Arts

Review: Once you see it, you'll like it

Guy meets Girl, and that’s where the introductions end.

The principal characters in this Sydney premiere production of Once remain nameless, but never voiceless throughout the minimalist musical nimbly staged in a Darlinghurst church-turned-playhouse. 

The Irish vacuum repairman and Czech immigrant, connected by a hoover that will not suck, set about on a week-long mission to craft an album with a ragtag bunch of skilled musicians in Dublin.

The stars need no more than a few days to become well-versed in wistful love under each other’s tutelage. 

Toby Francis’ Guy and Stefanie Caccamo’s Girl feed off each other’s wit and talent, each spurring the other to work to their full potential as they give their all to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s melodies.

Francis’ breathlessness is warranted at the end of the brutally pining When Your Mind’s Made Up, but Caccamo is undoubtedly the main attraction.

The actress, best known for her work in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, is affecting at the helm of the piano, commanding and impressive everywhere else.

Girl’s deadpan approach to comedy and love comes naturally, “I’m always serious. I’m Czech”, and keeps the audience locked out of her thoughts until the right moment.

Stefanie Caccamo and Toby Francis star as Girl and Guy. Photo: Robert Catto.

Stefanie Caccamo and Toby Francis star as Girl and Guy. Photo: Robert Catto.

The ensemble cast, including seasoned theatre and radio personality Cameron Daddo, commits to the accents and sensibilities of at-times caricatured roles, and to the rich history of Irish folk music.

Bringing the orchestra out of the pit and into the light helps preserve the trance of Once, with mere scene transitions becoming moments of intrigue as the kindred virtuosos weave hazily across the set.

It is during earnest scenes of stillness that the play feels most rushed, like the performers can’t wait to pick up their instruments again, but the audience - who have awaited the musical’s Sydney opening since it’s Australian premiere in Melbourne five years ago - hardly minds.

The Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s production is more musical than any iteration that has come before, a point of pride for director Richard Carroll.

Name an instrument, and musical director Victoria Falconer, who joins the cast as barmaid Reza, can probably play it.

Once is an amalgamation of the best of musicals, plays, intimate concerts and spontaneous pub sessions, the entangled union a recipe for success.

FOUR STARS: ****

After selling out its initial run, new shows have been added from July 30 to August 4.

Watch: New doco captures Sydney Irish emigrant lives

Tomás De Bhaldraithe is one of the emigrants whose life journey is told in A Lifetime Of Stories.

Tomás De Bhaldraithe is one of the emigrants whose life journey is told in A Lifetime Of Stories.

A new documentary and web project captures the amazing life stories of some Sydney Irish seniors.

The documentary, A Lifetime Of Stories, premiered at the Irish Film Festival in Sydney and is now available online. The film, devised by Enda Murray, features in-depth interviews with a number of older Irish migrants in Sydney and allows them to tell their own stories in their own words.

The participants come from the four provinces of Ireland. Pat Foley, Tomás de Bhaldraithe, Marion Reilly, Marie McMillan and Damien McCloskey reflect on their life journeys with humour and wisdom. Pat Foley, 90, left Moyvane in Co Kerry in the early 50’s and worked on the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Damien McCloskey grew up in Derry and witnessed some of the tumultuous events in that city including Bloody Sunday in 1972. Marion Reilly is from Connemara and had the adventure of a lifetime when she travelled to Australia overland on a hippy bus in the 70’s.

Tomás de Bhaldraithe is from Dublin and is a learned Gaelic scholar and a skilled sailor of Galway hookers.

Marie McMillan is from Dublin. Marie is a skilled performer and has won numerous awards at slam poetry battles around Sydney.

Director defends convict movie after festival walkouts

Dubliner Aisling Franciosi stars in the chilling convict-era movie The Nightingale.

Dubliner Aisling Franciosi stars in the chilling convict-era movie The Nightingale.

The director of a new Australian movie starring Irish actress Aisling Francioisi has defended the film after a number of patrons walked out of Sydney Film Festival screenings.

The unhappy film-goers singled out the film’s graphic depictions of rape and murder but director Jennifer Kent said The Nightingale, set in colonial-era Tasmania, was “not ‘about’ violence”.

"The Nightingale contains historically accurate depictions of colonial violence and racism towards our Indigenous people," she told the ABC.

"Both Aisling Franciosi and myself have been personally contacted by more than a few victims of sexual violence after screenings who are grateful for the film's honesty and who have drawn comfort from its themes,” she added.

"I do not believe this would be happening if the film was at all gratuitous or exploitative.

