The ICY winds of recession and clouds of economic gloom were banished from Callan recently when the variety show was staged in the town.
Over the decades it has evolved into a cherished part of Callan tradition, a magical three nights when local talent is displayed proudly to people from far and near. Mixing poignant drama, comedy, well rehearsed song, and superbly crafted dancing vignettes, the show packed the Convent Hall for each of the three nights. The main theme this year was Ireland’s magnificent Gaelic Games heritage. Show organiser Barrie Henriques, whose knowledge of sporting lore and history is matched only by his thespian calling, provided a soul-stirring narration of the struggles and high points of some of the country’s best loved hurling and football teams.
Each team’s slot was accompanied by a niftily choreographed scene involving the ceremonial hoisting of its county flag and crest. Spotlights achieved a stunning effect as the various county colours emerged from the darkness into the glow of triumph and celebration.
Barrie raised the roof with his specially-composed odes to all the teams, his eloquent tributes followed by songs associated with the hallowed bands of iconic sporting heroes. The pageant culminated with the arrival on stage, against a shimmering black and amber background, of the Liam McCarthy Cup itself, conveyed to Callan for the occasion. Its appearance drew rapturous and sustained applause. Men punched the air and women swooned as the Holy Grail of Kilkenny hurling glistened in the floodlights.
The singing in other parts of the concert was top of the range. A very moving highlight was a sensitively wrought homage to people who had emigrated from Callan over the decades, including those affected by the present downturn. The songs honoured Callan folk who had made their new homes and livelihoods in Britain, the USA, and Australia, eliciting memories of cherished family members forced to leave their beloved native town and country by events beyond their control and highflying decisions not of their making.
Barrie’s versatility was evident again as the variety players switched with breathtaking alacrity from this inspirational display to light-hearted vein. The comedy included a truly gifted stand-up artist who could (and I’m not exaggerating here) entertain on any stage in Ireland. He held the audience in the palm of his hand as he spun heart-stopping yarns and recounted tales of another Ireland where humour of a different brand held sway.
A girl supposedly flattened by a steamroller provided one of the surprises this year, displaying extraordinary acting talent that would, one suspected, hold up equally well in more serious theatrical roles. Top of the comedy sketches was undoubtedly the Heavenly Arena. This had a longstanding variety player take on his most daunting role to date...as God himself. Wise and all-seeing he certainly was, but a pair of “bould young wans” who had procured their angelic wings by illicit means and “snunk” into Heaven by the back door presented him with some pressing dilemmas.
Another sketch had people pinned to the edges of their seats, some with worried looks and others gaping stage-ward in unabashed awe. It very cleverly presented what appeared to be a slowly progressing striptease, behind a screen, which in the end turned out to be a man helping a lady to pull items of exotic lingerie off a clothesline. Imaginations went wild in the convent hall, bewildered quizzical glances were exchanged, and heads shook in disbelief as the siren-like narrator described in tantalising detail what her colleague was doing behind the screen.
There was a palpable sigh of relief when the fully and respectably clothed lady and her helper emerged from behind the screen. Members of the clergy and nuns present could relax again in the knowledge that no impropriety was involved. The magical voice of Barrie Henriques was almost drowned out by the rousing, non-stop applause that greeted him when he made a brief appearance before the curtain came down.
The flamboyant sports broadcaster and rustic raconteur had another successful variety show to his credit, though he emphasised that each and every one of the Variety team had played a blinder in helping to mount a cross-community enterprise and showcasing of local talent that has become the envy of towns nationwide.