Hilary Fannin: At ease with the singing witches of Baldoyle

The atmosphere at Baldoyle Musical Society is simultaneously familiar and deeply unfamiliar; old-fashioned maybe, gently arcane

Not a wart in sight: the stars of Baldoyle Musical Society’s production of The Witches of Eastwick

Not a wart in sight: the stars of Baldoyle Musical Society’s production of The Witches of Eastwick

 

The witches need to levitate; it’s a contractual must. No levitating witches, no libretto.

The witches are sanguine. They sit around in the sun-dusted school hall eating popcorn and waiting for harnesses to materialise. They are of the glamorous witch variety, eschewing warts for sculpted eyebrows and cascading curls. They tell me about a recent trip to Boston that their cabal and a couple of other necromancer mates made for Paddy’s Day.

“We wanted to buy some Irish tat to wear on the day,” the bow-lipped witches tell me. “Everything on the market stall was really expensive. The guy offered us a reduction if we sang him an Irish song, so we sang the national anthem, with harmonies.”

“It has its uses then, being a member of a musical society?” I suggest.

“It’s brilliant,” they say in spooky unison, commanding that I prowl below the school-hall stage and enter the shallow space under the proscenium where the costumes hang, to have a look at the “wedding wall”.

The wedding wall consists of a display of Polaroids of couples who met through the musical society. There are nostalgic snaps of guys and dolls who found each other here in Oklahoma-land, who called “hello Dolly” to each other over the rails of rah-rah skirts and size-12 cowboy boots.

There is a snap of the society’s chairman and his bride: she was 20, he was a blond, the year was 1985. I knew the bride back then; we hung around the same shoulder-pad suburb. I look at the picture and remember myself, desperate to escape, to lose myself in black coffee and Black Tower wine and even blacker eyeliner.

The couple’s teenage children are both in the society’s current musical. It feels as though the choice their parents made to remain, to be part of a community, worked for them, worked for so many of the fair ladies and Brigadoons who have been part of the society’s 43-year history.

It is a story doubtless repeated in towns and communities all across the country. We have been lucky, the members tell me; a small stipend from Fingal County Council and the support of the local convent school has kept the society alive.

Meeting the townsfolk

I go back up to the auditorium, where the cast and chorus, the temporary townsfolk of Eastwick, mill around in costume. Young women with ponytails and tremendous eyelashes brush down their gingham and polka-dot summer frocks, pull up their ankle socks, loosen their petticoats and ankle-strap shoes.

“I don’t think they had nose rings in the 1960s,” I feel obliged to mention to one young girl in a demure bolero, who has a golden ring gripping her nostrils.

“I know,” she breezily replies. “I’ll take it out before the show.”

The atmosphere in the hall is simultaneously familiar and yet deeply unfamiliar; old-fashioned maybe, gently arcane. There is a contentment, a camaraderie, an easy, unself-conscious joy that takes me by surprise, invades the carapace of my cheap leather jacket.

Young men in bomber jackets and plimsolls and varsity-like sweaters confer with respectful seriousness over the delineation of a dance step. A bearded bloke in shorts traverses the stage with painted wooden frames and a hammer and saw. The Lycra-clad choreographer, who looks disarmingly like Olivia Newton-John and was once a professional gymnast, stands behind the musical director’s singing keyboard, silently enumerating steps on the worn wooden floor. She has worked out the entire choreography for the production in her kitchen.

The cast gather on stage, their ages ranging from 14 to at least 64. Humorous women with needles and thread sit in the school hall, below the stage, diligently looking out for buckling hemlines and sagging straps. Many of them socialise together, holiday together, their friendships forged over pancake make-up and hooped skirts when they themselves trod the musical boards.

“There is something here for everyone,” I was told. “You don’t have to sing and dance. We’ll find something for you to do.”

I sit in a school hall in a shaft of Sunday-afternoon sunlight, expecting nothing, and am blown away by three stupendously voiced suburban witches and a refrain from the chorus that somehow captures this strange, sweet enterprise. “Don’t mess with the boundaries of common decency,” they entreat. I won’t. I really won’t.

  • Baldoyle Musical Society’s production of The Witches of Eastwick finishes Saturday, April 23rd, in St Mary’s School, Baldoyle. There will be harnesses
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