Musical flare to Angela’s Ashes

Eoin Cannon as Frank and David O’Meara as Uncle Pat in Angela’s Ashes- The Musical Photo: Patrick Redmond
Jacinta Whyte/ Angela, Eoin Cannon/ Frank, Emmet Byrne/ Malachy Jr. and Marty Maguire/ Malachy father
Photo: Patrick Redmond

THE premier of ‘Angela’s Ashes – The Musical’ in Limerick was always going to be a tough call. The Pulitzer winning book by Frank McCourt is brilliant and divisive on home territory. Questions asked by those riled centre around ‘was life really that poverty stricken here? Nah’ and ‘how could he write about his mother like that?’

Not to mention the fury of descendants of those named and shamed.

Nor is it obvious text for a musical.

Yet producer Pat Moylan, a veteran of success, and director Thom Southerland have made something fine and funny of the McCourt lives raddled by infant death, alcoholism, hunger, sickness, infestation, homelessness. Being Yanks was no help either.

The litany of misery iterated cannot be denied. Nothing is underplayed in this city of the ’30s and ’40s, on which the sun don’t shine. This Limerick is darker than any back passage.

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So full credit to the writing partnership of UK-based Howell and Hurt for producing a score and songs that are beautiful. With musical direction by David Wray on keys heading up a six-piece, tucked up and away behind lantern windows, the orchestration is truly melodic, weaving the corps of actors and layered sliding set in harmonies.

A witty script is proper Irish and laughs are many.

Eoin Cannon and David O’Meara/ Uncle Pat
Photo Patrick Redmond

Jacinta Whyte is glorious as Angela. She’s the right age and look, bringing defiance to this put-upon creature. Eoin Cannon as Frank of all ages has a great voice and moves but his robust shoulders rub credibility. Marty Maguire gives a touching nobility to the mullet of a Dad from Antrim.

A late shoo in to the production, Clare Barrett as Grandma, is a stout stomp at scene stealing. Religious mania abú, she splashes Holy Water and spittle with industry.

There is serious play on the impact the tiny deaths of Margaret, Oliver and Eugene had on  family; the abiding mutual love and protectiveness of the brothers are pleasing foil.

Cruelty on the part of Church, Confraternity and Leamy’s School is leavened by individual revelation; character actors throughout deliver in multiple parts. Songs are short and pointed.

I admire this show for its tenacity to McCourt’s memoir and detailed poke at tormentors. Strong women lead, just as Frank’s ability to turn a buck as a young teen saved his own from sinking even further. His real achievement was not the glittering prizes but becoming a wily, willing breadwinner age 13 whose pen flourished even then.  

At  Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on 0818-719377, to July 30 and  Grand Opera House, Belfast, August 1-5.

Review by @RoseRushe @LimerickPost