, Sean Boylan was an animated lovelorn protagonist in a rendition of Heine's texts  Liederkreis op 24. Boylan's ability to get to the heart of a text was apparent when I hear him in Ennis at a recital in 2014. My, Irish Examiner  review here. Sean tells me he is off to London to study at the Guildhall and we wish him well.

  Eimear McCarthy Luddy was a new name to me. The mezzo-soprano gave a moving and vivid rendition of Frauenliebe und Leben, composed shortly before his wedding to Clara. The eight texts tell the tale of  a woman's heart from the headiness of new love,  the joy of motherhood and a poignantly prescient final text on the pain of widowhood. We were reminded what a remarkable woman, Clara was to maintain a career as a concert pianist and support her eight children, the eldest who was in his early teens when Robert died. McCarthy Luddy's programme note concluded with this quote from Clara 'What have I possessed and lost! And yet how long have I gone on living and working. Where does one ...find the strength? I found it in my children and in art-they have sustained me by their love and art too has never played me false.

But back to our soloist ,  McCarthy-Luddy had a lovely purity of tone with an elegant  platform presence wearing a floor length, black and ivory gown.  Reading her biography, I note that she began formal training with Eimear Quinn and is currently working towards a Masters in performance with Owen Gilhooly.I am looking forward to hearing her again.

All were well served by Seho Lee on piano- Accompaniment Teaching Fellow at RIAM

Both singers, I believe are involved in Drums and Guns at The Lir Weds 9th March.

 The next Vivre Musicale  presentation is an Opera Gala Thurs March 24th 7pm Organ Room Tickets €10/5

For mother's day here are a few of the lines of Schumann's Woman's Heart, text 7 on the joys of a baby at the breast

Du lieber , lieber engel du,
Du Schauest  mich an und lachelst dazu
An meinen Herzen, an meiner Brust,
Du meine Wonne, du meine lust


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Wireless Folk: Reg Meuross at the Lord Edward

Photo Mik Kenny

I came across English folk troubadour, Reg Meuross  at a gig in Sheffield last year and found his gentle understated style and thoughtful lyrics  very beguiling. Hearing that he was on an Irish tour, I made a beeline for the final evening at the Upstairs Room at the Lord Edward Pub in Dublin. It was a rare and wonderful evening when artist, environs and  audience all seemed be chime to make a harmonious  experience on many levels.

First and foremost, the artist; with his mahogany hued, Mariachi style guitar held high across his chest, Meuross, singer and raconteur took us on a journey  through his well crafted songs and engaging stories laced with a wry self deprecating humour drawn from his life as a travelling troubadour. We heard songs from his back catalogue and some from his new album, December. Historic figures - pilgrim fathers, suffragettes , highway men, Wallace Hartley, the Titanic violinist turn up with figures personal; to Meuross. An encore 'Good With His Hands', was a moving tribute to his father who was a carpenter.What made the performance all the more thrilling and remarkable was that it was delivered without the aid of an amplification. Sitting quite close to the singer  I noticed his extra long nails. Wouldn't  18th century harpists have killed for  acrylic?.

The venue: The  famous Tavern is named after Lord Edward Fitzgerald who was the 5th son of the Duke of Leinster, C in C of the United Irishmen, who helped plan the Abortive Rebellion of 1798 against the Crown with Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone and Napper Tandy. The upstairs room,   a cosy  space lined with leaded windows looks across to Christchurch Cathedral whose bells added an occasional counterpoint to the proceedings.

When we were greeted warmly on arrival  by our  host, fear an tí,  Peter Grogan. This is rare enough to merit mention. One of my pet peeves is being greeted by the staff at my local arts centre who peer at a computer screen and ask me yet again 'Have you booked with us before'? No-' hello, nice to see you' Aaagh!

Peter hosts a regular monthly folk session at the venue on the first Tuesday of the month. The pub houses a seafood restaurant and Beshoff's Fish and Chip Shop is next door.