"We've made this film in collaboration with Tasmanian Aboriginal elders, and they feel it's an honest and necessary depiction of their history and a story that needs to be told.

"I remain enormously proud of the film."

At the Sydney premiere on Sunday at the Ritz cinema in Randwick, the ABC reported that one woman walked out during the early stages, shouting: "I'm not watching this. She's already been raped twice."

Set in 1825, The Nightingale tells the story of Clare, a young Irish convict woman, who chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.

Kent was determined that the violence in the film would be an honest and authentic depiction; that in order to respect those who suffered and died in this period, she wouldn’t shy away from the truth of what happened.

“Many Australians know what happened in certain parts of the country during that time, and other people don't,” Kent explains. “A lot of people outside Australia know nothing or very little about it. I couldn't go into this part of our history and water it down.”

“Like many other countries that have been colonized, the indigenous people of Australia were subject to horrendous treatment by the colonizers. The systems of power were brutal, and I wanted The Nightingale to reflect this.”

The film was awarded the Special Jury Prize, and Baykali Ganambarr received the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival.

Celebrating the Joyce of life on Bloomsday

The work of Irish writer James Joyce is celebrated around the world on Bloomsday.

The work of Irish writer James Joyce is celebrated around the world on Bloomsday.

The work of James Joyce will be celebrated at a number of events in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to mark Bloomsday.

Joyce’s seminal novel Ulysses is set on June 16 which has become known as Bloomsday after the central character of the novel, Leopold Bloom.

Each year, fans of the book and Joyce’s other work gather to hear passages from his prose read aloud or celebrated through music.

This year’s Bloomsday festivities begin in Sydney on Thursday June 13 at the Stanton Library in North Sydney.

Rebel Wilson pulls out of McDonagh play in Sydney

Among those reading passages from Ulysses will be former NSW premier Bob Carr and the State Librarian for New South Wales Dr John Vallance. Musical entertainment will be provided by Martin Horan.

This event is free but bookings are essential.

On Saturday, June 15, a group of Irish and Australian actors and musicians will celebrate Bloomsday at the State Library of New South Wales.

Performers for the evening include journalist and broadcaster Daniel Browning, Áine De Paor, Awaye, harpist Clíona Molins, Brendan O’Reilly and members of the Aisteoirí Theatre Company.

The event begins at 6pm and tickets are $10. Bookings can be made via the State Libary’s website.

The Gaelic Club in Surry Hills will host its own Bloomsday celebration on the day itself, Sunday June 16.

The event, which begins at 3pm features a program of readings, music and song. Admission is free.

In Brisbane, the Queen St Mall will play host to a free, family-friendly celebration of Joyce’s work.

Readings will be interspersed with music and other entertainment featuring the Queensland Irish Association pipe band and Irish dancers.

The event runs from 11am to 2pm.

Irish academic Dr Ronán McDonald will discuss the ‘consecration’ of James Joyce’s Ulysses at a celebration of Bloomday in Melbourne.

Irish academic Dr Ronán McDonald will discuss the ‘consecration’ of James Joyce’s Ulysses at a celebration of Bloomday in Melbourne.

In Melbourne, Bloomsday will be celebrated with a seminar and lunch at the Swiss Club in Flinders Lane.

The seminar will be chaired by Australian polymath, writer, teacher, lawyer, social activist, quiz champion and former politician Barry Jones and feature eminent speakers Dr Ronán McDonald, Gerry Higgins, Chair of Irish Studies at the University of Melbourne, and Dr Steve Carey.

Dr McDonald, a Dubliner, will present a paper entitled The Consecration of Ulysses: National or Universal? in which he will examine how Joyce’s ground breaking novel gained its status as one of the great works of the 20th century. Dr Carey will speak about Joyce’s time in Zurich in 1917 during the First World War when he was writing Ulysses.

This key time in Joyce’s life, during which he produced a stage production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, part-inspired Tom Stoppard’s play, Travesties in which the writer is a central character.

Bloomsday organisers in Melbourne are staging a production of Travesties as part of their Joycean celebration.

The play, directed by Globe-trained Jennifer Sarah Dean, will be performed at fortyfivedownstairs theatre in Flinders Lane from June 12 to 23.

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.

Animated Irish movie treat for Sydney, Melbourne

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen features the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Pauline McLynn and Tommy Tiernan.

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen features the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Pauline McLynn and Tommy Tiernan.

The forthcoming Children’s International Film Festival, be be held in Sydney and Melbourne, will feature an star-studded Irish animated movie.

