Thursday, September 28

O’Brien’s Dream – Hope Street Theatre

Enthusiastic community theatre present a subject which resonates today.

The last play by the late Bill Morrison, one of the giants of theatre in Liverpool, examines the plight of the Irish Émigré after the potato famine of the 1840s. Morrison, an Irishman himself, also had strong links to community drama in the city and a personal link to Keyhole Theatre, who have been running for twenty five years. This play premiered at the Unity Theatre in 2009. The songs by Frankie Connor and Alan Crowley offer some pleasant, musical telling of the tale. Sean O’Brien, desperate to get to America, arrives in Liverpool, falls in love, loses the little he possesses but eventually, settles and finds happiness with the sweet-faced but level-headed Mary.

There can’t be many Liverpudlians who don’t have a least a drop of Irish blood, so it’s a story close to the city’s heart: a history that is well known but still worth the hearing. I was hoping for more of the hard reality of poverty and injustice the Irish experienced but the addition of songs made it less hard-hitting and more a love-story, which did have its little comic touches.

Ann Bates directed an enthusiastic company, who seemed more comfortable with the acting than the singing, with a backdrop of projected pictures giving us some historical context. The set was very basic and could have been utilized to more effect but there was some good use of ropes, making the shape of the ship and the boxing ring. Hope Street has a small stage and the ensemble crowd scenes were a little muddled, although the choreographed marching dockers did work well.  If more could have been developed with movement, the scenes would have offered more variety.  Fighting realistically on stage, especially with the audience so close, always throws up a challenge. In the boxing scene, one way might be to stylize it in ‘slow-mode’ to achieve a better aesthetic.

There were some performances worthy of a mention Adam O’Byrne, surely an Irishman with his convincing accent, had a very pleasant singing voice and found some of the emotion in the character. Michael Sanders as Gabriel, the educated political-minded friend, gave a strong, convincing performance, especially in his address to the crowd. Albert Hastings presented an array of characters, all with different accents. Kirsten Hawkins as Mary and Nadege Josa as Alice the maids: some good expressions and moments between them.  Noel Ross, a strong actor/musician playing guitar with Tom Magness, hidden away on piano. The supporting ensemble all doubling in roles but surely the character we will all remember is Ted Williams as the comical Sidney Hobb, Mary’s suitor: his little walk and mannerisms were a joy!

The costumes were more Edwardian than 1850s, which is a difficult period to depict, especially for women’s clothes and flat caps are always a nightmare casting shadows under the lights.

With a little more energy, attention to details, and perhaps the help of a singing coach to perfect those chorus numbers, this has the potential to be a good little show.

The subject matter is still relevant- dealing with the question of immigrants seeking a better life and the hostilities they experience.  The line No Dogs! No Irish! Still resonates even though out of this shameful tragedy O’Brien’s dream is realized, for the Irish have flourished, prospered and given us a rich, cultural history.  

Reviewer: Bev Clark

Reviewed: 16th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.