"Poetry theatre: startling and rewarding"
by May Davey for remotegoat on 22/11/11

I was hugely impressed by this production when I came across it last month, on National Poetry Day, in a tiny pub space in Ealing. That turned out to be one date on a UK tour and this week's return to London marked completion of the tour's autumn leg.

The publicity is for something 'more magical than a play, more personal than a concert' and that's a pretty good start at describing 'Journey' which is hard to pigeonhole neatly. Actor Donal Cox leads a journey which is part reminiscence, part Irish literary tour weaving together strands that are historical, personal, even mystical. He delivers with charisma and astonishing energy. With him is a Celtic harpist sharing the job of 'story' telling - the narrative is handed back and forth, with music to heighten emotion and sustain mood. Different harpists performed in the two shows I've seen, equally effective at supporting the text. This one featured Harriet Earis, whose playing gave the show a wonderful musical texture. There's a sensory richness to the 'Journey', completed by a simple, memorable set which harnesses the power of colour to focus attention and transport us.

Poems by a number of Irish writers are incorporated in the narrative - familiar names such as WB Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh are there, along with lesser known writers from across the ages. Beside examples of the gentle, idyllic brand of poetry this contains some startlingly hard-hitting material. Highlights for me were a poem giving a harsh reality check on the plight of today's society and another, in the voice of a woman scorned, that was a bitter retort to a cheating man. There's room perhaps to visit this mood a touch more and I felt momentum slowed occasionally with the applause for individual sections and musical pieces.

At 90 minutes on stage this was a tour de force by Donal Cox who was able to draw in and hold the attention of a very mixed audience, all the way to a standing ovation. A sizeable proportion was of Irish background but others (myself included) were not and, in line with recent experience at the Old Vic, the Irish material is no barrier to a general audience when communicated with this much skill. Besides seasoned fans of the literature were people clearly taking a chance. A big bloke with an outdoor face, sitting next to me, said 'Well, I've surprised myself.'

Move over poetry readings, move over performance poetry: this is poetry theatre. Don't miss this on the spring leg of its Arts Council supported tour - I'm told London dates are planned for Camden and Wimbledon.

And the Fifth Province? Not telling.

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