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen, which was co-produced by Telegael (Ireland), Nukufilm (Estonia), Grid Animation (Belgium) and Calon (Wales), took out the Best Animated Feature award at the Schlingel Festival for Children and Young People held recently in Chemnitz in Germany.

Produced on a budget of €10 million, Captain Morten and the Spider Queen is the first feature length stop-motion film to be animated in Ireland.

The all-Irish cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Pauline McLynn, Ciarán Hinds and Michael McElhatton, stand–up comedians Mario Rosenstock, Jason Byrne, Tommy Tiernan and Neil Delamere as well as young up and coming Irish talent Cian O’Dowd and Susie Power who play the roles of Morten and Eliza.

The movie is focused on ten-year-old Morten who spends his days building a toy ship and trying to avoid the ire of his reluctant guardian – a mean ex-ballerina named Anna – while his father is at sea.

Morten hopes to one day be a Captain just like his dad. After a chance meeting with the inept magician Señor Cucaracha, Morten is magically shrunk down to the size of an insect and trapped aboard the deck of his own toy ship as the room around him floods! With a wicked Spider Queen and Scorpion Pirate already on board, being Captain is going to be harder than he ever imagined.

For screening details, click here.

Irish movie treats at Sydney Film Festival

Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat in Animals, which will be screened at the Sydney Film Festival.

Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat in Animals, which will be screened at the Sydney Film Festival.

The forthcoming Sydney International Film Festival will feature several movies with an irish connection.

The Nightingale, directed by Jennifer Kent, is an Australian feature which has won praise in Europe.

Set in 1825, Clare, a young Irish convict woman, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.

It stars Dubliner Aisling Franciosi in her first lead role and won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Dubliner Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale.

Dubliner Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale.

Animals is another Irish Australian feature set in contemporary Dublin.

Directed by Australian director Sophie Hyde and based on the popular novel by Emma Jane Unsworth, Animals stars Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, Whip It) and Holliday Grainger (Cinderella, My Cousin Rachel).

Criticizing the minutiae of female friendship, Animals focuses on two untamed, party-crazed roommates living it up in Dublin whose friendship is tested when one of them falls in love.

Papi Chalo, directed by Irish filmmaker John Butler (Handsome Devil), stars Golden Globe winner Matt Bomer (White Collar, Magic Mike) as a gay lonely TV weatherman who strikes up an unusual friendship with a straight middle-aged Latino.

A Dog Called Money is a documentary about Grammy Award nominee musician PJ Harvey.

Irish director Seamus Murphy, whose film A Dog Called Money screens at the Sydney Film Festival.

Irish director Seamus Murphy, whose film A Dog Called Money screens at the Sydney Film Festival.

Directed by Irish filmmaker Seamus Murphy, it is a glimpse into the writing and recording of the 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project in a London recording studio.

For details of screenings and venues, visit www.sff.org.au



Cranberries honour lost singer with final album

Dolores O’Riordan’s death in January 2018 was mourned around the world.

Dolores O’Riordan’s death in January 2018 was mourned around the world.

There was a national and international outpouring of grief when lead singer of the Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan, died suddenly in January 2018 aged 46. The loss was felt not only in her native Limerick where the streets were full of mourners for one of Limerick’s most famous daughters but also all around the world for hits like Zombie and Linger.

More than a year since O’Riordan’s death from drowning due to alcohol intoxication, the Cranberries are releasing an album of songs O’Riordan had worked on before her sudden death. With the blessing of O’Riordan’s family, the band finished the album.

It was a help in their grief to have something to work on for her but it was also a constant reminder of the tragedy when it hit them that the singer would not be coming in to work on her parts for the recording.

“We kind of said going in, if we felt that this wasn’t going to work then we would just scrap the idea and just forget about it,” The Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan told The Irish Echo from Ireland.

“The first couple of days, your emotions were all over the place because you were focusing on doing what you do and getting it right and at the same time there is a constant reminder that Dolores isn’t here anymore. You just have to put the head down and get on with it really and be professional, or as professional as you can be, about it.

“Then when you’re at the point that we are now, a year and a bit later you’re looking back and it’s kind of hard to imagine the grieving process without actually having done that. I definitely feel that it [the album] helped the three of us in some bizarre way to have something to focus on.”

Hogan remembers how excited O’Riordan had been about the recorded material.

The Cranberries at the height of their popularity in 2003. (From left) Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, Dolores O’Riordan and Fergal Lawler.

The Cranberries at the height of their popularity in 2003. (From left) Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, Dolores O’Riordan and Fergal Lawler.

