Friday, November 4, 2016

ANCIENT RAIN - Paul Kelly and Camille O'Sullivan

Directed by Chris Drummond - Designed by Gaelle Mellis
Lighting design by Neil Simpson - Sound design by John O’Donnell
The Playhouse - Canberra Theatre Centre – 2nd – 5th November

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Listening to a collection of songs inspired by the last 100 years of Irish poetry may not sound like the most riveting way to spend an evening. But that is to underestimate the creativity and passion of three extraordinary composers and performers in Paul Kelly, Camille O’Sullivan and Fergal Murray who have collaborated to produce a show that is truly remarkable.

Classic poems by Yeats, Heaney and Cavanagh, together with those of more recent poets as Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan, Jessica Traynor and Enda Wyley are woven into a mesmerising tapestry of songs and spoken word, brilliantly performed by Kelly and O’Sullivan, together with musicians, Feargal Murray, Paul Byrne, Dan Kelly and Sokol Koka.

Paul Kelly - Camille O' Sullivan 

Brilliantly directed by Chris Drummond, with stunning sound and lighting design, by John O’Donnell and Neil Simpson respectively, “Ancient Rain” is a constantly evolving visual and aural feast.
From the very first moments, when the curtain rises to reveal Camille O’Sullivan, in swirling mist, in a harsh white spotlight, reciting Seamus Heaney’s “Digging” in her clear beautifully modulated voice, the show immediately captivates.

Gradually the lights come up to reveal Paul Kelly standing in a semi-circle of chairs. Then Feargal Murray gently caressing the keys of a grand piano; guitarist Dan Kelly, percussionist Paul Byrne and cellist Sokol Koka, all arranged around the stage, as the poem merges into song.

For the rest of the performance, Kelly and O’Sullivan trade solos and duets, moving around the stage, constantly repositioning the chairs, themselves and the musicians, to create ever-changing stage pictures. No one refers to sheet music. Storm sounds, street sounds, or the haunting sound of solo cello; permeate the superb musical arrangements heightening the mood of the songs as they explore the gamut of human emotions.

All are consummate performers, in complete command of the material, which ranges from gentle reminiscence to raging songs of protest. Paul Kelly ‘s contained stage persona and masterful control of stillness is  perfectly complimented by Camille O’Sullivan’s bravura style, completely electrifying whether prowling the stage confronting her audience directly, or as a young girl praying to the statue of the Virgin Mary for help.

Towards the end of the evening, Kelly and O’Sullivan perform a poignant duologue, written by James Joyce, in which a woman confesses her first love. The sheer simplicity of the staging combined with the flawlessly delivered dialogue, proved a memorable and mesmerising conclusion to an unforgettable theatre experience. Whether or not Irish poetry is your thing, don’t miss this opportunity to experience this remarkable show.

This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.