Six characters appeared to face life in the Union Workhouse, as the audience were taken back to the Victorian era. Tagged as a celebration of the extraordinary resilience of ordinary people, there were frightening parallels in the sentiment of the songs that remain relevant with the state of the economy today, whilst giving a stark reminder of how much worse conditions were then.
We were taken through the loss of employment that led a man to the workhouse doors, the reasons young ladies would enter into marriage, the break up of families within the workhouse, the rules and conditions inside and the general sense of making the best of a bad situation.
There are some nice upbeat songs with a dark humour such as ‘This is the Workhouse’ performed by Paul Downes and ‘Free at Last’ performed by Mick Ryan and Heather Bradford, which talks of the benefits of husband and wife being separated. When all six perform together there is a great sense of energy, finding their way through wonderful tongue twisters like, ‘Industry, Usefulness, Virtue’ which closed the first half of the evening.
Alone in the workhouse is Mary, played by Maggie Boyle, who enters a widow, but has one the most interesting account of life to offer through, ‘Who?’, ‘That’s My Story,’ and ‘Where Shall I Go,’ suggesting that the audience cannot safely trust all of the characters placed before them to be telling the truth.
If Ryan and Bradford as Mark and Helen are the couple enjoying their separation, then Richard, played by Roy Clinging and Jane, played by Judy Dunlop offer the couple hit hardest by the split, expressed in ‘Long Ago and Far Away’ and ‘Do You Remember?’
The arrival of The Tramp, played by Paul Downes, in the second half, brings more humour to the mix, but also allows for the wonderful, ‘Is That You?’ when men and women are allowed to mix in the workhouse once again. As the characters find a new hope, the final three songs of ‘Home,’ ‘The Path to Hope,’ and ‘The Pauper’s Path’ bring about a solid upbeat finale.
Although the Brixham show was one cast member down, meaning we missed out on the life of a child in the workhouse, the show had great balance with the six cast members. They took the audience on a journey that showed life before the workhouse, how they survive inside and what a difference hope can make. Plenty of toe tapping to be done – a splendid evening.
For more information visit: www.mickryanfolkshows.co.uk
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