THERE was magic in the air at the Watergate Theatre in Kilkenny city on Wednesday night when one of Kilkenny’s most (in)famous residents was brought back to life in a way that was utterly believable and riveting.
The world premiere of the musical based on the life of Dame Alice Kyteler was powerful and gripping from start to finish and reminds us that in times of recession it is to the arts we turn to be uplifted, to be transported, temporarily, from the mundane of our every day life to another, better, place.
Jason Paul Ryan
The brainchild of local man, Jason Paul Ryan, The Stone captures the essence of the notorious noble woman and remains true to the her real life story. It grips the imagination from start to finish and for pure entertainment mixed in with historical relevance, it is the business. The music, singing, humour, intrigue and acting all added up to a show that could grace any stage and with some tinkering and the backing of an impresario could make it to the West End or even Broadway. The raw material is there - The quality of the songs was top class, the singing was wonderful and the delivery of the words Fantastic. There were some flaws and these will have to be worked on but overall it was a great story, told well with a sympathetic musical score that underlined the quality of the whole thing. The idea and its execution were central to the success and the actors/singers put meat on the words and lyrics.
It was with some trepidation that I entered the Watergate theatre to watch the show based on the novel by local woman, Claire Nolan, daughter of family historian, Pat Nolan. I need not have worried because from the opening scene we were transported to medieval Kilkenny and to the House of Kyteler which stands to this day on Kieran Street, now owned and run by the ubiquitous Nicki Flynn, great granddaughter of Charles Dickens. (You couldn’t make this stuff up).
Jason Paul Ryan played the male lead with great aplomb but it was Alice who would make or break the show. In the part Rebecca Murphy was superb and captured the essence of Dame Alice and she struck a good balance between showing her wickedness, determination and her fragility. The role required a lot of self-discipline from Rebecca and her measured performance was in keeping with the character and held the show together. Petronella who was burned at the stake because of her association with Dame Alice who fled the country before she could be executed, was really good. Again home-grown talent, Sarah Brennan has a voice to die for and reminds me of a young Elaine Page such was her delivery. She was the love interest for Jason Paul Ryan who played the male servant, Philip in the Kyteler household and their main duet certainly enthralled the audience.
For me, Deirdre played by Claire Funchion sang angelically and it was a pity she was killed off so early although she did re-appear in the chorus later on in the show.
And even though it was only a cameo role, Mary Cradock brought all her experience to bear as the old witch and was thoroughly convincing, adding to the general mood of the musical. The best laughs came when Pat Moylan who played Adam le Blund, lampooned himself in the role as a successful suitor as Alice’s second husband who died unexpectedly in bed after being given a drink by Alice.
Tom O’Loughlin is a fine character actor and he was very enjoyable as Alice’s final husband who again met a sad but natural end.
The other haunting voice from the show was courtesy of Alice’s nurse, Sharon Molloy. She added hugely to the show and was one of the pillars of the production.
Stefan Jordan Doyle, the musical director, conducted things brilliantly from the pit and a four man ensemble sounded like a 20 piece orchestra, it really made a difference and Stefan’s timing was superb. Songwriter, Tom Bolger worked closely with Jason Paul Ryan on the numbers from the show and they were of a very high quality. Tom Bolger can be very proud of himself.
The other major collaborator on the work was Claire Nolan who wrote the novel on which the musical is based. Again, without her, the show would not have happened. And as Jason Paul Ryan said at the end of the run in the Watergate Theatre on Saturday: “Hopefully, this will not be the end of it.” I couldn’t agree more.