Walking with Ghosts

Reviewer's rating

What a tour de force!  I had not been expecting anything this good.  But just with some lighting and sound effects, and a few props, Gabriel Byrne was able to conjure up scenes from his past as vivid and absorbing as any metaverse.  The ghosts were ghosts from his past, including himself, from his humble beginnings in a poor quarter of Dublin (“Youse are feckin’ paupers!”, a schoolfellow berates his family) to fame and fortune on Broadway and in Hollywood.  The Irish actor will be familiar to many.  You may have seen him in one of the best movies of the 1990s, The Usual Suspects.  But alone on the stage, enacting scenes from such a varied life and playing all the characters, he gave a performance eclipsing any film role.

It was riveting stuff.  The characters came to life, often in a two-way conversation with the young Byrne himself.  The schoolmaster’s cane came down on his hand, the clergyman’s hand crept up his thigh, with palpable immediacy.  Being Irish myself, and only a little older than the actor, I particularly empathized with the scenes from his boyhood, when one quaked in one’s shoes in anticipation of a thrashing from the teacher, and church was compulsory on Sundays.  What a contrast to his later life, when he indulged in Wein, Weib und Gesang in New York and Los Angeles!

Which makes it all the more remarkable that he still looks so good.  I was astonished to read that he is 72 years old.  With his silver fox good looks, I would have put him down as 52.  And the energy of his performance was that of an even younger man.  I was also surprised at the size of the audience.  I thought only musicals could pack a theatre like that in the West End nowadays.  It bodes well for the show’s forthcoming transfer to Broadway.  The audience last night certainly loved it.  There was much laughter at the comedy, visual and oral, but dead silence during the chilling enactment of child sexual abuse.  Theatre as catharsis, indeed.