Belfast Telegraph

Review: Angela's Ashes - musical memoir that brings humour and heartbreak to the Grand Opera House

By Jackie Bell

Frank McCourt's memoir of an improvised and occasionally harrowing upbringing in 1930s Limerick doesn't give the impression it has the makings of a musical - but this new show quashes any preconceptions within its opening tune, allowing for a wonderfully entertaining evening.

Angela's Ashes tells the story of Frank (Eoin Cannon) and his family as they make their way back from America to the lanes of Limerick following the death of his baby sister.

It's immediately noted that they were probably the only Irish family heading in that particular direction while 'anyone with any sense' was heading in the other, and it's this typical Irish humour that is the driving force behind this theatre production.

We meet Frank's mother Angela (Jacinta Whyte), father Malachy (Marty Maguire), and brothers as they return to Limerick, which is the setting for his 'miserable, Irish, Catholic childhood’ - of which we are told there is nothing worse.

Frank's narration takes the audience through the young boy's experiences of having a well-meaning, alcoholic father, a struggling but surviving mother, a hungry belly, worn-through shoes, and a dream to return to America.

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Angela's Ashes the Musical at the Grand Opera House, Belfast. Photo: Patrick Redmond

We are also invited to witness Frank's First Holy Communion - of which there are hilarious results - as well as his first job, first love, and first pint.

The beauty of Angela's Ashes, both in the book and this new musical incarnation, is it's ability to steer you from laughing hysterically to holding back tears.

There were moments during the show when the audience at the Grand Opera House were carefree in their laughter, for it to be followed moments later with stunned silence.

Cannon, who portrays Frank as the narrator and young boy, is masterful at taking the audience where they need to be, with impeccable comic timing and a heartfelt performance when it is needed.

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Angela's Ashes the Musical at the Grand Opera House, Belfast. Photo: Patrick Redmond

Whyte brings the necessary sadness and desperation to the role of Angela and it is during her solo performances that the musical numbers of the production really pack a punch.

The songs within Angela's Ashes the Musical are as varied and emotional as the source material and never feel out of place - which may have been a concern for diehard fans of the novel.

The Belfast audience also enjoyed the numerous references to Northern Ireland in the play - which are mostly aimed at Frank's father Malachy, who was a man from Toome, Co Antrim.

One particular musical number cheerfully tells us why Angela should have never married a 'northern man',  while Angela's pious mother enjoys reminding her grandchildren their 'odd manner' and 'presbyterian hair' is down to their Northern Irish roots.

Angela's Ashes the Musical is a charming production that depicts a childhood full of struggle and hardship with Irish humour and wisdom - and the standing ovation it received at the Grand Opera House suggests audiences approve of its interpretation of Frank McCourt's best-selling memoir.

  • Angela's Ashes - A New Musical runs at the Grand Opera House until Saturday, August 5.

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