Irish Shows

Rebel Wilson pulls out of McDonagh play

Rebel Wilson choose the McDonagh play but will not now star in the STC production.

Rebel Wilson choose the McDonagh play but will not now star in the STC production.

Hollywood star Rebel Wilson has withdrawn from the forthcoming Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

The Australian actor was the most high profile and exciting casting for the 2019 season when she was announced for the role of Maureen Folan in the dark comedy but she will no longer be part of the show due to an “unforeseen scheduling conflict”.

When Sydney Theatre Company announced its 2019 season last year, artistic director Kip Williams said the McDonagh play was the actor’s choice.

Williams told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time: “We had a different play on the table. She came back to us and said, ‘Thanks, very interested in that but I would love to do Beauty Queen Of Leenane’.”

In a press release, the STC said: “Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict,Rebel Wilson has withdrawn from Sydney Theatre Company’s production ofThe Beauty Queen of Leenane. New casting for the Martin McDonagh comedy will be announced in the coming weeks.”

The actress, who lives in Sydney, is well known for her roles in Hollywood movies such as Bridesmaids and the Pitch Perfect film series. She can be seen starring alongside Anne Hathaway in The Hustle, a female remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The Beauty Queen Of Leenane runs 18 November to 21 December at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney.

The play was the first big hit for McDonagh who went on to pen the Broadway and West End hits The Pillowman andThe Lieutenant of Inishmore, as well as acclaimed films such as In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

U2 announce Joshua Tree tour of Australia

Bono and The Edge: ‘It’s going to feel like a homecoming’

Bono and The Edge: ‘It’s going to feel like a homecoming’

U2 return to Australia in November for the first time in nine years.

The Dublin quarter will bring their Joshua Tree show to Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds as support.

The show features all the songs from the seminal 1987 album The Joshua Tree, performed in the order they appeared on the original recording.

Bono said “It’s only taken me 30 years to learn how to sing these songs and it’s great to be able to say that I’ve finally caught up with the band.

“Our audience has given the Joshua Tree a whole new life on this tour. Doing these shows has been very special for us, a lot of emotion… From the despair of how relevant some of the dark songs still are, to the joy, pure fun of the staging… it’s quite a ride.

“And now we get to do it all over again. Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul… We’re coming for you”.

U2’s Joshua Tree tour has already been seen by almost three million fans.

U2’s Joshua Tree tour has already been seen by almost three million fans.

“We really, really wanted to bring The Joshua Tree to New Zealand, Australia and Asia” added The Edge. “We promised we would and finally, now we can say that we will see you in November... It’s going to feel like a homecoming and we are very excited”. 

It will be the first U2 tour of Australia since the hugely-successful 360° Tour in 2010. 

The Joshua Tree Tour 2019 kicks off in Auckland on November 8 before their first Australian show in Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on November 12.

Marvel Stadium in Melbourne hosts the band on Friday, November 15 before an Adelaide Oval show on Tuesday, November 19.

The Sydney Cricket Ground is the next venue for the band on Friday November 22 before the Australian leg wraps up at Perth’s new Optus Stadium on Wednesday, November 27.

Tickets for the shows go on sale on Tuesday June 11. U2.com subscribers will have first opportunity to purchase tickets starting Tuesday June 4.

The Joshua Tree Tour is a celebration of the original album and tour of the same name undertaken by U2 in 1987 and features the complete album played in sequence along with a selection of highlights from U2’s extensive catalogue of songs.

The innovative staging includes a specially commissioned series of haunting and evocative films from Dutch photographer, film-maker  and longtime collaborator Anton Corbijn – whose iconic photography accompanied the original recording  - in brilliant 8k resolution on a 200 x 45 foot cinematic screen, the largest high-res LED screen ever used in a touring show.

The show opened to rave reviews in Vancouver, Canada in May 2017 - the first of 20 sold out stadium dates across North America. The sold out Eureopean run kicked off in London’s Twickenham Stadium on July 8 and saw the Dublin band return home to play to 78,000 fans in Croke Park, almost 30 years to the day after they played the legendary Dublin venue on the original Joshua Tree tour.

Having played to over 2.7 million fans in just 51 shows across North and South America, the UK and Europe, and Mexico in six months, The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 was the most successful tour of the year.

Love/Hate star for Australian stage debut

John Connors is bringing his one-man stage show to Australia.

John Connors is bringing his one-man stage show to Australia.

John Connors, the award-winning Irish actor best known for his role in the hard-hitting Irish TV drama Love/Hate and the movie Cardboard Gangsters, is coming to Australia with his one-man show, Ireland’s Call.

Examining issues of class, religion and identity, this new play is described as “an unflinching exploration of the Irish psyche, bringing Ireland’s collective guilt’s, secrets and flaws to the surface”.

Ireland’s Call follows the lives and family histories of three young men as they grow up in Coolock on Dublin’s northside and examines what shapes them and entices them to a life of crime?

The play was hit at the Dublin Fringe Festival and earned glowing reviews from critics.

The Irish Times’ Mick Heaney, for instance, wrote that “the charismatic Connors brings vivid life to his character, whether consumed with anger and despair, or unleashing profane asides with verbal vim. And for all its bleak worldview, it’s a drama with a dogged faith in people, not least the flawed but appealing James.”

John Connors first came to public attention in the hugely popular RTE hit series, Love/Hate.

John Connors first came to public attention in the hugely popular RTE hit series, Love/Hate.

Ireland’s Call could be seen as an extension of the actor’s role as an advocate, not just for working-class people, but also for his own Traveler community, which he said is the most oppressed of Ireland’s minorities.

“The most discriminated against by a wide, wide margin,” he told the Guardian recently.

His advocacy begins with the forthright telling of his own story.