“The last six months, from June to December, she and I were in constant contact. We were on opposite sides of Atlantic but she had this new burst of energy, I couldn’t give her enough music to write to.

“She wanted to work; she had a lot to say, given everything that had happened to her in the previous three years. It was trying to keep up with her, really,” Hogan said.

“She had shared that enthusiasm with her family a lot about how much she was looking forward to getting back into work, I think her family were aware of that. It was definitely something that she wanted to do and she had worked hard on these songs.

“To not finish it would do her an injustice.”

O’Riordan’s lyrics take on added poignancy on the album. Lines like ‘Ain’t it strange when everything you wanted was nothing that you wanted in the end?’ strike an emotional chord for her band mates and fans.

“Because of everything that happened, there’s almost a double meaning to them now.

“There’s a lot of discussion in this album and the topic is about things ending and coming to an end. Up until that summer, Dolores had been through a lot and it was well publicised and she was very open about it.

“She felt that she had turned a corner for better things and knew that that was behind her. The subject matter of a lot of these songs is, ‘that’s behind me now, this is the next chapter’. Then obviously what happened in January 2018 changed everything.

“When I went back to listen to them in February 2018, your mind can not help but wander off into another place and kind of realise what she’s saying here and how poignant it is now.

“This was written as another Cranberries album, that’s all it was ever meant to be in the origins of it. I know that forever more people will read more into these lyrics than she ever meant, but she would like that kind of thing anyway.”

Is this the end for the band?

“We never sat down and had a conversation about it but I think the general consensus was that we would do this album because we had started it, Dolores and I had started writing it, and it was so far into that process that it would be wrong to not finish it. We haven’t ever discussed doing any more than that.

“It’s just Dolores was such a unique voice and such a massive personality that really trying to replace her would be almost an impossible job.

“I think we would find it weird as well. It’s a double-edged thing. If we kept going, we would love to but you’re always going to be compared to this version of the Cranberries and that can have a very mixed response.

“We didn’t want to destroy the legacy at the end, do some kind of patchwork album and just try and make a few pound out of it. The agreement was that if any of us thought this is really not one of our best just to put it away on the shelf and forget about it.”

Asked for his favourite memories of the singer, Hogan goes back to the early days of the Cranberries in the 1990s.

“It’s funny because you start to remember these things after somebody passes away. You know someone is there at the end of a phone or a visit away all the time so you kind of take things for granted. I think we all do that with friends and family and suddenly someone is not there anymore and all this stuff comes flowing back to you.

“A lot of the stuff I started to remember was from the very early days … when no one knew who we were.

“We were in many ways this little gang and we were going around writing these songs and playing to two or three people at night. The thing about Dolores was she always just laughed things off, she was great for joking and messing and things like that. I guess in this business you have a public face and you have the person behind that only closer people would know.

“She hated the way that particularly in the music industry people take themselves very seriously. They come in and they’re like, ‘you gotta do this’ or ‘you gotta do that’. She just couldn’t get her head around that, she used to just laugh at that stuff and make us laugh about it as well.

“They’re nice memories … because it was that journey that we were all on at that time in particular.”

New memoir celebrates the life of Irish Australian cellist

The late Maureen O’Carroll, who played cello with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The late Maureen O’Carroll, who played cello with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

A NEW memoir has been published that celebrates the early life of Irish Australian cellist Maureen O’Carroll, who died in 2012.

Born in the Sydney suburb of Balmain to Irish immigrant parents, John and May O’Carroll, Maureen carved out a very successful career as a professional musician.

She and her nine siblings all showed a gift for music and their parents saw this as the path out of poverty.

Six of them, including Maureen, attended the NSW Conservatorium of Music High School and went on to become professional musicians.

O’Carroll was drawn to the cello at a very young age, and would prop her brother Robert’s violin on a jam tin and play it like a cello.

At 17, she joined the New Zealand National Orchestra and went from there to New York, where she performed with Frank Sinatra, among others. In 1974, she returned to Australia as a single mother of three. She played a blind audition behind a curtain (to avoid gender discrimination) and was accepted into the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The O’Carroll clan. Six of the children attended the NSW Conservatorium Of Music.

The O’Carroll clan. Six of the children attended the NSW Conservatorium Of Music.

Being a child of two rebels who had fought for Irish independence, Maureen was deeply patriotic about Ireland. At one Sydney Symphony concert, she noted Rule Britannia was on the program and refused to play it. She placed her cello down and marched off stage, only returning at its end.

The new book, A Musical Memoir of an Irish Immigrant Childhood, has been written by her daughter Leora although Maureen is posthumously credited as a co-author.

