The Ballad of Les Darcy.
Presented by Celtic Records and The Borderers. James Paterson and Alex Alexander. Domain Theatre. Marion Cultural Centre. Theatre Two at The Parks. March 18 2023 at 5 p.m.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
The Borderers Production of The Ballad of Les Darcy is Irish to the bone. It is spirited, energetic, bursting with song and dance in jubilation and celebration of what is at the very heart of the Irish. This is the ballad of an Aussie sporting icon and boxing legend of Irish descent and destined for immortal fame yet cut down too soon in his prime. It is a tale of triumph and tragedy, of family love and devotion and the powerful conectedness to community. It is a tale that touches the heart and moves the spirit. The Borderers (Jim Paterson and Alex Alexander) have written songs and music that capture the mood and drama of the short life of Les Darcy. From the rousing Irish to the Bone, reminiscent of the revels of the irish pub to the somber, air of It’s so hard to say goodbye Paterson and Alexander have written songs that both tell the story of the extraordinary Maitland Wonder Boy and create the changing soundtrack to Darcy’s life. With Paterson on guitar, Alexander on the penny whistle and boddhran and Raf Azaria on keyboard and fiddle.The Ballad of Les Darcy is a salute to the folk music of the Irish as well as a memorial to the life and times of a young man who held family and community above fame and wealth.
At the close of the show the ensemble in white dresses form a guard of honour alongside the still and seated figure of Darcy (Trevor Anderson). At his side stand his young wife Winnie O’Sullivan (Darcy Mae), his mother Maggie (Alex Alexander) and the young Les ( Harrison Thomas) At Anderson’s feet is a portrait of Les Darcy. It is the photo of a youthful, fit and attractive young man with a ready smile. It is an image that brings tears to the eye. Although the production is described as a workshop production, it is an image such as this, and the tight and energetic choreography as well as the rousing music and song that take the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Director Joshua Kerr, who ably filled in as the narrator and Darcy’s trainer Father Coady after an actor fell foul with Covid, has given the workshop production a tight structure that engages and entertains.
For many the name Les Darcy has been forgotten. At his funeral service in Sydney after his body was transported back from America 250.000 people came to pay their respects for an undefeated boxer, vilified by some for not fighting for his country, in spite of being too young and stopped by his mother and sweetheart and hindered from achieving his dream to hold the world title. Told in foot tapping music and song and hand clapping dance and with simple storytelling narration The Borderers’ production is a thoroughly entertaining and informative evening at the theatre. It is played in the spirit of a pub show inviting audience to respond, sing along or dance in their seats.
Director Kerr has given the show a simple and effective workshop structure to carry the narrative and provide a theatricality to carry the excellent songs and music and the audience at the Domain Theatre responded enthusiastically. Performances by Anderson as Darcy and Mae as Winnie are effective and touching in their affection. Paterson adds a touch of comedy to the reeling, alcoholic father, Ned and there is a promising future for the 12 year old Young Les. The singing and dancing by the ensemble Garrick Stewart Highland Dancers lends vitality and a strong sense of community to this enjoyable production. The Ballad of Les Darcy is a production that cannot fail to entertain. It needs a full production to be a real Knock Out. The Borderers have created a spark that could flare into a new Australian musical that tells the story of the boy from Maitland who became a king of the boxing ring. Presented by Celtic Records, The Ballad of Les Darcy reminds us all to remember a sporting hero who was Australia’s own.
This Fringe version of this workshop production holds the promise of a major musical. Adelaide audiences can catch a final performance of The Ballad of Les Darcy at the Parks Community Centre on March 18th. You’ll leave with a spring in your step, a smile on your lips and a song in your heart. And maybe a tear or two for a destiny unfulfilled. The Ballad of Les Darcy has something for everyone.