Ancient Rain. Paul Kelly and Camille O’Sullivan with Feargal Murray..
Directed by Chris Drummond. Original music by Paul Kelly, Feargal Murray and Camille O'Sullivan. Designed by Gaelle Mellis. Lighting design by Neil Simpson. Sound design by John O’Donnell. Far and Away Productions in association with Brink Productions. Her Majesty’s Theatre. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. June 15 and 16. 2017.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Ancient rain keeps pouring down back through time, through rebellion and blood, through love and pain, through a history of Ireland scarred by suffering and buried in the stories of the 1916 Easter Uprising, the fates of the innocent and the haunting memories of hardship and pain. Far and Away Productions in association with Brink Productions have created a stirring and deeply moving theatrical account of the agony and despair of the Irish people, interpreted and performed by Paul Kelly and Camille O’Sullivan with support from Feargal Murray on piano, Paul Byrne on percussion and drums, Dan Kelly on electric guitar and Sokol Koka on cello. Through poetry, prose and song, Kelly and Camille recount the dark days of 1916 in W.B. Yeats’ Easter 1916, the feisty spirit of rebellion of Michael Hartnett’s A Farewell to English, James Joyce’s account of tragic love, The Dead, performed with heartfelt pathos by Kelly and O’ Sullivan. Steeped in the spirit of Irish literature and music and song, Ancient Rain is an anthem to the dead, a poem to the cycle of Life and a brave testament to the courage of a proud people of a defiant nation. Stories of feminist activist Dr. Kathleen Lynn and nineteenth century revolutionary Daniel O'Connell, and Michael Collins resound in the haunting, evocative song of Camille and Kelly’s zealous accompaniment on guitar. The storm swells to the musicians’ cajoling of piano, drums, cello and guitars; snow falls, the rain pounds and the wind sweeps through the hearts and lives of the Irish people.
Fire consumes the GPO stronghold of the 1916 rebels. The earth consumes the bones of the dead, the air chills the bones of the 17 year old Michael Fury. Water turns to falling snow in the cold night of winter and prayers to Christ soar to heaven in a people blessed and cursed by their faiths.
Kelly’s undemonstrative narration echoes with the tone of acceptance. It is almost devoid of sentiment, the voice of factual account, delivered with a detachment that gives it judgement. It is a dispassionate foil to O’Sullivan’s passionate well of emotion. Her extraordinary voice spans the chasm of despair, the soaring wail of grief, the rebellious song of defiance and the spirit of independence. Paul Meehan’s The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks becomes a powerful cry for the manifestation of faith when the statue of the Virgin Mary fails to prevent the death of a fifteen year old girl and her newborn secret.
Koka’s drawn bow across the cello’s strings evokes the longing of the heart. From soft sentiment to proud tradition and cacophonous turmoil, Ancient Rain is hymn and eulogy to Ireland’s troubled past through the writings, music and song of Ireland’s finest sons and daughters of words and music. Neil Simpson’s lighting bathes the stage in atmosphere, blending mood with director Chris Drummond’s gentle shifts of emotion and action. But it is Camille who mesmerizes, steering our emotions with her beguiling traverse of character and song, reminding us that it is the women who inherit the agony of war, who bring forth the life that is soaked in the blood of war. She gives voices to the silent voices of the past in an unforgettable performance.
Performances are brief and fleeting at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Ancient Rain’s two performances will linger long in the hearts and minds of those fortunate enough to be at Her Majesty’s when this enlightening production came to town. Be sure to see it if it comes your way.