Theatre Review: Jimmy’s Hall – The Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Frances Winston reviews Jimmy’s Hall, running at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, until September 8th 

Times: Mon – Sat 7.30pm, Sat Matinees 2pm

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including 20 minute interval

Tickets: €13-€45 / conc. €13-€30

I had never heard the story of Jimmy Gralton – the only Irish man ever to be deported from his own country i.e. independent Ireland – until the Ken Loach film, Jimmy’s Hall, hit cinemas. I was amazed that he wasn’t someone we were being told about in history class in school. His story is fascinating, and also extremely unjust, as he fell victim to church and state who did not like his free-thinking ideas.

His crime – he built a hall where the local community could come together to dance and learn, and discuss politics and other contentious topics. That may not sound bad by today’s standards, but when you consider the stranglehold the church had on the state at the time, it was quite scandalous. The very idea that young women would wear short-sleeved dresses, and dance with abandon in the same room as men was shocking.

This is the second run on the Abbey Stage for this show, which received rave reviews last time, and within minutes of entering the theatre it’s not hard to see why. Borrowing a conceit from Once the Musical, the cast are already on the stage playing popular songs (the trad-esque version of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark is truly wonderful). This ensures that the audience are already in a party mood before the show actually begins.

Since Loach’s film came out, Mickey D himself unveiled a statue to Jimmy, and at the beginning of the show we hear the speech he made, and are shown a picture of the real Jimmy Gralton, which, in a poignant touch, sits on the stage throughout. I couldn’t help but wonder what Jimmy would have made of all this!

As the story progresses, from time to time there are asides explaining the Ireland of the era. It’s frightening to see that despite all the progress we’ve made, many things still haven’t changed. Particularly ironic is the footage of the Eucharistic Congress, and the local’s opposition to what it stood for. It could nearly be a scene about the forthcoming visit by the Pope.

Although you know how this ends, you find yourself rooting for Jimmy – a man hugely wronged by the country of his birth. If you have any doubt of the strain it took on him, you only have to look at his picture on the stage. He is only in his 50s in it, but has the look of a man much older.

Stage adaptations of movies don’t always work, but here, the restrictions of a stage-setting help to enhance the storytelling. By focusing all the attention on the hall, it helps heighten the sense of oppression that people were feeling at the time.

The hall itself is wonderfully constructed, with musical instruments hidden throughout it, so that the cast can spontaneously break into song and dance. All the music is played and performed live, and there are some wonderful numbers and arrangements. The majority of the cast play an instrument, and all sing at some point, giving a real authentic community-hall feel to it.

The script has both humour and pathos, and some beautiful interactions among the cast. The actors seem to revel in the dialogue, and their timing is spot-on. There is not one single bad performance here, and although it is called Jimmy’s Hall, it is a truly ensemble piece.

This is a magnificent production, and should definitely be on everyone’s must-see list. It is well-written, well-paced, and educational, and most importantly, it is extremely entertaining. It will take you on an emotional roller-coaster ride. It will leave you wanting to know more about Jimmy, and the people involved, and you’ll be affected by it for days after you see it.

A word of advice though – the ‘hall’ set is built on a lift, so avoid sitting in the first few rows or too far to the side of the theatre, as you will literally have to sit with your neck craned to see properly.

They are offering front-row seats for €13, but trust me, spend the extra and get a seat where you can truly appreciate the fabulousness of this show.

For more information, and to book tickets, go to:

https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats-on/jimmys-hall/

Cast

  • Molly: Catherine Bell
  • Jimmy: Richard Clements
  • Sean: Muiris Crowley
  • Doherty: Aindrias de Staic
  • Mossy: Alan Devally
  • Tommy: Brian Gilligan
  • Father Sheridan: Bosco Hogan
  • Oonagh: Lisa Lambe
  • Brendan: Andrew Linnie
  • Marie: Sarah Madigan
  • Tess: Ruth McGill
  • Alice: Bríd Ní Neachtain
  • O’Keefe: Donal O’Kelly

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