- 02 Feb 22
The Gaiety was treated to a masterclass in storytelling by the Walkinstown actor who was back on the Dublin stage for the first time in 43 years!
President Michael D. Higgins, his wife Sabina Higgins, Ministers Eamonn Ryan and Catherine Martin, Aidan Gillen, Mary Coughlan, Brendan Gleeson, Brenda Fricker, Jerry Fish, Liz Nugent, Anne Enright and Deirdre O'Kane were among those in the Gaiety Theatre last night for the premiere of Gabriel Byrne's autobiographical one man show, Walking With Ghosts.
It was the first time the Walkinstown actor had performed in the Gaiety – or indeed any Irish theatre – since he lined up alongside the likes of Niall Tobin, Jim Sheridan, Cathyrn Brennan and Mick Lally in Frank McMahon's 1978 adaptation of Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan, a sock-less version of whom features in one of the show's monologues about the Dublin 'characters' of yore.
An abridged version of his 2021 memoir of the same name, the two-hour production leans more towards family than celebrity, with Byrne lovingly mimicking his mother, father and sister Marian who died in her thirties, a tragedy that had him howling in pain and grief until he was literally hoarse.
Like Leonard Cohen before him, the 71-year-old is adept at finding the crack of light in the darkness, with a barrage of one-liners – many of them from the 1,001 Jokes book he used to ease his social anxiety as a kid – and visual gags that any stand-up would be proud of.
There are belly laughs galore too as he recalls being the worst plumber's apprentice in the world... ever! and how whilst over-thinking his first paid theatre gig he smashed the Virgin Mary to smithereens. There's also a marvellous piece about the members of the amateur dramatics society that gave him his first break, which is as tender and appreciative as it is slapstick funny.
His impressions also extend to Richard Burton, the legendary Hollywood actor/hellraiser "from whom I would learn the meaning of fame." Burton also taught him about the perilously thin line between living life to the actorly full, and becoming a raging alcoholic which Byrne was until a near-death experience 23-years-ago persuaded him to seek help. The concluding "and I've been sober ever since" is greeted by a shouted "well done, Gabriel!" from the crowd which hangs on to his every word for the full duration of the show.
We also hear about the un-Christian brother who blamed Gabriel and his young pals for the beatings he inflicted on them; the death of a future Manchester United goalkeeper who's one of the titular ghosts; and a kindly priest who turns out to be one of the monsters the Catholic Church here has so callously protected.
The staging is lowkey but highly effective, the pacing perfect and Byrne's performance fully deserving of the lengthy standing ovation he receives at the end.
If you're not able to bag tickets for his Gaiety run which extends until February 6, fear not, because you'll be able to watch Walking With Ghosts on pay-per-view at https://www.landmarkproductions.ie from February 26 to March 4. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 43-year to see Gabriel Byrne back on an Irish stage!
— Landmark Productions (@LandmarkIreland) February 2, 2022
— Joanne Keane (@keenondrama) February 1, 2022
At the Gaiety last night Gabriel Byrne played the ghosts of his past. Auld characters, celeb alcoholics, bad priests. In a powerful moment telling how he gave up the demon drink, a chancer from the audience spoke for all when he shouted out ‘good man Gabriel’. #VeryDublin pic.twitter.com/2Slj05XZZw
— Eamon Ryan (@EamonRyan) February 2, 2022
— Liz Nugent (@lizzienugent) February 1, 2022
— caroline henry (@cazhenry) January 27, 2022
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