Theatre review: Essence of Ireland

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by Anne Geaghan

Last Friday, the Beck Theatre in Hayes West London welcomed the audience to Essence of Ireland’s 2015 West London date.

I was expecting  a new variation on the Riverdance phenomenon but instead the wonderful programme of Irish step-dancing combined with the touching story of true love not running smoothly is the Prestige Productions Company’s best-kept secret. Managing Director Trevor Payne and Director Ross Mills came up with an imaginative script.

The impact of emigration, leaving loved ones in search of a better life while retaining one’s own identity all unfold through the story of Sean Dempsey who was born in Dublin’s Liberties and fell in love with Cora McGowen from Gort, Co Galway when they met on holiday at the seaside in Salthill, Co Galway.

Like many of their generation the couple agreed that Sean would emigrate to find work and he made his way to the traditional Irish emigrants’ hub in Cricklewood North West London. Clearly many in the audience connected with the Crown – the well-known Cricklewood pub.

Mike Burr as Sean and Alison Parsons playing the part of Cora are very well suited to the parts. Alison’s singing and letter writing reminded us that letter writing was the principal way to keep in touch with home, in an age when instant communication by Facebook, texts and mobile phones were beyond an emigrant’s wildest dreams.

Ged Graham is the show’s narrator and creative director who simply loves every minute of his performance and is an instant hit with the audience. Ged was born in Dublin into a musical family with The Chieftains, Dubliners and Furies for neighbours.  This background lends an authenticity and enables Ged to draw in the audience and cast making for an evening which certainly captured the magic of Irish Craic.

The live music by Adam Evans on guitar and fiddle playing by Malcolm Bushby was most entertaining as the pair complimented Ged’s singing with several tunes and accompaniments.

This show combines song and dance with a video screen as a backdrop spanning 60 years, showing Irish emigrants arriving in Ellis Island, New York through to JFK’s historic visit to Ireland in 1963.

The excellent stage lighting and beautifully designed costumes which changed several times as the dancers performed intricate Irish step-dancing faultlessly as well as Rock and roll and Spanish dances captured of life in 1950-60s New York.

As the story unfolded we were treated to Ged Graham’s humour and wit as he belted out recent Irish pop hits like Galway Girl, Tell me ma as well, the obligatory Irish Rover and classic “The Parting Glass”. Sean joined the NYPD and got married. A New York-Irish wedding followed and at this point we were treated to the brilliant choreography and footwork from the Dance Ensemble.

A feature of the current Essence of Ireland tour is recruiting local Irish dancers to perform in the show.  At The Beck theatre, we were treated to a delightful display from the tots to teen members O’Connor Academy of Irish dance.

The show is a worthy collaboration drawing on the massive artistic flair and experience of Managing Director Trevor Payne and producer Ross Mills who have selected a wonderful cast and energised everyone involved.  The evening as something for everyone – family, friends whether Irish or not and certainly captures the Essence of Ireland.

See here for ticket information.

The remaining shows of the UK tour are as follows:

April 2 – LEICESTER – De Montfort Hall
April 3 – BUXTON – Opera House
April 4 – DARLINGTON – Civic Theatre
April 5 – SKEGNESS – Embassy Theatre
April 7 – DURHAM – Gala Theatre
April 8 – SCUNTHORPE – Baths Hall
April 9 – SWINDON – Wyvern Theatre
April 10 – STOCKPORT – Plaza
April 11 – REDDITCH – Palace Theatre
April 12 – WOLVERHAMPTON – Grand Theatre
April 14 – WIMBLEDON – New Wimbledon Theatre
April 15 – LINCOLN – Theatre Royal
April 16 – BASINGSTOKE – Anvil
April 17 – NEW BRIGHTON – Floral Pavillion
April 18 – PRESTON – Charter Theatre
April 19 – EDMONTON – Millfield Theatre
April 20 – SWANSEA – Grand Theatre
April 21 – YEOVIL – Octagon
April 23 – BOURNEMOUTH – Pavillion Theatre
April 24 – EASTBOURNE – Congress
April 26 – EPSOM – Playhouse
April 27 – CRAWLEY – The Hawth
April 29 – KINGS LYNN – Corn Exchange


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