Angela’s Ashes | Review
Grand Opera House, Belfast • 01 August ’17
By Conor O’Neill
I’ve read the book, watched the film, both with a wry smile. Never have I laughed as hard watching a musical tortured with infant fatalities and drunken bastards as much as Angela’s Ashes. I know what you’re thinking, ‘not right in the head that boy’, but seeing is believing, and believing is seeing. You must get your pretty bum down to Belfast’s Grand Opera House to see this show.
Funny enough, it’s been in Limerick – the start and almost end of the tale – and Dublin, but here, up north, which is apparently full of Presbyterians, we get to witness a show with not a moment of navel gazing the book portrays. Good, fine and great the book it may be; it did win a Pulitzer after all, but what a depressing read it is. How lyricist and musician Adam Howell along with Paul Hurt turned Frank McCourt’s memoir of as life of poverty and drunkenness into such a night of lumps in throats and smiles on faces is testament to his talent.
Jacinta Whyte plays the long suffering Angela, and what a delight she is. She can dance, sing and act with such nuance and move from rage to sorrow with ease. Running to the Saint Vincent de Pauls every week to feed the every growing brood is a chore in itself, putting up with the hubby would drive any saint round the bend. Narrator is son Frank who guides us through the ages and deaths, North Dubliner Eoin Cannon handles the role with sheer professionalism: he’s young, handsome and strives to be everything his lush of a father isn’t. He vows to get out of Limerick and make something of himself in the grand old U S of A. How he goes about it is somewhat dubious. Telegram deliver boy by day, master of the threatening letter by night. He will get there, won’t he?
The rest of the cast are also new to me, apart from the drunken father Malachy played by Belfast man Marty Maguire. Maguire fine singing voice and quips make him lovable and loathsome at the same time, quite a move to pull off. Throw in the malignant Mrs Finucane played by Karen Ardiff who is the landlady from hell and the rest of the a fine cast and Belfast’s rainy Tuesday night is lifted to the Milky Way’s heights.
Little turns of phrase in between the songs, more on those later, add little giggles and thunderous laughter spilt by all 1000 and 40 lucky viewers. A boy with a hump is reminded in school that he, “Should be than thankful that he only has a hump and is not a bloody yank.” The first communion scene is comedy gold and worth the ticket price alone. Young Frank with the body of Our Lord stuck to the roof of his mouth is sent for confession twice in a minute… forgive me Father for I have grinned.
And the music? Well, where do I start? Howell’s ear for the big anthem is without doubt, he does however know and understand the complexity of the plot and we also see his gentler side. The title song Angela’s Ashes starts and finishes the show and I guarantee you’ll be singing and humming it for days after. Thankfully there’s not backing track. We have a live band under the pit, six musicians in all and just reading the program and noting their credentials it’s easy to see and hear why they were hired.
The set movement and choreography is top notch, it’s amazing to see all cast involved in swing round the oft used stairs, running along or standing in shadows atop the terrace is magical. Director Thom Southerland along with producer Pat Moylan must be well chuffed as 1930s Limerick and New York are brought to Belfast with such realism. The run is sure to travel further than the initial three cities. Irish Americans will simply love this. Broadway, you have been warned. Standing ovations and 1000 of their feet is all you really need to know.
Angela’s Ashes runs until Saturday 05 August. Tickets are going like hot cakes. To get your visit www.goh.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 241919.