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  • Chris O'Rourke

Gold in the Water

Rachel O’Byrne in Gold in the Water. Image Ros Kavanagh


A musical pastiche or a proverbial piss take? When it comes to Gold In The Water, Shane O’Reillys lively slice of musical theatre, co-written with Paul Curley, it can be hard to tell. With its gay married couple, a couple with quadruplets, a zealous pet shop owner and a mysterious goldfish, the whole resembles a precocious child dressing up in its parents clothes. This being a musical seeming to dream large whilst simultaneously mocking its own limitations. Catherine Fay’s clever costumes concealing grown adults looking more intent on being childish rather than childlike. Doing enough to ensure that when it glisters, and Gold in the Water likes to glister, it is indeed golden. A sparkly, fabulous car crash kind of golden that’s impossible to resist. Offset by moments that feel less like the wild irreverence of The Rocky Horror Picture Show so much as being forced to watch your best friends children perform their latest homemade musical. Children who might have looked cute when they were six, but not so much now that they’re twenty six (plus a year or four more).

Matthew Malone in Gold in the Water. Image Ros Kavanagh

Stupidly sweet, smart in its own special way, Gold in the Water’s smartness holds its less smart moments to account. As do the talents of its multi-talented cast, both tech and performers, who serve up a surprisingly inconsistent production. Sarah Jane Shiels's magical light design and Maree Kearns’s ingenious circular set cleverly accommodate the needs of a live band and the countless transitions demanded by O’Reilly’s shambolic book. Whose story centres on a fish called Fishy, with much of O’Reilly’s script and lyrics rising to the same level. Fishy’s miraculous arrival upsetting the anniversary applecart for couple Bart and Harvey, the hardworking but never romantically or comedically gelling double-act of Matthew Malone and Domhnall Herdman respectively. Leaving their noble nemesis, a brilliant Clare Barrett as the zealous pet shop owner, to steal much of their comic thunder. Given you should never work with animals or children, the remainder of the cast negotiate the problem by doubling up as animals. Kate Gilmore’s delightfully ditzy Deirdre doubling up as a mouse. Fiona Browne’s don’t-call-me-mother Rosaleen superb as a cockatoo, Rachel O’Byrne’s hyper stressed mother of four, Sandra, slickly superb as a rabbit. As is Oliver Flitcroft as her equally put upon husband Tom, doubling up as a red eyed terrapin.

Clare Barrett in Gold in the Water. Image Ros Kavanagh

Post intermission, cuteness is cranked up courtesy of an impressive Harley Cullen Walsh as young Bart (rotating with Mark Keegan), whose scene stealing solo is a treat. Signalling a handbrake turn into lazy sentimentality. Reminiscence about a failed father figure shoehorning in a distracting sentimental sugar rush, like a poignant death scene in Fawlty Towers. Highlighting a fundamental problem. With Gold in the Water being too adult for children, too childish for adults, too zany to be serious and nowhere near zany enough to be really hilarious, who is it pitched at? Under Ronan Phelan’s carefree direction the whole looks performed for children, by children. And not always the most precociously talented children either, young Harley Cullen Walsh and Mark Keegan aside. But the runner-up kind they give medals to so every participant feels included.

Matthew Malone and Domhnall Herdman in Gold in the Water. Image Ros Kavanagh

Which is not to suggest a lack of talent or enthusiasm, but rather a lack of cohesion and confidence. Similarly with singing, where good voices often sound mismatched to their songs in pitch and range, like singing Pavarotti in the shower. Not helped by too many songs unlikely to find you humming them the following morning. Even as some show promise, especially as the end draws near. Afraid To Cry, about boys who don’t cry, or Don’t Give Up, about people who keep screwing up, have a lyrical and musical robustness compared to opening numbers like Fabulous Party. The first of many that overstays its welcome, built on its mantra like lyrics repeating the word fabulous. Denis Clohessy’s cliched score also weak, unsure if it's commentary or poor pastiche. Sounding as if improvised for a Whose Line Is It Anyway hoedown skit written in the style of New York musical theatre. Philip Connaughton’s lacklustre choreography, channelling jazz hands and A Chorus Line, also equally uninspired.

Domhnall Herdman, Oliver Flitcroft and Mattew Malone (back L-R) Fiona Browne, Kate Gilmore and Rachel O'Byrne in

Gold in the Water. Image Ros Kavanagh

Lighthearted, landing in a no-mans land between child and adult theatre, Gold in the Water feels like a half baked idea that needed longer in the developmental oven, showing too many scenes looking forced next to some brilliant others. Like the superb trying to save a drowning fish scene, which proves a delight, giving a whole new meaning to the term mouth to mouth. Like a new born gazelle, Gold in the Water often appears self-consciously unsure of itself as it staggers on untried legs looking to find its musical theatre feet. Even as those with natural comic timing, like Gilmore and Barrett, prove marvellous at being zany, whilst Browne, Flitcroft and O’Byrne are often terrific at matching voice to song. Still, if Gold in the Water is no-one’s best work, tripping itself up too often, it still manages to be hugely entertaining. Suggesting potential for some great musical theatre to come, given a little more time and self-belief.

Gold in the Water created by Shane O’Reilly with Paul Curley, composed by Denis Clohessy, directed by Ronan Phelan, presented by One Thousand Pieces, in a co-production with Mermaid Arts Centre, Project Arts Centre and The Ark, runs at The Project Arts Centre till March 26.

For more information visit Project Arts Centre.


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