Entertainment Hive 2019

Exile: Songs & Tales of Irish Australia

Adelaide Festival Theatre, Sunday, February 21

Review by Honey B

Exile: Songs & Tales of Irish Australia was one of those rare performances that took your breath away. Artistic director Shane Howard knows too well the power of artistic endeavours and through the rich tapestry of music, stories, images and poetry he brought alive the struggles and ultimate survival of the Irish immigrants. The song-driven performance highlighted Australia’s close bond with the Irish through their experiences of being shipped out to a foreign shore and these tales have been captured in their folk songs to live on. Their influence is stamped throughout Australian history from convicts, rebels, scholars, musicians and politicians – just think of Ned Kelly, Peter Lalor’s Eureka Stockade uprising, Daniel Mannix’s anti- conscription campaign to Prime Minister Paul Keating. The Irish were among the first settlers in Australia and about 50,000 Irish convicts were sent to Australia from 1791 to 1867. Many single young Irish women migrated to Australia due to being orphaned by the famine, The Great Hunger, in the 1840s and also during the second half of the 19 th  Century. They built their families in this country. Exile brought this Irish history to life, not only through song, but through multi-media words and images displayed on a large screen at the back of the stage. The superbly talented performers in this thought-provoking piece all have their own links to Ireland as they celebrated the Irish/Australian journey. Artistic director Shane Howard, who brought this show to life, has essentially created an Australian/Irish songbook. Howard’s family settled in South Western Victoria and his great grandfather was arrested at the Eureka Stockade. The legendary Paul Kelly, who is one of South Australia’s own, has his Irish roots in Clare, while Declan O’Rourke was born in Ireland but moved to Victoria as a youngster, award-winning singer/songwriter John Spillane from Cork, spirited Kerry singer Pauline Scanlon and renowned Irish folk singer Sean Tyrrell splits his time between Australia and Ireland but his daughter Aine lives in Australia. Finding out more about Leah Flanagan’s heritage was highly interesting with the Aboriginal artist also celebrating her Irish roots and adding she has an Italian side to her family as well. This is truly Australia – a multi-cultural nation. Flanagan entranced with her song about the Irish mission which she performed on a ukulele. While many of the songs and tales were sad, they were also beautiful and moving. The Irish are a passionate people and this came through in their music and lyrics. There was also a vibrancy to this show and some cracking, spirited tunes to take the night out and leave the audience wanting to do a jig on the way home. Exile: Songs & Tales of Irish Australia promoted history through music and stories and it received an overwhelming standing ovation as well a show of this calibre and passion should.
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