Author Frank McCourt faced criticism about the accuracy of Angela’s Ashes, even from his own family. He later redefined the work as a memoir rather than a history, and, undoubtedly, authors Adam Howell and Paul Hurt have taken further liberties with the book.
Angela’s Ashes – The Musical may be interpretation, and while it doesn’t exactly sugar-coat the pain and poverty of Depression era Limerick, it offers a lyrical interpretation that sits comfortably with the source work.
The result may not please ardent fans of the novel but it will undoubtedly charm musical theatre folk, thanks to some rather gorgeous vocals and a superb, open staging from director Thom Southerland.
Francis O’Connor’s set design is flexible, incorporating Southerland’s now trademark staircase-on-wheels and a sky filled with window frames, compounding the sense of claustrophobia resonant throughout Hurt’s book.
Jacinta Whyte brings dignity and strength to the role of Angela McCourt, Frank’s impoverished mother, striving to survive under an oppressive Catholic patriarchy. Her anguish at the death of her children mounts until it spills out into the auditorium with the soulful, heartbreaking Sing River Shannon.
Eoin Cannon is an engaging narrator, playing Frank as he ages from schoolboy to man, and there are a wealth of character roles from Norma Sheahan as the ruthless moneylender Mrs Finucane to Marty Maguire in the challenging role of Malachy, Frank’s feckless, alcoholic father.
Following a tour of Ireland, this is the sole London date for this new musical. Southerland has not only showcased an interesting, confident writing team but also the potential of the recently refurbished Ashcroft Playhouse at the Fairfield Halls.