When Connors was 8, his father committed suicide and at 20, that “viable option” loomed for him.

“Seven and a half years ago,” he said, dedicating his Irish Film And Television Awards (IFTA) best actor gong (for Cardboard Gangsters) to his dead father, “I was sitting in a little box bedroom in the darkness, contemplating suicide.”

His brother reached out at that moment. The two googled “acting classes” and “Dublin” and somehow John Connors talked himself into an advanced class at the Abbey Theatre.

He is now widely considered one of Ireland’s most compelling screen actors.

Ireland’s Call will be performed at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda on Thursday June 20 and at Bondi’s Pavillion Theatre on Saturday June 22. For more details and bookings, click here.

Dylan Moran returns for national tour

Dylan Moran returns in October for his first Aussie tour in four years.

Dylan Moran returns in October for his first Aussie tour in four years.

Dylan Moran returns to Australia for a national tour in October.

It’s the hugely popular Meathman’s first Aussie tour in four years.

Moran will once again offer his unique take on love, politics, misery and the everyday absurdities of life in his new show Dr Cosmos.

The Sydney show, at the Opera House, will be part of the Just For Laughs Sydney Comedy Festival.  Tickets go on sale Tuesday 14 May at 9am.

Moran, who like fellow comics Tommy Tiernan and Hector Ó hEochagáin was born in Navan, has been called the Oscar Wilde of comedy for his deadpan, witty and lyrical style.

He first came to prominence in 1996 at the Edinburgh Fringe, becoming the youngest ever winner of the Perrier Award.  He went on to co-write and star in Black Books which won two BAFTAs. 

Other notable screen roles include Notting HillCalvaryShaun of the Dead and Run Fatboy Run.

Moran, who now calls Edinburgh home, has toured the world many times, including versions of his show as far afield as Kazakhstan, Ukraine and across the US.  

His last tour, Off the Hook, took in 149 dates across the globe and was the second biggest comedy tour in Australian history after Billy Connolly.

For tour dates and venues, visit www.abpresents.com.au

Snow Patrol for August 'acoustic' tour

Snow Patrol return to Australia in August for an acoustic tour.

Snow Patrol return to Australia in August for an acoustic tour.

Snow Patrol return to Australia this coming August on the ‘Live and Acoustic’ tour which visits Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne, and sees the band performing for the first time at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.

Fresh on the heels of their North American stadium tour with Ed Sheeran,  and appearances at Lollapalooza Chile and Brazil , the Australian shows see the Irish rockers performing as a three-piece featuring singer and guitarist Gary Lightbody, Johnny McDaid on guitar, piano and vocals and Nathan Connolly also on guitar and vocals.

According to promoters Live Nation, Snow Patrol will be performing songs live “as you’ve never heard them before” and all their best known hits will be included in the set-list.

Over a 25-year career, Snow Patrol has carved out a unique place for themselves.

Since their 1998 debut, Songs for Polarbears, Snow Patrol’s melancholy anthems of heartbreak and separation have mended hearts, and the band have emerged as musical prophets striking a chord in the minds and memories of listeners over six ground-breaking, confessional albums.

The band has racked up an impressive number of critical and commercial accolades, including more than 16 million global album sales, more than one billion global track streams, five UK Platinum Albums, as well as Grammy and Mercury Music Prize nominations. 

With an equally huge fan base here in Australia Snow Patrol have received eight platinum ARIA accreditations and continue to be one of Australia’s biggest selling International artists.

Tickets go on sale at noon on Monday, May 13. Fan pre-sale from 11am Thursday, May 9 until 11am Monday, May 13. My Live Nation members can secure tickets first during the exclusive pre-sale beginning 11am Friday, May 10 until 11am Monday, May 13.

Full tour details from Live Nation.

Final curtain call for Boyzone, Ireland's pop supergroup

Boyzone on stage in Belfast in January at the start of their Thanks You & Goodnight tour.

Boyzone on stage in Belfast in January at the start of their Thanks You & Goodnight tour.

Boyzone, Ireland’s first true pop supergroup, are ready to take their final curtain call.

More than two decades since they first got together, the band are about to tour Australia for one last time when they arrive with their Thank You & Goodnight tour this weekend.

The 'boys', now all in their 40s, have decided to let go of the vehicle that brought them huge success.

Boyzone burst onto the scene in 1994, scoring hits in the UK and Irish charts with songs like Love Me for a Reason, Key to My Life, Picture of You, Father and Son, Words and Baby Can I Hold You.

Shane Lynch reflects on the early days, describing their sudden fame as “a hell of a ride”.

"I was 17 years old and kind of catapulted around the world just not really knowing what lay ahead, just being on a crazy adventure,” he tells the Irish Echo from Dublin. “But I was lucky enough to experience some major things with the other boys. Some of it is very vivid and some of it is very poignant in my life and then some of it is a distant memory like it never even happened."

Put together by pop mogul Louis Walsh in 1993, the band was originally made up of Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy, Stephen Gately, Mikey Graham and Lynch. Although some of them had promising careers and sports scholarships, the five lads from Dublin gave these up to pursue a career in music. They quickly became the biggest pop group to have ever come out of Ireland.

"I think the magic times for Boyzone were, without a shadow of a doubt, the 90's that brought us our huge success. I think probably the best memories for me is when we got back together in '07, '08, those kind of times when we were fresh in our minds and it wasn't such a mad ride anymore.

Boyzone on stage (from left) Shane Lynch, Mikey Graham, Ronan Keating and Keith Duffy.

Boyzone on stage (from left) Shane Lynch, Mikey Graham, Ronan Keating and Keith Duffy.

“The way music worked had changed and you weren't really going from radio station to radio station anymore. It all became a lot easier in the noughties and I think those are kind of the best memories for me. The blur factor of the 90's, it's hard to pinpoint anything that was a highlight as such. I think the highlights really came in our older stages and just being able to enjoy being a band."

