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A Taste of Ireland Transports Novocastrians for the Night: Entertainment Review

Irish dance is enjoying a moment in the spotlight as it’s popularised by groups such as Cairde on social media. Lauren Freemantle attended A Taste of Ireland at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on Friday and shares her review with us.

Friday night and the lights were low at the Civic Theatre as a very healthy-sized crowd wandered in to see the show marketed as ‘Celtic – for this decade,’ A Taste of Ireland. A buzz in the air suggested Novocastrian dance enthusiasts were keen to see some live-action after a dreary 2020 on the entertainment circuit.

With a cast comprised of dancers from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia who have graced the stages of London’s West End and New York’s Broadway, my expectations were high for a show on par with Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance. I feel the performance did indeed offer a cheerful taste of Ireland, but fell flat of the full Steak and Guinness Pie, so to speak.

The show began with a lisped, leprechaun-like voice booming out of the shadows, welcoming the audience to the venue and getting us to make stupid noises without realising – we should have known as the Irish are masters of both self-deprecation and external humour.

The first dance was a strong, almost violent display. For a moment, I feared the show would haunt me like Wild Mountain Thyme did (a recent film starring Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan which featured loud bursts of Swan Lake music and the revelation that the main character thought he was a bumble bee). Luckily, A Taste of Ireland mellowed out, with a rainbow themed toe-tapping sensation proving the crowd favourite of the first half.

Picture by Lauren Freemantle, Yak Staff Writer.

As a viewer with just a few years of tap dance experience under my belt, I do not claim to be the Simon Cowell of Irish dance. However even to the untrained eye, it was clear the cast are skilled – it was insane to watch their high kicks, their aerial spins and the sheer speed with which they moved their feet.

Company Manager and Lead Female Dancer Ceili Moore had ballet-style grace and fluidity and was light on her feet; while Director and Lead Male Dancer Brent Pace certainly set the pace with high energy.

I found the male members of the cast to be the most dynamic; their heavier bodies producing louder taps and stronger lines than the lighter female dancers. Choreography was visually interesting and each dance was distinguished by a new theme or underlying story. However, despite graphics projected onto the back wall, I found the narratives hard to follow.

Where the show faltered was in its transitions. Of course, dancers need time off stage to change costumes, but the acts placed in between felt like obvious stocking fill. A talented duo on guitar and banjo offered an upbeat instrumental which sat well with the crowd the first time round.

But the duo emerged several times, playing what sounded to be the same tune.  As such, the novelty wore off, until a tribal sounding drum solo re-engaged the crowd towards the end of the show and had us clapping to the beat.

As well as music and dancing, there were a couple of ballads sung, namely Danny Boy and Molly Malone, which sent me into a reverie as I imagined myself windswept in a floral dress running across bright green fields. Yes, I am one of those people who did a Contiki tour through Ireland and Northern Ireland in 2017 and hasn’t stopped thinking about it since.

I don’t just love these countries because the accents sound magical or because potatoes are the world’s most versatile food – it’s also the fresh, crispy air, the rich history, the energy in the cities and grass so green it would make your dad cry.

Anyway, I digress…The male soloist was not terribly impressive; he had a nice timbre to his voice, but his performances were akin to a musician you might hear at the pub on Saturday night. The woman sitting next to me audibly sighed, “terrible” during the soloist’s performance of Danny Boy which I thought was unfair.

The couple sitting on my other side disappeared after intermission never to return. I cannot say why they left – perhaps they were dissatisfied with the show, perhaps it was illness or perhaps I smell – who knows?

But, I am glad I went to see A Taste of Ireland. It offered me an all-inclusive holiday and two wonderful hours of escapism, which in this pandemic-riddled world has been hard to come by. And while the show did cause me to attempt an Irish jig, the results are too ugly for publication.


Feature image by Lauren Freemantle, YAK Staff Writer

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