Actor’s One Man Show Autobiographical Tour of Memories is a curious, fun, clever, compelling and inspirational piece of Theatre.
An Irish Al Pacino, even?
Certainly, he’s charming. Heartthrob to many women, across generations, worldwide.
And yet, for whatever reason, Byrne was / is not, technically, a ‘movie star’ per se. Whether by choice or by chance. It’s more that he turns up in movies you know and his contributions always stand out.
Byrne’s most famous turns include:
THE USUAL SUSPECTS, MILLER’S CROSSING, VIKINGS, IN TREATMENT, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK and DEFENCE OF THE REALM.
He was one of the best onscreen Satans (END OF DAYS: terrible film; great Devil baddie from Byrne). Cameos include ENEMY OF THE STATE.
For all that, though? Turned down the Coppola Dracula film? Shame.
I do understand Byrne’s refusal to make PATRIOT GAMES, though, much as I love that movie. He’d have loathed the simplified politics on display? Or maybe it was just because Harrison Ford is one of Gabriel’s mates and they did not want to fight onscreen? (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER overcompensates by hiring a Gabriel Byrne look-a-like as a baddie: Joaquim de Almeida).
But then, a lot of Hollywood fortune is about pure, simple, luck. Take the right opportunity at the right time and bingo. A scheduling conflict or poor choice in the wrong slot and one risks missing out on the crowning role.
It happens! That’s life.
Byrne is nonetheless a revered veteran of stage, screen and written word, effortlessly fusing creative arts. The man made his own luck, from day one until the present.
Indeed, he’d make a great President of Ireland, as a kind of culmination point, to his creative work and activism?
Maybe form a team of Irish actor leader-diplomats? Paging Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds and yes, Gabriel Byrne!
But I digress. Back on topic: All the Byrne talents are on show, in WALKING WITH GHOSTS.
- The language is Joycean in turn of phrase. Punchy. Poetic. Poignant.
- Style/structure = very Arthur Miller, mapping and decoding memory.
- Great use of lighting, sound and set design.
- The comedy is there, in anecdotal snapshots of Irish characters.
- There is a pitch perfect definition, explanation and exploration of what alcoholism ‘is’. The origins, allure and need to escape that deadly disease, all conveyed by Byrne.
- Visceral, painful, textured revelation, too.
- Sexual abuse, alcoholism, poverty, loss. All ‘there’.
- Best Richard Burton stories /impression. Ever?
Are there Drawbacks /Weaknesses? Sure!
- ‘Not enough Hollywood anecdotes. HOW did he not tell THAT story about saving the life of Robert Downey Junior? (Iron Man himself sends Byrne a Christmas card, every year, by way of eternal thanks).
- Some of the insights are not QUITE as profound or philosophical as perhaps Byrne might have us believe? As in pub level Eureka moment self indulgent confession, in certain parts?
- Seems a shame not to mention Aine O’Connor or Ellen Barkin? Yes, that’s a private life thing. But this IS a very public reflection ON rather personal matters so why not mention muses and loves past, too?
- The comedy is genuinely hilarious and touching. Especially the capturing of Irish inverted snobbery regarding the securing of a ‘trade’. Equally, though? That arguably feeds rather than fights the timeless current of stereotype with which any first or indeed, second, generation Hibernian must contend.
- Nobody cares how many sweets you ate as a kid, Gabriel.
- Overall, though: WALKING WITH GHOSTS is a flawless and tight, mesmeric performance, from a first rate craftsman.
- Sadly, Gabriel did not do a meet and greet of the small yet dedicated crowd of fans at the stage door? Come on. You’re not a boy band or James Bond or something.
- But hey, no doubt the man had his reasons. Just needed a well earned rest? Keep the mystery alive!
RECOMMENDED (with certain reservations, cited, in review, above). Catch it on stage in London or elsewhere.