“Even though her family endured hardships and poverty, my mother always had an optimistic outlook and her humorous takes on her childhood is what makes her recollections so enchanting,” Leora told the Irish Echo.

“As an adult, I was working in New York City as a television writer and producer and decided to move to Seattle where my mother lived, so that we could finally work on this memoir.

Maureen, aged 12, practicing her cello.

Maureen, aged 12, practicing her cello.

“We sat side by side for many months to write the book. It was important to us to authentically capture the memories as seen through the eyes of a child. During the writing process, I learned much more about my mother’s life, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with her to capture these memories.”

In this extract, Leora writes about her father’s barber shop in Balmain which was called The Anchor. While hairdressing certainly took place at The Anchor, John O’Carroll ran other enterprises from the shop, which was set up in the family home on Darling Street.

“The most popular feature of the Anchor, however, was not the barbering, but Dad’s other business – his lending library. Housed in a partitioned area at the back of the barber shop, was a small collection of books which included volumes of Macaulay’s History, The Complete Works of Benjamin Disraeli, and The Novels of Lord Lytton, all undoubtedly purchased as a lot by my father at an auction.

“They were dry and unreadable Victorian works, but they weren’t meant to be read. One of dad’s sidelines was bookmaking. He wasn’t binding more volumes for the library but taking bets on the horse races. Bookmaking was an illegal activity, but this didn’t stop many shopkeepers from engaging in it, and my father enjoyed maintaining a unique system to disguise the betting; a borrowed book would be returned with the bet and money placed inside, and another book would be checked out ready for the next bet.

“On Saturdays, the Anchor was a social centre for many local men, who were off work that day and would evade their share of household chores by insisting to their wives that they need a haircut or shave. But of course barbering wasn’t the main attraction. Saturday was the most important day for horse racing and consequently, a particularly busy one for the lending library.

Leora O’Carrollm, who wrote the memoir with her late mother.

Leora O’Carrollm, who wrote the memoir with her late mother.

“Clutching their Lord Lytton novels, the men would hover around the radio in the smoke-filled Anchor, engrossed by the announcer’s incessant monologue of race results from tracks around the country, and as this was thirsty work, they took turns carrying a billy can up the street to the London Hotel to be filled and refilled.

“The lending library was enjoying a burgeoning patronage when my father fell victim to an informer. It was suspected that the woman who ran the comic book shop a few doors away didn’t appreciate the competition, and one day two policemen came into the Anchor – “We’re sorry Jack, but we have to take in your account books.” They probably were sorry too, also being patrons of the lending library. My father didn’t say anything but looking unconcerned, beamed one of his cheeky grins and proudly handed over his ledgers. All of his records had been written in Gaelic.

“Gaelic was not a common written language in Australia and while many Irish people may have spoken the ancient Celtic tongue, there were very few who read it. An attempt was made by the authorities to find a translator. The search was unsuccessful, and even if there was someone who could translate Gaelic, no self-respecting Irish person would have ever agreed to be employed in such a fashion.

“Without the required evidence, the case was dropped and my father resumed his concerns at the Anchor, congratulated by all the eager literary members of his lending library.”

Maureen O’Carroll: A Musical Memoir Of An Irish Immigrant Childhood is available via Amazon

Irish Film Festival to screen in Sydney, Melbourne

Between Land And Sea, which focuses on Clare’s burgeoning surf scene, is one of the movies in this year’s Irish Film Festival.

Between Land And Sea, which focuses on Clare’s burgeoning surf scene, is one of the movies in this year’s Irish Film Festival.

The Irish Film Festival returns to Sydney and Melbourne this May.

The festival officially launches in each city with Float like a Butterfly, an uplifting drama from the producers of Sing Street and the Oscar winning film Once. Set in 1972 when Muhammad Ali was set to fight in Dublin, the film follows Frances, a young Traveller girl with big dreams of becoming a champion boxer.

The film has been acclaimed at both the Cork and Toronto International Film Festivals.

The celebration of Irish cinema begins in Sydney with a community screening of Unquiet Graves at Penrith Gaels Club on Wednesday May 1, followed by the official opening night at the Chauvel in Paddington on Thursday May 2. The festival runs in the Chauvel until Sunday May 5.

The Melbourne leg of the festival takes place at the Kino Cinema in Collins Street from Thursday May 9 until Saturday May 12.

This is the fifth iteration of the festival which started in 2015.

Festival director Enda Murray says he is proud of the programme for this year’s festival. When pressed for a ‘must-see’ he nominates The Drummer And The Keeper.

