Sunday, August 05, 2018

Jimmy Ellis: Home Again – a fond poetic tribute to parents with intertwining words and fabulous music (Blunt Fringe Theatre as part of EastSide Arts Festival)

Knit together from a large collection of Jimmy Ellis’ poems, Glenn Patterson has crafted a nostalgic series of vignettes describing war-time life in Ellis’ family home. The well-known actor’s verse is a fond and loving tribute to his parents rather than a self-indulgent memoir of his own life. The director and creative team have woven period music and songs around the narrative, creating a rich and evocative production.

The rehearsed reading of Jimmy Ellis: Home Again was performed as part of the EastSide Arts Festival in St Martin’s Church off the Newtownards Road. Dust sheets cover furniture in a deserted house. Stuart Graham plays Jimmy and remains on stage throughout, mostly sitting in a chair to one side of the chair delivering the stanzas that tell the story.

While the spoken words paint pictures of life in 30 Park Avenue with its runaway dog and the lodgers – flappers and down in luck Lords – as well as the shipbuilding and war efforts in the surrounding area, it’s the music that lights it all up with emotion.

While Graham shows of his dynamic control of the script, Fra Fee and Clare Galway demonstrate their huge talents and versatility as musicians through voice, piano, flute, violin, tin whistle and more. My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose was a particular joy to listen to. Katie Tumelty steps on stage as mother Tilly – effective but underused – and Michael Nevin plays young Jimmy whose stirring solo closes the 65 minute show.

The production values were high for a mere rehearsed reading. The synchronisation between music and poetry was magnificent, precisely meshing together Graham’s phrases with Fee’s control of the accompanying tunes to create wonderful moments of intersection.

Having been woefully under-impressed with a recent nostalgic production by a different company in a different theatre, I was relieved to find that there is life and vitality in the genre. Jimmy Ellis: Home Again shows how it should be done.

Director Martin McDowell and producers Robina Ellis and Claire Murray have fashioned a warm-hearted tribute that echoes one of Ellis’ lines: “it’s the little things that make you cleave together”.


jstothers said...

Was there last night Alan and agree with your review. very enjoyable - and nostalgic for a native of E Belfast, although JE my mother's generation rather than mine. She too had stories of taking shelter as a young person in the Blitz. Ravenscroft Avenue, just 150 yards away was levelled. Sadly, as someone who grew up watching Z-cars in the 60's, no one under 40 that I've spoken to has heard of JE.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Didn't spot you last night. Youngsters should remember him as a zoo keeper in One by One ...