Tuesday 21 February 2017

'It will resonate deeply with those who suffered the loss of family to Britain before Facebook and Skype' - Paddy review

Paddy, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

Published 21/09/2016 | 09:32

Paddy the musical
Paddy the musical
Paddy the musical

The misery is laid on with a builder’s shovel in Paddy, a hit musical starring singer Tommy Fleming, which receives its Dublin premiere having won acclaim on a regional tour last year.

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Fleming is likeably low-key as a Mayo farmer who takes a job on a London building site in the Sixties and discovers that creating a new life in a strange country is not as straightforward as he had expected. There is sadness, there is heartache, there are many, many songs about sadness and heartache.

The down-trodden “London-Irish”, always with a pint and a salty reminiscence about home, is an archetype who has shuffled into history and this will be a story unfamiliar to most under the age of 60. Indeed, Paddy, written by Fleming, singer Gerry Carney and Tommy Marren, feels unabashedly aimed at an older audience, with its references to Ireland’s Own and fish and chip suppers for a pound.

In his first dramatic role Fleming has a charming earnestness. Carney, for his part, is authentically craggy as tragic codger and, as Patrick’s spurned love interest back in the old country, former De Dannan singer Michelle Lally brings the correct mix of vulnerability and sass.

The dialogue is workmanlike rather than twinkling, some of the lines too self-consciously maudlin to work (“Paddy isn’t built for cities but cities he built all the same”) The songs, meanwhile, are more Daniel O’Donnell than Andrew Lloyd Webber (this is not a criticism and may, in fact, be as intended). Fleming stands on a box of crates to belt out a downcast ballad; later Carney's embittered ex-pat does something similar from a park bench.

And yet Paddy evokes the isolation of Irish emigrants to London and paints a gripping portrait of desperately lonely men filling the emptiness with alcohol and gambling (ambitious and curious about London Fleming's character is very much the exception). It’s a dark play passionately performed and, for those who suffered the loss of family to Britain in the age before Facebook and Skype, it will resonate deeply.

Paddy the musical
Paddy the musical

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