“Nick Kelly, who is the writer and director, was the lead singer with Irish band The Fat Lady Sings back in the day,” he said.

“He brings a songwriter’s sensibility to the film and I love the fact that it revolves around music.”

The director also singled out A Lifetime Of Stories, a documentary in which older Irish emigrants reflect on their lives. Sydney residents Tomás de Bhaldraithe, Pat Foley, Marian Reilly, Marie MacMillan and Damien McCluskey are some of the locals featured.

“From witnessing Derry’s Bloody Sunday in 1972 to sailing around Ireland on a Galway Hooker, these are men and women who have experienced life to the full,” Murray said.

Float Like A Butterfly follows the fortunes of an Irish Traveller girl who dreams of becoming a top boxer.

Float Like A Butterfly follows the fortunes of an Irish Traveller girl who dreams of becoming a top boxer.

Among this year’s festival highlights are:

Float Like a Butterfly

It’s Ireland in 1971. Muhammad Ali is fighting in Croke Park in Dublin and Frances (Hazel Doupe, right) a young Traveller girl dreams of being a boxer. From the producers of Once and Sing Street, Float Like a Butterfly is a powerful and timely story of a girl’s fight for freedom and belonging.

Unquiet Graves

This documentary alleges that the British government colluded with Loyalist paramilitaries in the deaths of more than 120 citizens in Ireland in the early 70s. Unquiet Graves details how members of the RUC and the UDR, (a British Army regiment) were centrally involved in the murder of over 120 civilians during the recent conflict in Ireland. Director Seán Murray will be a guest of the festival.

Between Land and Sea

Lahinch, Co Clare is an unlikely home to five surfing schools and one of the world’s most dramatic big-wave breaks beneath the majestic Cliffs of Moher. This enthralling documentary presents some incredible surf photography and an engaging portrait of new lifestyles for young people on the West coast of Ireland.

The Drummer and the Keeper

Two young Dublin men find friendship despite their mental health problems in this tender and uplifting rock’n’roll story. Gabriel (Dermot Murphy), a drummer who is bipolar, meets Christopher (Jacob McCarthy), a teenager with Aspergers Syndrome, while the pair are in rehabilitation. An unlikely friendship blossoms despite the hardships giving both young men something to live for.

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid

An Irish farmer takes on a multinational company in this weird and wonderful documentary.

A Lifetime Of Stories is a documentary in which older Irish emigrants in Sydney reflect on their lives. One of the subjects is Tomás de Bhaldraithe.

A Lifetime Of Stories is a documentary in which older Irish emigrants in Sydney reflect on their lives. One of the subjects is Tomás de Bhaldraithe.

Dublin Oldschool

A WANNABE DJ deals with life head-on in a drug-fuelled weekend Dublin’s rave scene in the ‘90s. Ulysses meets Trainspotting. Director Dave Tynan is a festival guest.

Metal Heart

We hear amazing stories of travel, work and family in the oral histories which the subjects present in their own words. From partnering with Hurricane Higgins in snooker to a young woman driving overland to Australia via Kathmandu on the ‘magic bus’ in the ‘70s - these are men and women who have experienced life to the full.

No Party for Billy Burns

Billy Burns (Kevin McGahern) is a would-be cowboy lost in the dreary fields of Cavan. Billy seeks romance and adventure and dreams of riding into the sunset but the local rednecks have other ideas.

The Camino Voyage

Five artists including Oscar winner Glen Hansard embark on a modern day Celtic Odyssey as they row a currach 2,500km from Ireland to Northern Spain.

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen

A FAMILY cartoon featuring a shrinking boy, a talking caterpillar, and the voices of Brendan Gleeson, Pauline McLynn and a host of Irish comedians.

For tickets and the full program, click here.

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.

Singer Meg Mac cherishes Irish heritage

Meg Mac is a star on the rise with a national tour in April.

Meg Mac is a star on the rise with a national tour in April.

Irish Australian artist Meg Mac announced herself as a talent to watch out for when her song Known Better was selected for Triple J’s Unearthed progamme in 2013.

Accolades were soon coming her way. She was named Unearthed Artist of the Year while Marie Claire Australia chose her as an Artist to Watch and she received a nomination for Rolling Stone Australia’s Best New Talent award.

The ARIA Music Awards in 2015 saw her up for Best Female Artist and Breakthrough Artist while she was yet to even release her debut album. When her debut Low Blows landed in 2017, it went straight into the ARIA Chart at No 2 and won critical acclaim.