Lynch, who took part in last year's Celebrity Big Brother and also regularly competes in motor racing, says the current farewell tour has been a great excuse to hang out with his old mates.

“We really don't get to hang out anymore, it's only a blessing if our paths cross at any point. We don't get to call around, 'you wanna play football?' It's not like that. When you have children, it just all gets a bit distant. It's almost like a continuous stag weekend when you go on a tour, it's a celebration of the joyous moments. We're very blessed to be able to do it."

Over the years, the 42-year-old has also come to terms with previously undiagnosed dyslexia which, he reveals, made it very difficult for him to read tour schedules or autocues in the early days.

"It was the 80's when I went to school, dyslexia wasn't really a thing and it was just more that you couldn't read and write or you were a troubled kid or whatever.

"I was able to hide it for those (Boyzone) years and it was just as I became older, I found my real confidence to be able to say, 'Actually, you know what? I actually can't do what you guys do'.

“All the Boyzone boys didn't know for many, many years. As it turned out: Yeah, I'm massively dyslexic. I wish I took that journey on that path many, many years ago. A lot of people say the school system let me down and all that stuff, it really didn't. I let myself down. I'm the one who didn't say anything.

"It became a great thing in the end because it built my character into who I am today in a survival test of things. That said, life could have been very difficult and it can be very difficult for people out there who can't read and write and are scared to go back.

“They're horrible times and horrible memories, those kind of schooling times so to go to adult education or to find out you can get to read and write the older you get, it's a lengthy process but I would advise anyone out there who has any sort of problem like that, not to be afraid."

The other members of Boyzone have had differing levels of success since the original split in 2000.

Ronan Keating, 42, has enjoyed huge success as a solo artist and spends a lot of time in Australia with his second wife Storm, a Queenslander. He has also appeared on a number of Australian TV shows including All Together Now and X Factor.

Keith Duffy, 44, has been acting on screen and stage since breaking into a new career with a part in the long-running TV soap, Coronation Street.

Mikey Graham, 46, trained as an actor after Boyzone split in 2000 and has made a number of TV appearances including in TV3’s Celebrity Apprentice Ireland.

The group were hit by tragedy in 2009 when original member Stephen Gately died of natural causes. He was 33 years old. The band, the nation and the world were shocked by his untimely death. Lynch says Gately continues to inspire the remaining Boyzone members.

"It's coming up to ten years now that we've lost Stephen and ten years is a long time and without a doubt, time is a great healer. What we try to do in our show is to make it a celebation of Stephen also.

“He was an amazing part of Boyzone, amazing character and without a doubt very much missed amongst us as a group, let alone as a friend gang and a guy that I would have grown up with.

“The way to miss him, it's not necessarily a tear to the eye, it's more of a smile. There's a lot of emotion for sure that runs through the crowd and certainly has done on this tour. It gave different emotions to different people and I think that's what music does, that's exactly what music is all about. When we meet up and we talk about Steo, we celebrate Steo. It delivers different impacts for different people but for us guys, we're definitely there to celebrate it."

While Lynch savours those early days of Boyzone he ‘lost it’ on The Late Late Show last year when host Ryan Tubridy showed a clip of the band’s cringeworthy first appearance on the show 25 years ago.

“I’ve busted my bollocks to get here. See that clip? You can shove it up your fucking hole,” Lynch told Tubridy on the live show.

Lynch laughs when asked about the outburst.

"You know what it was? It's kind of plain and simple and I, as a grown man, perhaps should have expressed myself in a little bit more of a controlled way but I guess I had had enough at that point. We all kind of lash out at times.

"My frustration was they invited us onto the show to celebrate Boyzone and talk about the great 25 years and to give us a real boost.

“The first thing they do is try and take you down or take you back to a time that was not nice for you. What I mean by that is The Late Late Show as we all know is not Boyzone's best time in life ever, it's actually the worst so it's like being reminded of being the dumb kid in school, the fat kid in school, the ugly kid in school. That was a hard time in Boyzone's life so to be kind of kicked in the bollocks by your own TV show, the biggest TV show in Ireland and to regress you back to those times was, I thought, very unfair. I think it was a nasty thing to do, it was like bullying at its highest level. Laugh it off because it's a TV show? No, I just felt I was being bullied at that point and I guess I came out kicking and screaming or expressed myself the way I did. That's just how I felt at the time."

Boyzone kick off their farewell tour at HBF Stadium in Perth on March 30 before performing at Adelaide Entertainment Centre on April 2, Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne on April 3, ICC Theatre in Sydney on April 5 and finally, The Star in the Gold Coast on April 6 and 7.

Irish boy Fox finds his voice in Australia

Entertainer Bobby Fox, who now calls Sydney home, was born in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford.

Entertainer Bobby Fox, who now calls Sydney home, was born in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford.

Bobby Fox had to come to Sydney to find his voice. And what a voice.

The Longford native is one of four featured singers in the new production of Saturday Night Fever, which opens at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney next week, the latest entry is his impressive showbiz resume.

Fox is now an established star of Australian musical theatre with credits ranging from Jersey Boys to Hot Shoe Shuffle to Spamalot to Assassins. But it was Irish dancing that originally steered him towards a life in showbiz.

“All my upbringing was Irish music and Irish dancing,” he tells the Irish Echo at Saturday Night Fever rehearsals in Sydney. “When I first came to Australia I wanted to expand my horizons as a dancer but I absolutely needed a break from Irish dancing.”

He had performed and toured internationally with Riverdance as well as a number of spin-off shows.

“I was a champion dancer up to the time I joined Riverdance in 1998 but that was when I became passionate, that’s when the passion went ‘click’ and I just wanted to perform.”

