Ireland and the UK seem to be the countries in the world with the most unbreakable attachment to the pantomime style of theatre – whereby an old fairy-tale is adapted into a musical comedy for all the family; where the performers onstage interact with the audience; where middle-aged men dress up as pantomime dames; where a young hero or heroine finds true love (with assistance from the audience). Targeted at children, there is plenty of topical, adult humour for the grown-ups. Staged from before Christmas to the New Year, it can be an extremely lucrative endeavour, when for a period of several weeks, there will be two shows daily, where former soap stars and TV entertainers can top up their income, or indeed earn enough to keep them in greasepaint for several months to come. The shows staged tend to be the same – Cinderella; Sleeping Beauty; Puss in Boots; Mother Goose; Peter Pan; Aladdin; The Jungle Book; Jack and the Beanstalk; Hansel and Gretel.
Over the weekend I travelled to the West of Ireland for a cabaret show. On Friday afternoon I took the tram out to the Red Cow. The Red Cow is on the outskirts of Dublin and marks the point where country people know they have arrived in the Big Smoke. I was being collected there from where we would drive to our ultimate destination – Galway city. The tram journey was surreal – firstly a very polite sixteen year old offered me his seat. I know that my hair is white, but surely I retain some semblance of youthful effervescence, remaining as I am, in my forties. A few stops further a woman boarded with nine children. All were hers it would appear. Some of the older children were carrying cooked chickens in brown paper bags. The chicken grease leaked all over the floor. I offered her a plastic Marks and Spencer bag which she gratefully accepted. When the ticket inspectors boarded the tram, it was discovered that none of the party of ten had a valid ticket. I have no idea what happened, as the next stop was the Red Cow where I disembarked.
We weren’t travelling to Galway that night. We were spending it in the midlands just outside Athlone – a town on the River Shannon that I had heretofore never visited. We had a drink in Sean’s Bar overlooking the river. This is one of the many bars in the land that claims to be the nation’s oldest. I was impressed by the sight of Linda Gray and Larry Hagman (Sue-Ellen and JR Ewing) in a photograph taken of them sometime in the 1980s, standing outside the bar. We each gave our impression of a drunken Sue-Ellen. Our AirBnB was located on the Roscommon side of the town, and was a very lovely old farmer’s cottage. The following morning I opened my curtains to the sight of a grey horse who had wandered into the garden overnight. The cottage owner knew who owned the beast so we bid farewell to our breakfast companion when his owner collected him.
In May 2008, Democratic Unionist Party MP Iris Robinson gave an interview to the Stephen Nolan radio show on BBC Northern Ireland. In it she expressed sorrow that a gay man had been beaten almost to death in a homophobic attack in Belfast. Homosexuality was still an ‘abomination’ to Iris however, but homosexuals like murderers could be forgiven by accepting Jesus. She had a lovely NHS psychiatrist, who worked with her who could help those suffering from the ‘abomination’ to be cured. To say that the interview caused a reaction is quite an understatement. Universally condemned for her religious and homophobic extremism, neither Iris or her political party backed down. Her party colleague Ian Paisley Junior (son of the Reverend Senior who in the early 1980s campaigned against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the north with the catchy slogan ‘Save Ulster from sodomy’) supported Robinson. Iris’ husband Peter Robinson – then the First Minister of Northern Ireland remained silent – possibly too busy shouting ‘No, no, no’, at any questions being posed to him.
She later stated in parliament that “There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children” (although she later claimed that this direct quote had been misinterpreted. )
The BBC started doing some investigation into Mrs. Robinson’s background and in January 2010 a Spotlight documentary was released which revealed that throughout the previous year’s controversy, 60 year old Iris had been conducting an extra-marital affair (I’m assuming said affair was ‘torrid’) with a 19 year old named Kirk McCambley, and that she’d been using her political influence to get loans approved for him to open a cafe. Iris checked herself into a psychiatric unit and announced her retirement from public life.
Once upon a time (in the 1990s) in a hemisphere far, far away there appeared a holy trinity of outsider films from the country of Australia. All featured the legendary actor Bill Hunter, and each of them is among my all-time favourite films. ‘Strictly Ballroom’; ‘The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’ and ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ exist individually as brilliant films, but as a grouping is an incomparable troika of cinematic brilliance. All three have been adapted as stage musicals. This week the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin is staging ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’. Last night I attended the show. Continue reading Musical review: ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’→
When I read ‘Star of the sea’ by Joseph O’Connor earlier this century, I was astonished. That brilliant book concerned a murder committed on a coffin ship sailing from Famine-stricken Ireland to the New World. A semi-sequel ‘Redemption Falls’ was published some years later in 2007. I was in the American Book Center in Amsterdam on the day of release such was my anticipation. To my horror I loathed it – finding it turgid, incomprehensible and very, very dull. It was a huge disappointment – thankfully it was only a blip on O’Connor’s illustrious output and I loved his subsequent books ‘Ghost light’ and ‘The thrill of it all’. Continue reading Theatrical: ‘Redemption Falls’→
Say what? A musical about a misery-lit classic ‘Angela’s Ashes’? How on earth was that going to work? The book told the tale of a young Frank McCourt, whose Limerick mother Angela, and Antrim father Malachy move back to Limerick from Brooklyn during the Great Depression while Frank is just an infant. They live lives of abject misery and poverty in the tenement slums of Limerick, largely because of Malachy’s alcoholism. Dead siblings, hunger, relentless rain, fleas, consumption, outdoor facilities shared with the street, it was an unremittingly grim tale. Eventually Malachy relocates to Coventry, where he drinks his wages and rarely sends a copper to feed his hungry clan. Angela and the children are evicted, and she becomes the ‘housekeeper’ for her sinister older cousin. Frank takes work as a telegram delivery boy who vows to save all his pennies and return one day to America to make his fortune. Continue reading Theatrical: ‘Angela’s Ashes’ – a Limerick tale→
Last night for the second night in a row I was at the theatre– my fourth trip in the past fortnight. Sadly, in this instance I had to actually pay for my ticket – unusual having developed a cunning skill of sourcing freebies. As one would only hope – I go so often to the theatre, that my diet would consist of congealed bread and dripping with a side order of gruel, if I had to pay for all these tickets. Last night I went full Broadway, attending ‘Kinky Boots’ in the unfortunately named Bord Gais Energy Theatre (which thankfully has been re-christened as the ‘Bored Gays Theatre’ by some wags thanks to the fact that it shows big West End shows – in RingsEnd). Continue reading Theatrical: ‘Kinky Boots’→