Now Meg has returned with GIve Me My Name Back, the first single from a new EP set for release in April when she also tours around Australia. The song is described as a ‘rallying cry, imploring girls to stand up, speak up and assert themselves’ and is about reclaiming identity, dignity and self-worth.

“It kind of means something different to everyone,” Mac told the Irish Echo.

“I’ve been getting literally hundreds of messages from people telling me what the song means to them and it’s completely different from what it means to me. Everyone can relate to what it feels like to lose who you are or your identity or feel like you’re not your full self anymore and that’s what I wrote it about but being able to see how it is relating to people is really amazing.”

The Irish Australian, who was born Megan Sullivan McInerney, has been writing material for her new EP and the next album to follow. She says she is now conscious of the pressure of producing a good follow up record.

“I think the first time you make something, that pressure isn’t there and then ever since then the pressure’s been there so I kinda just have to ignore all the pressure because if you focus too much on it you’re not going to make meaningful music,” she said.

Her powerful voice often sees her compared to Adele and Amy Winehouse but her earliest and strongest influences come from her Irish background. She was born in Sydney to parents from Donegal (Ballyshannon and Letterkenny) and Cork (Adrigole).

“Mum was always singing Irish songs. I realise now I know them and can sing along just from hearing them as a kid,” she recalls.

Meg Mac was born in Sydney to Irish parents from Donegal and Cork.

Meg Mac was born in Sydney to Irish parents from Donegal and Cork.

“My mum’s dad played accordion, bagpipes and violin, but my mum still has his button accordion and she often gets that out but she usually ends up getting really emotional and has to put it away. And he’s like in the folds of the accordion, he’s handwritten all the names of his favourite songs in all the folds. I never met him because he died before I was born.

“And my dad loves The Pogues and the Fureys, he’s always playing them so it was always around. My sister did Irish dancing.

“I think it is a strong influence. When my mum would sing a lot, she was just singing without any accompaniment. I’ve always loved being able to sing without music, you can just sing the song. When I’m writing as well, I love to be able to sing just the song and have a song be able stand up on its own, have a melody strong enough and pretty enough to seem like all those songs my mum would sing. Often, I’ll just write away from the piano, just singing.”

You will more than one member of the McInerney family on her records as sister Hannah often joins Meg on backing vocals.

“It’s easy, she knows how to sing with me. If I’m at home and I’m writing and I want harmonies, I’ll just call out to my sisters and they’ll come in and then straightaway I can hear what I wanna hear. It’s easy. And you can tell them that it sounds wrong or they’re doing it wrong and they’re not gonna be offended.”

The 28-year-old has fond memories of visiting her family in Ireland.

“Yeah, I’ve been a few times. I still have family there although I haven’t been in a few years.

“I always remember driving all the winding roads and having to stop for sheep to come across the road and then into my auntie’s house and she’s like, ‘go and dig out potatoes’. I’d never done that before: Go outside, pick the potatoes that we were going to eat for dinner. The most important memories are of my cousins, my grandparents. Living so far away, didn’t get to see them that much.

“It’s that weird thing where it feels like home but it’s not actually your home. That’s where both my mum and dad are from and I’m Australian but really I’m not Australian so it feels familiar. Whenever I meet Irish people, it feels like family.”

Meg Mac tours Australia April and May. For information visit www.megmac.com.au

Get set for tsunami of Irish music

Luka Bloom returns to Australia after a four-year absence.

Luka Bloom returns to Australia after a four-year absence.

Fans of Irish music might need to brace for a ticket-buying frenzy as a virtual invasion of artists prepare to travel Down Under over coming months

The East Coast Blues and Roots Festival in Byron Bay over Easter has a distinct Irish accent next year with Hozier and Imelda May both headlining.

Hozier is now a genuine superstar who has built up a massive following around the world since his breakthrough hit Take Me To Church in 2013.

Damien Rice makes a welcome return to Australia.

Damien Rice makes a welcome return to Australia.

Dubliner Imelda May looks very different to when she first toured Australia in 2011. Now, having abandoned her rockabilly look and sound, she has established herself as a brilliant soul and jazz singer.

Also on the bill at Byron Bay are Canadian based Irish singer Irish Mythen, honorary Irishman David Gray and Irish-American Celtic funk band Flogging Molly.

Ahead of that, in February, the uber-talented Damien Rice returns for his first Aussie tour in a decade.

Playing intimate venues like the City Recital Hall in Sydney Rice is slated to “take audiences on a familiar yet unique musical journey – presenting much-loved classics, with the tease of new music on the horizon”.