Fox relished his time with Riverdance and describes the ensemble as “the very best”. He went on to join a show called Dancing On Dangerous Ground, in which he performed in London and in New York, at the Radio City Music Hall. He then joined To Dance On The Moon, a smaller Irish dance show. It was this production that first brought him to Australia in 2002. But he knew it was time for a change.

“I was doing a performing arts course in Sydney and one of the elements was song ‘prep’. So I had to put a song together and perform it for the class. Everyone around me was saying ‘you have to come back to Australia’.”

He says he owes a debt of gratitude to the couple who ran the course, Elena and Mario De Cinque of ED5 International, who helped him apply and ultimately secure his residency.

“They researched the visa pathway and gave me the money to pay for it. They just said ‘pay us back when you have the money’. Three weeks after I got my residency I got a call to say I had a part in the Sydney production of Mamma Mia. As soon as I had my first couple of paychecks I said ‘thanks lads’ and I was on my way.”

Bobby Fox at rehearsals for Saturday Night Fever in Sydney.

Bobby Fox at rehearsals for Saturday Night Fever in Sydney.

If Mamma Mia was the springboard, Jersey Boys was the splash hit.

The stage musical, which dramatises the remarkable real-life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, premiered in Sydney in 2010.

The show had won Tony and Olivier awards in New York and London as well as a Grammy for best recording of a musical so expectations were high for the Australian production.

The Edgeworthstown man’s ability to master Frankie Valli’s trademark falsetto was key to him securing the role and he was given the nod by the singer himself.

“I had sung falsetto before but I didn’t think it was that special,” he says. “I could sing before Jersey Boys but Jersey Boys taught me how to sing. I learned how to do it safely, how to clarify it, how to expand the sound, how to take it from just hitting the note nice and sharp to it being something that bellowed through walls.”

Fox went on to perform the role almost 1,000 times around Australia leading to other musical theatre roles in Blood Brothers, Oklahoma and the Australian musical Ladies in Black, which toured nationally and for which he received a Green Room Award nomination. In 2017, he performed in Assassins for which he received a Helpmann Award nomination. On screen, Fox’s credits include Upper Middle Bogan, It’s a Date, Tricky Business and House Husbands. He also appeared in the feature film The Cup. He is also one of Australia’s most in demand corporate and event entertainers.

He admits to creative restlessness and says likes to expand his musical resume along the way.

“I know there’s always something more to me. If I was doing the same thing all the time I would explode.”

In Saturday Night Fever, he is one of four star vocalists along with Paulini, Marcia Hines and Nat Conway, performing songs like How Deep Is Your Love, Stayin’ Alive and More Than A Woman. His involvement, he says, came about through his girlfriend.

“My partner Mel [actress, singer and model Melanie Hawkins] who plays Stephanie, was auditioning for the show so we watched the movie together. That was the first time I had actually seen it. I was obviously familiar with the music and I’m such a big fan of disco. The craftsmanship of the tunes is second to none.”

Fox, whose sister Lisa is an accomplished actor and performer in Ireland, will soon get a chance to

channel his Irish heritage in his own show, The Irish Boy, in which he will sing, dance and reveal his other musical skills on the button accordion and the bodhrán.

“What I want to do is take the traditional and combine it with what’s happening now. I want to replicate that session feel like when the craic’s on and the tunes are good..”

Dubliner Enda Markey, who is producing the show, said, “Bobby is one of the most charming and charismatic performers in the country, and it’s been a real labour of love to be able to develop The Irish Boy with him to create a unique celebration of our home country, showcasing Bobby’s incredible talents.”

It will also give Fox a change to dance again. Last year, while performing Assassins at The Sydney Opera House, he fell on stage during his big number on opening night, breaking his foot.

“It will be a year in June since that happened,” he says. “I’m keen to get the feet moving again.”

Dublin comedy trio set to overdose on craic

Sean Finegan, Conor McKenna and Sean Flanagan are Foil, Arms and Hog.

Sean Finegan, Conor McKenna and Sean Flanagan are Foil, Arms and Hog.

“Can’t wait, really excited about it.” Sean Finegan of Foil, Arms & Hog says he and his mates are chomping at the bit to bring their sketch comedy show Craic-ling to Australia.

“Dying to get out there just to see how the material goes down with a crowd that has been asking us to come for a long time. We’re very excited.”

The comedy trio have only performed in Australian once before, at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2017.

“We did the fringe there for a month. We were gigging four times a night. Nobody knew us and we lost a fortune but had a brilliant time. That’s the last time we were in Australia. We arrived in the middle of a 40-degree heatwave and it melted us but didn’t deter us from coming back.”

FInegan is one third of Foil, Arms & Hog alongside Sean Flanagan and Conor McKenna. The trio write, shoot and edit a new sketch every week to release on Facebook and YouTube.

It’s a formula that has given the trio a massive online following and, one suspects, a steady income. For example, their brilliant take on Brexit, with Britain and Europe portrayed as a divorcing couple has clocked up more than 450,000 views.

In the stage show Craic-ling the trio conducts a class on how to hold a baby, sings a Gregorian chant about life as a monk and re-enacts the assassination of a classically trained actor. Chortle.co.uk described the show as “an effervescent hour of fast-paced gags, fizzing with energy, invention and great lines”.

How would Finegan describe the show for the uninitiated?

“It’s sketch comedy. People think certain things when they hear sketch comedy. In Ireland, there’s no sketch comedy scene whatsoever so when we started out; we started doing stand-up sets. There was no opportunity for any lights or sound, it just had to be funny. It’s very quick, off the bat. We would go sketch to sketch and we started to interact with the audience. It’s kind of like a blend between stand-up and sketch comedy as most people think of it. There’s no overarching theme. Instead of a random series of jokes, we do a random series of sketches, whatever we think are funny.

