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  • Chris O'Rourke

Walking With Ghosts

Gabriel Byrne in Walking With Ghosts directed by Lonny Price, presented by Landmark Productions and Lovano.


Those hoping for a Hollywood kiss and tell best manage their expectations of Walking With Ghosts, Gabriel Byrne's brave, bold, if occasionally clunky stage adaptation of his eponymous memoir. Which serves up a heart warming, often heart rending monologue about a failed priest, a failed plumber, a failed dishwasher and toilet attendant. One who later became an international, award-winning film and TV star. Once upon a time a shy young boy looking to belong, later a man who hid in alcohol. Whose working class parents lived in a poverty stricken Dublin fading now into the mists of time. Conjured again in this thoughtful, sensitive, personal portrayal told with a soft spoken authority that says I lived this, loved this, endured and survived this, and thrived despite and because of it all.

A show of two halves, initially Byrne risks an excess of sentimentality in speaking of his childhood in the rare aul times. But it soon becomes apparent that Byrne is too good a writer for that. Less Paddy Crosbie, though there is an element of Your Dinner's Poured Out, and more Cider with Rosie or Goodbye to the Hill, Byrne distils history and nostalgia with an economy that borders on the poetic. Tales of 1001 jokes. Of hating school. Of learning about God in a manner Dave Allen would have found funny. Of meeting Brendan Behan in a Dublin rich with characters so alive they often eclipse the young boy who moves amongst them. But that's okay. Ever enigmatic, Byrne seeks invisibility almost as much as he seeks being seen. Preferring to talk of his mother drinking afternoon tea at the Shelbourne Hotel, or his father at an expensive restaurant, or the countless other ghosts who inhabit his past. Most friendly, though one, the friendliest of all, proving particularly horrific.

Gabriel Byrne in Walking With Ghosts directed by Lonny Price, presented by Landmark Productions and Lovano.

If the first part feels uneven, with some beautiful moments barely given time to land, the second feels tighter as Byrne steps out from behind his cast of thousands and much more to the forefront. Journeying through his years to stardom, he never trades negatively in names or on his fame. Rather, he takes a sledgehammer to the invulnerable wall he's built about his personal vulnerabilities. A private man making public extremely private things; abuse, alcohol, anxiety, told with humour and without a trace of self-pity. The rawness of the experience showing a lack of polish, giving it greater edge and justifying its standing ovations.

Under Lonny Price's direction Byrne draws on talents his film career doesn't always exploit, reminding you why he has earned his international reputation. His talent for accents, his easy immersion in and out of characters so diametrically opposed to himself, his gift for storytelling. All beautifully underscored by Sinéad McKenna's lighting and Sinéad Diskin's sound, sensitively and unobtrusively accentuating key moments with a lightness of touch, like strokes on a Zen painting. Ensuring Byrne remains hidden in plain sight even as he reveals his vulnerabilities.

Gabriel Byrne in Walking With Ghosts directed by Lonny Price, presented by Landmark Productions and Lovano.

If Walking With Ghosts finds Byrne telling his truth, it's not the whole truth, and certainly not nothing but the truth in this expunged version of his excellent book. Eager to remove the log from his own eye, Byrne never speaks of the splinters in the eye of his contemporaries, and refuses grounding details in dates or an excess of contextual information. So why put it on stage? Byrne doesn't need the money, nor the recognition. And if he did, this would not be the way to go about it. Possibly because, with self-deprecating honesty, Byrne deepens his written truths through their telling in performance. Like an act of confession, full of the awkward immediacy of others, he reveals in real time what he's spent much of his life concealing. Becoming, for a moment, an actor without a character to hide behind, even the character of Gabriel Byrne. Without the comfortable distance of a book to separate him from his audience. First and foremost a man onstage making peace with his ghosts. Who just happens to be a consummate actor. Who, with Walking With Ghosts, shows himself to be a consummate writer and storyteller, capable of telling an all consuming story. Even as the mystery remains. Deepened by knowing so much less for knowing so much more about the man and his ghost boy. Walking With Ghosts. A funny, brave and affecting performance.

Walking With Ghosts, written and performed by Gabriel Byrne and directed by Lonny Price, presented by Landmark Productions and Lovano, runs at The Gaiety Theatre till February 6.

Available on demand from February 26 to March 4.

For more information visit The Gaiety Theatre or Landmark Productions


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