In March, Gavin James returns after a very successful tour in 2016.

The Port Fairy Folk Festival and Blue Mountains Folk Festival also boast some awesome Irish talent with Luka Bloom returning to Australia for his first tour in five years. Also performing at those festivals in the remarkable Wallis Bird. Born left-handed, she lost the four fingers and thumb of her left hand in a lawnmower accident and had four sewn back on. She got used to playing a right-handed guitar upside-down, which explains her unconventional style.

Hozier plays the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival.

Hozier plays the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival.

Also hitting the festival circuit will be Daoiri Farrell. The former electrician, who decided to become a musician after seeing Christy Moore perform, has been described by some of the biggest names in Irish folk music as one of most important singers to come out of Ireland in recent years.

Sharon Shannon also returns to Australia in February for a shows in Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. Also in Australia that month will be crooner Daniel O’Donnell.

Dublin’s Kodaline also return to Oz for the first time since their sold-out 2014 tour. The indie pop quartet have gigs lined up in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth after a St Patrick’s Day show in Melbourne.

Fans of Irish pop can look forward to a reformed Boyzone touring in March and April. Before that, Irish girl group B*Witched will arrive for shows from the end of January.

Celtic Tenors also arrive in May for a national tour.

Unique Irish dance show set to charm audiences

155-409711_©Philippe Fretault(1).jpg

CRAIC TEAM: The cast of Irish Celtic features some of the world’s best Irish dancers

A UNIQUE Irish dance show is set to get feet tapping in Melbourne and Sydney, with the acclaimed show Irish Celtic set to make its Australian debut.

Set in a traditional Irish pub, the show brings the warm welcome and raucous entertainment for which Ireland is known to a theatre stage to make for a night out like no other. Coming direct from successful tours of Germany and France, Irish Celtic boasts the talents of the finest performers from the best Irish dance companies as the show is choreographed by Jim Murrihy, an original cast member of Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames.

The performances are married to the musical direction of Anthony Davis whose soundtrack will remind audiences of classic films such as Titanic, Braveheart and The Last of the Mohicans and all is brought together by artistic director Toby Gough, international award-winning director of Lady Salsa which played on London’s West End for two years.

Choreographer Jim Murrihy told The Irish Echo they are excited to be bringing the show to Australia. “It’s an area we haven’t been to yet and hopefully it’s the start of many years of touring around Australia and New Zealand and Asia.

"It’s a great show and I think they’ll love it. “Irish music and dancing is accepted worldwide since 1996 when Michael Flatley and Riverdance put Irish dancing and Irish music on the map. “It goes down really well in all those countries.

476944_©Philippe Fretault(1).jpg

Even with the language barrier, I think the music and dancing pull everything together.

“It’s a theme show, set in a pub. We have a narrator who is the owner of the pub, Paddy Flynn, and it’s a simple enough story. He’s passing down keys of the pub to his son Dermot and as the show goes along, he talks about the history of the pub and all the things that used to happen there, anywhere from births to deaths to parties, we talk about the Titanic when people left Ireland to go over to the States many years ago, so he’s telling a story.

“We want the audience to get involved in the show and that’s one of the main things. We want every person to feel like they are in that pub that night that we are portraying.”

The show will electrify fans of Irish dancing who get to see the elite of the craft and what they can do.

“The majority of our dancers are world champion Irish dancers, great performers from Lord of the Dance and Riverdance so we have a very talented cast.

"The dancers are extremely talented, the cream of the crop around at the moment. You will see that in the performance. We do a great number and it’s just the four boys and the sean-nós dancer and it’s just about who can do the best rhythms and taps, who has the highest kicks, the fastest footwork and the audience really likes that.”

When asked how he thinks the show will go down with Australian audiences, Murrihy is reminded of when he came to Australia before as part of Michael Flatley’s production.

“I think it will go down well. In my experience, they have been very receptive to Irish music and Irish dance. Hopefully it will be the same, hopefully they come away smiling and clapping. If they’re cheering and clapping for the first number, then the rest of the show will be fun.

"They just sit back and relax and enjoy the show and become part of the Irish pub. We want them to feel like it’s an Irish pub.

"What we do in Ireland on a social scene witH musicians in a pub, we’re just taking that from an Irish pub and putting it on a theatre stage. “Who can’t relate to a night out in a pub and the things that go on?”

Irish Celtic plays at The Palms at Crown, Melbourne until August 5 and the Capitol Theatre, Sydney from August 7 to 12. For more information, go to www.irishceltic.com.au