“People think it’s going to be similar to the online videos but it’s nothing like that. The stuff on stage is way whackier, weirder, much more out there.”

Finegan says they have no idea how the gags will go down, Down Under.

“We have one sketch where three guys join a monastery, become monks and they become really bored really quickly.

“Buckfast is an alcoholic drink made by monks and they find that. I don’t know. How familiar are people in Australia with monasteries? Should we be worried?”

How do the trio decides which material is for their online fans (they have 900,000 followers on Facebook) and what will go on stage?

“The wordier stuff works really well for video. The stuff that works on stage tends to be the bigger world ideas, like crazy stuff you couldn’t film without a Hollywood budget but, with a blank space, the audience can imagine whatever they want.

“The weirder and wilder stuff really bring the crowd into it as well.

“It might take us a week to work on a video for the internet but it would take us two or three months just to write one sketch for stage, it’s just so much more difficult. The standard is so much higher for stage for what you watch on screen but it’s what we enjoy doing more even though it’s harder, the rewards are so much bigger.”

The trio first came together in 2008 while they were still students at University College Dublin. The name evolved from their respective nicknames. Sean Finegan was the comedy ‘foil’. Conor McKenna was ‘all arms and legs’ and Sean Flanagan ostensibly hogged the limelight.

Finegan says he hopes to see a big Irish turnout at the Aussie shows.

“We did a gig in London. It was a really big gig for us in the Hammersmith Apollo and a load of Irish living in London came out and it was almost like this reunion party. It turned into this mad Irish night out. It’s like you’re playing in the World Cup and you’ve got a great travelling support.”

The last time they were in Australia, an elderly Irishman at one of their Adelaide shows was so taken with them, he tried to give them money after the gig.

“He had been living in Australia his whole life and after the show he came up to us and put a pile of money into our hands and he says, ‘Thank you so much for reminding me of home; you’ve taken me back’. We were like, ‘What? This is ridiculous for a silly comedy show’.

“It’s comedy, there’s no messages involved with it but to create something emotional in someone was really nice.”

Foil Arms & Hog kick off their Australian tour in Melbourne on April 9 before performing three shows in Sydney from April 23. The first two Sydney shows are already sold out.

Talented tenor trio poised for national tour

The Celtic Tenors, from left Matthew Gilsenan, from Meath, Daryl Simpson, from Omagh and James Nelson, from Sligo.

The Celtic Tenors, from left Matthew Gilsenan, from Meath, Daryl Simpson, from Omagh and James Nelson, from Sligo.

A little more than a year after their first extensive tour of Australia The Celtic Tenors are headed back down under.

The Celtic Tenors are one of Ireland’s most popular classical crossover acts. They have been performing together for almost two decades and have sold more than a million albums worldwide.

Australia is relatively new territory for the trio, although they have toured here with Celtic Woman. They are well established in the US and Canada.

“We’re a little bit late to the party [in Australia],” Matthew Gilsenan tells The Irish Echo. “We’ve been together as a group for 20 years but last year was the first time we did anything meaningful in Australia. We love it.

“There’s so many Irish, half the country lives in Australia at the moment. We can’t wait to get back.

Gilsenan acknowledges that the genre is crowded but points to the longevity of their success as validation of their appeal.

“There’s lots and lots of tenor groups out there and we’ve been around longer than any of them but we’ve kept the head down and kept it small. We didn’t have the resources to go as far as Australia early on.

“The fact that we managed to survive this long and still be productive is great. We’ve just finished our ninth studio album.”

The Celtic Tenors combine classical with pop and perform Irish classics but, as Gilsenan explains, the combination is unique.

“It’s not quite what it says on the tin. We’re called the Celtic Tenors but about 10 years in we said, ‘We should have called ourselves something else’. We don’t do too much of the tenoring. Yes, we do Nessun Dorma and we do the big belter operatic things but only a bit. We’re very proud of our great Irish songwriters, from Declan O’Rourke to Phil Coulter, to Kodaline and the Script. A good song is a good song and that’s what we come to sing.”

On this tour they will perform The Irish Songbook that will include Song For Ireland, Danny Boy, You Raise Me Up and more favourites.

This is also very much the flavour of their forthcoming album: “It’s kind of the album we should have made the very first time out with songs like I’ll Tell Me Ma, Carrickfergus, The Parting Glass and The Rocky Road to Dublin. Many of these songs we’ve kind of avoided because everyone has done them and if we were going to be giving them a go at all, we would want to get fairly good at what we’re doing.

“I think 20 years in we’re beginning to feel almost like it’s a coming of age and have enough maturity to make musical calls.”

The Celtic Tenoes have performed for everyone from Bill Clinton to Bono.

The Celtic Tenoes have performed for everyone from Bill Clinton to Bono.

Gilsenan, from Meath, and James Nelson, from Sligo, have been members of The Celtic Tenors since the start. The third member, Daryl Simpson, from Omagh, replaced Niall Morris in 2006.

The Meathman believes the fact that they are not locked into one setlist keeps it interesting for them as performers and entertaining for their audiences.

“Because we haven’t written our own music so much, we tend to cycle through songs that we think are great songs. And the ones that are truly great songs are the ones that feel like we’re doing them for the first time every night and we still enjoy them,” he says.

“It’s a huge plus for us as performers. If you’re performing something that you’re sick of doing it’s going to come across. We never do anything we don’t like. That’s what surprises: the content of the show, the craic that we have. It’s a non-scripted show. We’re kind of ordinary fellas.

“We’re not overly classical, we’re not overly Irishy, it’s just a good night of quality music. We don’t take ourselves seriously at all.”

Playing to expat audiences is always rewarding, Gilsenan says, and the degrees of separation with home are always few in number.

