Reviewed by David Savage
Last night I visited the very modern Grove Theatre in Dunstable, Bedfordshire to see Essence of Ireland, a love story based on true events told in Irish music, song and dance and spanning Ireland, England and America. I arrived 30 minutes before the show started and the theatre was packed and buzzing, once taking out seats there were only 2 or 3 empty seats that I could see. I was sitting in row G which was eye level with the stage, so had a great view.
Essence of Ireland spans over 60 years telling the story of Cora McGowan and her true love Sean Dempsey. After World War II, with very little work in Ireland Sean travels to England to find work to earn enough money for him Cora to build a life together. After a few months Sean gets a job offer and travels to New York where he joins the New York police department. Cora’s grandmother becomes ill and decides to stay in Ireland leaving Sean heartbroken.
The show tells the story of their love and heartbreak, the mass immigration from Ireland to countries around the world (known as The Irish Diaspora – 80 million people worldwide now claim to have Irish heritage, 16 times the population or Ireland) and the rise of the Irish, through hard work and determination, arriving on Ellis Island with nothing to having it all and one of their own becoming President of the United States of America with John F. Kennedy.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this infectious show, you just cannot help tapping your feet, clapping your feet and singing along. I even knew a lot of the Irish songs being sung, which surprised me (courtesy of an Irish mother!). With Ged Graham being the lead singer and narrator his voice was terrific and he also injected a fair bit of humour and really got the audience involved.
The Irish dancing was very impressive with at times a marvel at how they can move their feet that fast. With Mike Burr as Sean Dempsey and Alison Parsons as Cora McGowan as the lead dancers they were excellent as were the rest of the ensemble. All clearly enjoying what they do and having fun. While a majority of the show was Irish dancing it also featured Latin dance as well as 1950’s American Rock ‘n Roll. The athleticism of the dancers is intense with, at one point, one of the female dancers having her legs wrapped around her male partner’s neck while he swung her around really quite fast, and without holding on to her.
The musicians, Adam Evans and Malcolm Bushby, most also have a mention as the played a variety of instruments including the drums, guitars and fiddle to perfection with ease.
As for the story, it not only shows the love, separation, heartbreak and joy of Sean and Cora but also tells the story of Ireland’s mass immigration, Irish history and heritage including JFK’s visit to Ireland in 1963. The story is told by narration, song and dance and also with the aid of a video screen that showed real footage of historic events.
I must also mention the cameo part of the young performers from the McGill School of Irish Dance based in Milton Keynes, who ranged from probably ages 6 or 7 to maybe 14 or 15, were brilliant and certainly deserved their huge round of applause. They certainly seemed to enjoy themselves judging from the beaming smiles especially from the youngest members of the group.
A marvellous show that young and old will love, whether you are Irish or not! Definitely a must see. I certainly enjoyed and it was by far much better than I was expecting. The standing ovation and several encore’s proved just how get this show was!
Essence of Ireland is currently on tour around the UK. For more information or to book tickets at a venue near you visit www.essenceofireland.co.uk.
For more information about shows at the Grove Theatre visit www.grovetheatre.co.uk.
Grove Theatre, Grove Park, Court Drive, Dunstable, LU5 4GP | 01582 602080