The Irish Timesreviews
I Am of Irelandat The James Joyce Centre, The Script at the Olympia and Ensemble ICC at the NCH Kevin Barry Room
I am of Ireland
James Joyce Centre
A poet never speaks directly, says WB Yeats, “as to someone at the breakfast table, there is always a phantasmagoria”. That he tells us this directly, as to the audience for a biodrama, thickens the irony of Edward Callan’s project, one that assembles its text from the tumult of poetry, letters and public utterances to reveal something of the man, only to find he is already deeply familiar.
Callan is alive to a certain tension in turning the poet into a performer, so much so that late in the play he archly includes Yeats’s sniffy words for actors who deliver the lilt of his verses with the banal thud of bad prose. With his character thus attempting to sabotage his performance, this makes Bosco Hogan all the more admirable. Not only does he present a recognisably precious figure in a neat tweed suit beneath a curtain of hair, he also lends Yeats a warmth the poet never seemed to radiate and a steady baritone voice to match the regal stride of the poems. (Yeats’s actual voice, tremulous and affected, wasn’t one you hope to hear over the breakfast table.)
How can we know the dancer from the dance, Yeats asked, and so Callan rarely distinguishes between the poetry and the poet. Narrating to us from the restored tower of Thoor Ballylee, his Yeats slips easily from remembrance of Maud Gonne, for example, into unforced recitals of He Wishes for the Cloths of Heavenand No Second Troy, as though he thought in verse.
There’s some justification for this. Perhaps more than any other 20th-century writer, Yeats is so present in his work – his romantic yearnings, his politics, his narcissism, his sorrow, his rage – that the poems are as revealing as a secret diary. Yet Callan’s scrupulous and concise biography only seems truly revelatory when it strays into the crannies of anecdote. As intimate as the details are of Yeats’s bewildering dalliances with fascism, the occult, or several young women, nothing makes him more vivid than his celebration of the Nobel Prize win, cooking sausages after midnight, the only appetite he left undocumented.
Yeats found his theme in the matter of Ireland and Callan and Hogan elegantly render him as a forger of the nation. Marking the 70th anniversary of Yeats’s death, however, their revival aches with reverence, unable to probe further, unwilling to criticise. (Colm Tóibín’s Beauty in a Broken Place, in contrast, dared to put words into Yeats’s mouth, making him more human than national emblem). The result is that while Yeats stands before us, he seems no closer. His presence is already so familiar, not because he is of Ireland, but because Ireland is of him. Until Saturday
Olympia Theatre, Dublin
When the Choice Music Prize shortlist was announced this year there was huffing and puffing when three Dublin lads who make commercial pop made the cut. Like or loathe The Script, you won’t have escaped hearing their earworm singles on the radio. Last August the trio released their debut album and in one year notched up a profile most bands could only achieve by a Robert Johnson-style pact with the Devil. They’ve had huge success in the US – songs used in TV shows, gigs on the chat-show circuit, opening for Paul McCartney – so this gig was something of a homecoming. And what a homecoming – when they finally bounced out on to the stage, the crowd volume was ear-splitting. By the time their single Breakevenappeared early on, the band was drowned out by an ecstatic crowd singing along. Danny O’Donoghue, a gleaming facsimile of Cristiano Ronaldo, introduced We Cryas “a song about our beautiful city of Dublin”.
Every high note was greeted with fresh shrieking from smitten women and the atmosphere felt decidedly X-Factor. But then The Script rose from the ashes of the boyband Mytown, and it’s clear from their safe, marketable sound that they’re destined for success of Take That proportions.
Guitarist Mark Sheehan told us that Fall for Anythingis a song “about slappers” and responded with a riff when the crowd chanted “olé, olé”. The Man Who Couldn’t Be Movedand I’m Yoursgot the biggest cheers of the night and little more than an hour later it was all over. Sadly, not before a butchered cover of David Bowie’s Heroesduring the band’s two-song encore.
It’s not every band who can fill Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, let alone sell out five nights. And who can argue with the fact that their 10-date Irish tour sold out in a morning? To most, this is slick, chart-friendly pop and the band deserve their success. To this reviewer’s ears the music can’t shake off its blandness – but try telling that to the waiting teenage girls outside and the row of anxious dads all double-parked on Dame Street.
NCH Kevin Barry Room
The NCH’s Kevin Barry Room, a former lecture theatre, has been hosting fringe activities; the space is small and informal, and the emphasis is on experimental music. The Irish Composers Collective (ICC), whose website boasts a membership of just under 50, presented a programme of works for harpsichord (Michael Quinn) and double bass (Daniel Bodwell), with extra contributions by Seán Clancy on harmonica and Enda Collins on horn.
There were eight works, most feeling short but not particularly pithy. There were problems with the harpsichord, which, although tuned a number of times during the concert, didn’t hold its tuning at all well.
The opening chordal section of Dylan Curran’s Obloquy, for example, would surely have sounded different on a sweetly tuned instrument, although the sourness was altogether less of an issue in the Punch and Judy style conflicts of Emma Brennan’s Ode to the Marionette, pitching mock- baroque harpsichord against a taped electronic opponent.
Enda Bates’s Miniature, for harpsichord and bass, ran like a piece of moto perpetuowriting with some wrinkles in the surface, and Brian Bolger’s Oil and Water treated both instruments to an energetic workout, with a central section of hiccuping harpsichord against tremolos on the bass.
Seán Clancy’s A Plague on Both Your Houses, for solo bass, was like a throat-clearing, exploratory improvisation, a start without a finish, and Donal Sarsfield’s Did You?, the only piece which called for all four instruments, had a disjointed feeling reminiscent of the title of the John Masefield novel, ODTAA(“one damn thing after another”), with the sparing use of harmonica providing the best moments.
Johanne Heraty’s Four Lamentshad a blunt, nagging character, and it was the slow swing of Richard Gill’s Cyclical Junctionswhich seemed to make most effective use of the character of the two main instruments. The audience gave it the most rousing reception, a verdict I would not contest.