“An old man came to one of our shows a few years back,” he recalls.

“He said, ‘I noticed your name was Gilsenan. Did you ever hear of a man called Matt Gilsenan from Meath, the football player? That’s why I came, I recognised your name’. My grandfather was Matt Gilsenan. He was the captain of the Leinster football team in 1939 and they won the Railway Cup. He said, ‘I played with your grandfather in 1942’. And I said, ‘My God, that’s amazing’. He said, ‘Well, I left in 1945 and I never came home’.

“He wrote a little note to my grandfather who was the absolute definition of a hard man. But he was really, really gobsmacked when he got this. It’s quite emotional the stories that you come across, it’s unreal.”

What does Gilsenan consider the best compliment the group has been paid in 20 years?

“I remember we sang for Bill Clinton at an event in Dublin Castle. It was marking the fact that the Good Friday Agreement seemed to have stuck, so we were singing for Bill Clinton; Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach at the time, so he was there. Bono and Bob Geldof were there; President [Mary] Robinson and all these people.

“Three days later, we get a phone call from Bono’s office to ask if we would sing at a private birthday party for him so he obviously thought our version of Danny Boy was good enough. He asked us to sing five or six songs as a birthday gift for [the late Secretary General of the United Nations] Kofi Annan’s wife. He was a lovely man and his wife was even nicer.”

Part of the fun of performing is to reconnect with audiences and, Gilsenan says the trio treat their fans as friends.

“Young pop groups have fans; we tend to treat them more like friends. We don’t separate ourselves too much. At the end of a show, we’re there signing CDs, shaking hands and saying hi and you end up knowing so many of them.”

The Celtic Tenors return to Australia in May and June for a national tour. For more information, go to www.celtic-tenors.com

Rebel Wilson to star in Beauty Queen Of Leenane

Rebel Wilson is a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s work.

Rebel Wilson is a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s work.

Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids) will play the female lead in Martin McDonagh’s Beauty Queen Of Leenane for the Sydney Theatre Company next year.

The star of movies like Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids returns to the Sydney stage in the ink-black modern classic by Academy Award-winning writer McDonagh who wrote and directed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Wilson’s appearance in this Sydney Theatre Company production is sure to generate plenty of interest when it premieres next November.

The play is part of McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy alongside A Skull In Connemara and The Lonesome West.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is one of my favourite plays,” Wilson said.

“It’s a fascinating look at a complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, written by my favourite playwright, Martin McDonagh. He writes such dark and comedic characters – I've always been drawn to his work.

“I am really excited to come back to STC to be in this play. The Beauty Queen of Leenane was the first professional play that I ever saw and I saw it at STC when I was 19 years old. I was just blown away by how talented the actors were and how great the play was. Then I performed in that same theatre a few months later in my first proper play, Spurboard, for ATYP and STC Education. So, to me, the play holds a lot of significance – I hope I can do it justice."

Set in a small Connemara town, Maureen Folan lives a lonely existence with Mag, her aged mother. Their relationship is more arm wrestle than warm embrace. Right now, when Maureen stands the chance of having her first romantic relationship, Mag’s cantankerous presence is simply unbearable.

This play was the first big hit for McDonagh, whose films also include the hugely popular In Bruges.

Rebel Wilson said she is excited by her return to live theatre.

“There’s something very special and very magical about seeing theatre. I can’t get enough of going. I love that it’s an immediate experience. The cool thing is that every theatrical performance is different and it depends on the audience and the energy in the room. Just those people there share that one, live, personal experience. You can’t get that from a movie or a TV show, it’s such a particular experience. That’s why, despite all the technological advances in entertainment, people still go to the theatre – and have for hundreds of years. You just can’t beat the shared experience of theatre.”

The play is part of the Sydney Theatre Company's 2019 Program.

Harp In The South a Strumpet City down under

Kate Mulvany's stage adaptation of Ruth Park's Harp In The South runs until October 6. 

Kate Mulvany's stage adaptation of Ruth Park's Harp In The South runs until October 6. 

 

REVIEW: “There are no literary tricks, no displays of cleverness, little rhetoric and less sentimentality; it is full-hearted, astutely observed writing at its most cohesive.”

Eileen Battersby wrote this in The Irish Times as a way of describing James Plunkett’s novel Strumpet City (successfully adapted for the small screen by Hugh Leonard in the 1970s) but it could have been written about Ruth Parks’ The Harp In The South.

Different city and a slightly different time but its epic scale, its large cast of characters and its essential Irishness are common threads.

Actor and playwright Kate Mulvany, whose resume is already bulging with fine stage work, has adapted Parks’ three novels about the Darcy family - Missus, Harp In The South and Poor Man’s Orange – for the Sydney Theatre Company. The resultant mammoth production, directed by Kip Williams, is both impressive and captivating. 

The ‘harp’ of the title is Ireland and we are taken on a dramatic journey with the Darcy family from the rural NSW town which they first call home in the new land to the grimy Surry Hills slums to which they move in search of a better life.

The streets of Sydney are not paved with gold and their lives become a daily battle of survival against the forces of poverty, violence, illness, crime, alcoholism and prejudice. 

For all that, there’s warmth and humour galore interwoven into the script along with a number of Irish songs tastefully punctuating the narrative.

While this is a new play, it is immediately familiar to Irish eyes with shades of Sean O’Casey, John B Keane and even Brian Friel.

Emigration is a common theme for Irish playwriting but few are written from the perspective of those who have left, looking back over their shoulder, wondering if the grass beneath their feet is indeed greener.

The opening words of Siúil A Rún, which is used to great dramatic effect in Part 1, spell it out.

“I wish I were on yonder hill, ’tis there I’d sit an cry my fill”. 

Harp In The South is steeped in that immigrant world and for the Darcys, Australia does not ultimately deliver a better life for them or their descendants even if the play (six and half hours of theatre delivered over two performances) ends on an optimistic note.

In the #metoo era, Harp In The South resonates with feminist themes as we see three generations of women battle to keep their families together as their own dreams - and indeed their very lives - are sacrificed and abandoned.

As a consequence, the female characters get all the best lines, whether its Anita Hegh’s relentlessly-aproned Margaret Darcy or local brothel madam Delie Stock, beautifully played by Helen Thompson. The Irish-born matriarch Eny Kilker, played by Heather Mitchell chastises her Australian-born son-in-law Hughie Darcy at one point “Irish? You’re about as Irish as a feckin’ wombat!”.

Sadly, the male actors are not given as much to work with as their characters are either lazy drunks, sexual predators or gormless fools. 

Part 1 is a significantly more satisfying theatrical event than Part 2 and one wonders whether the adaptation could have been more comprehensively edited to create one single production.

But make no mistake, this is a very important addition to the Australian theatrical canon and one definitely worth seeing. For all of its Irishness, it is an Australian story. We see the seeds of Sydney’s multicultural, secular, pluralist, hedonistic present through the eyes of these spirited women and the flawed men who take their loyalty and love for granted.

4/5 Stars.

Strong Irish vein to adapted stage epic

Tony Cogin, Anita Hegh and Tara Morice in Kate Mulvany's adaptation of Ruth Park's  The Harp In The South .  Picture: Rene Vaile

Tony Cogin, Anita Hegh and Tara Morice in Kate Mulvany's adaptation of Ruth Park's The Harp In The South.  Picture: Rene Vaile

A MUCH-LOVED story about a Catholic Irish-Australian family living in the Surry Hills slums in the post-war years has been turned into an epic play opening in Sydney this month.

The Harp in the South follows the lives, loves and losses of the Darcy family who run a boarding house amid the dirt and the squalor of inner city Sydney in the 40s and 50s.

It’s a two-part production staged over a mammoth five-and-a-half hours so audiences can be completely immersed in the Darcys’ world.

The play is based on a trilogy of novels by Ruth Park and has been adapted for the theatre by award-winning playwright and actress Kate Mulvany.

Mulvany, who has Irish hertitage, fell in love with The Harp in the South while growing up. She described it as a “beautiful, sweeping, romantic” saga.

“It was just this book that seemed to be on everyone’s shelves,” she said.

“I guess it was because Ruth Park was so inclusive of everyone in her writing. Everyone could find themselves, or their mum, or their grandparents in it. And for me, it was the very, very strong Irish vein that ran through the book in every single way.”

Guy Simon, Contessa Treffone and Rose Riley in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of  The Harp In The South . 

Guy Simon, Contessa Treffone and Rose Riley in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of The Harp In The South

At the heart of the play are first generation Irish-Australians Margaret and Hugh Darcy and their two daughters Roie (Rowena) and Dolour.  Audiences will follow them through the generations and the decades in a production full of song, laughter and tears. Their Irish-born grandma, played by Heather Mitchell, provides many of the gags.

 “She is sort of like an over-sexed, blatantly honest, funny, little tiny creature,”Mulvany said. “I really enjoy it every time she goes on stage.”

There’s also a tight-knit community of neighbours, many of them new immigrants from different parts of the world. The colourful cast of characters includes the notorious madam who runs the brothel next door, nuns and even an Orangeman intent on starting the Troubles in the Darcy’s kitchen.

The Harp in the South reflects the life of Surry Hills’ hardscrabble post-war residents – the Irish, the Chinese and the Europeans – who filled its streets with life and colour.

One of the play’s central themes is community and “finding a place to belong when you’re far from home” and it celebrates the fellowship that existed among the slum dwellers.

But it certainly isn’t all a rose-tinted depiction of the ‘good old days’. 

Along with the grinding poverty, there’s violence, backstreet abortions, alcoholism and death. 

Playwright Kate Mulvany, who adapted Ruth Park's classic for the stage.

Playwright Kate Mulvany, who adapted Ruth Park's classic for the stage.

Park lived in Surry Hills after she got married, so she knew well the conditions firsthand.

“I’m not going to cast it in a golden light because it’s not,” Mulvany said. “Ruth Park never wrote it like that, either. It’s tough.”

In fact, when Park’s book was first published in 1948 there was a public outcry at its depiction of the slums, especially because Park was a New Zealander. And while modern Irish
immigrants might appear to have little in common with the Darcys, Mulvany said they may struggle with some of the same issues.

 “Do you belong either in Surry Hills or in Ireland? How far does Irish blood go?”

Mulvany wrote the play for the Sydney Theatre Company after being given the commission to adapt an epic novel and turn it into event theatre.

Audiences can choose to watch the two-part production on different days, or on the same day with breaks.

The 18-strong cast is in rehearsal and has the enormous task of playing 150 parts, switching costumes and personas for what has been described as one of STC’s most ambitious productions.

 “They’re doing very well with it; I’m sure they’ll turn on me soon,” Mulvany said with a laugh.

The Harp in the South runs from August 16 to October 6 in the Roslyn Packer Theatre.

For more details go to sydneytheatre.com.au

Australian premiere for orphan girls play

The cast of Highlands Theatre Group's production of  Belfast Girls .

The cast of Highlands Theatre Group's production of Belfast Girls.

Belfast Girls, a play which dramatises the journey of Irish orphan girls to Australia in the mid-19th century, is to have its Australian debut this month.

The play, written by Irish playwright Jaki McCarrick and directed by Stephen Clancy, will be performed by the Highlands Theatre Group (HTG) at the Mittagong Playhouse in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

Set in 1850 in the immediate aftermath of the Great Hunger (an gorta mór), the play follows the fortunes of five young women who set sail for a new life in Australia aboard the Inchinnan. Each carried with them their own dark and shocking secrets of the past.

As their journey nears its end, they battle with memories of past deeds and confront the reality of what their futures in this new land, may actually hold for them.

Between 1848 and 1851, more than four thousand young women - many of them orphaned by the famine - left Ireland under the Earl Grey Scheme to boost the female population of the colony.

The HTG is one of only nine amateur theatre groups throughout the world to be given permission to stage the show. 

Writer Jaki McCarrick became interested in the orphan girls story when she found a namesake,  Nora McCarrick, from Easkey, Co Sligo, who had travelled to Australia under the scheme.

"This was a chapter of Irish history I knew nothing about," she said.

"I read what books I could find on the subject, including Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, Thomas Kennelly’s History of Australia, Trevor McClaughlin’s Barefoot and Pregnant? Irish Famine Orphans in Australia, Irish Women and Irish Migration, edited by Patrick O’Sullivan.

"In my reading of these books and articles, I discovered that a particular group of ‘orphans’ were considered to have been especially feisty and colourful, known for their use of obscene language and riotous behaviour. These were known as ‘the Belfast girls’."

The HTG will stage six performance of the play. For more information, and bookings, visit htg.org.au or call Destination Southern Highlands directly on (02) 4871 2888.

 

Blissful Riot brings Irish party to Sydney Festival

Ireland's much-loved drag queen Panti Bliss.

Ireland's much-loved drag queen Panti Bliss.

Ireland's best known drag queen and gay rights activist Panti Bliss is coming to Australia with a show that combines drag, dance, circus and comedy.
RIOT is a spectacle that boasts an all-star Irish cast and sold every ticket available at 2016 Dublin Fringe, won Best Production and broke box-office records. Panti and RIOT coming to Sydney Festival and Arts Centre Melbourne is particularly apt following the recent same sex marriage vote here.
The self-described accidental activist played a major role in the successful referendum campaign for Marriage Equality in Ireland.
"I was following it very closely," Panti told The Irish Echo of the recent postal plebiscite. "It was a slightly odd experience to be watching it from Ireland because, having gone through the exact same excruciating debate in the run up to our referendum on marriage equality, we knew exactly what you were going through and how emotionally draining it could be.
"And it was also a bit like going back in time watching it all unfold, because the exact same arguments were being made - sometimes word for word! - that we had heard ad nauseam in 2015.

Panti Bliss says she was emotional over Australia's decision to legalise same sex marriage.

Panti Bliss says she was emotional over Australia's decision to legalise same sex marriage.


"Like many interested members of the LGBTI community here, I watched the results live on the internet and it was quite emotional! Reliving the joy and relief we felt in Ireland as we heard the results of our own vote."
 Rooted in the Irish traditions of poetry, oratory, Irish dance and song, then deconstructed using musical, electro, striptease, drag and pop culture, RIOT is a theatrical gut-punch. It is a love letter of hope to the future and a clarion call on the state of the world today.
Panti is well known to Australian audiences. Her 2016 one-woman-show High Heels in Low Places racked up stellar reviews and packed houses in Australia as well as Ireland, UK, Europe and USA.
Is she looking forward to getting back down under? "Am I?! Does Pauline Hanson make poor fashion choices??
I'm lucky enough to get to go to Australia most years and, even better, usually during our looooong Irish winter! It's so nice to get away to Aussie sun just as I'm getting totally fed up of the cold and damp, and by the time I get back, the winter is nearly over! But this year, after the Yes vote, I'm looking forward to it even more than usual."
 Joining Panti on stage are Street Performance World Champions and unlikely heroes of Britain’s Got Talent, The Lords of Strut. These spandex adorned lads are on a mission to change the world with a dose of dance, acrobatics and a big old measure of slapstick. Multi-award winning dance duo Philip Connaughton and Deirdre Griffin roll out some thumping jigs whilst Megan Riordan, the star of the Tony Award winning Once The Musical (Dublin) and Ronan Brady, the Gaelic football player who ran away to join the circus, add to the sensational line up.  
Rounding out the cast is Kate Brennan, RIOT’S street corner poet delivering the emotive words and rhymes of Emmet Kirwan including those from Heartbreak, which became an award-winning short film, along with the show’s ‘Sirens’ vocalists Alma Kelliher, Adam Matthews and Nicola Kavanagh.  In addition, a surprise local guest artist will join the cast each night of the season.  
 It is not like Panti has not been to Australia before but this show is completely different: "But usually it's just me with my one-woman shows so this time will be very different (and I suspect even more fun) going with a big cast of brilliant, fun performers - many of whom have never been to Oz before.
"I think Australian audiences are going to LOVE this show. It was actually conceived as a show about Ireland but the themes are universal. It's got real heart, but is also a high octane spectacle. It's a noisy, glittery, raucous show that incorporates theatre, cabaret, circus, and music, and it will have you howling laughing one moment and the very next moment will break your heart. It's a wild fun party that sends you home with lots to think about. And I'm in it, so.... bound to be amazing, right? RIGHT??!! Right.
"Melbourne is one of my favourite cities in the world and the beautiful Arts Centre Melbourne is one of my favourite venues to perform in, so I'd be excited to return there under any circumstances. But returning there with this wildly talented cast, in this spectacularly entertaining show that we're all so proud of, is almost too much excitement for this old show pony! And then on top of that we get to welcome a different special guest into the cast every night! I may have to lie down till the palpitations pass."
 

RIOT plays as part of Sydney Festival 5- 28 January (www.sydneyfestival.org.au), then at Arts Centre Melbourne 31 January – 9 February 2018. Book at artscentremelbourne.com.au