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Angela’s Ashes will make you laugh and cry

Thursday, 22nd August, 2019 8:56am

One of Ireland’s most widely recognised stories of family, poverty and growing up is set to come to Cork Opera House.

The musical adaption of Frank McCourt’s classic memoir ‘Angela’s Ashes’ will arrive at Cork Opera House from 17-21 September.

One of the country’s most widely loved tales, the story tells of Frank McCourt’s childhood growing up with his family in 1940s Limerick.

'Angela’s Ashes' details McCourt’s family’s struggles with his father’s alcoholism, priests, bullying schoolmasters and money-lenders, culminating in his escape to a new life in America.

The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and an acclaimed 1999 film version was largely shot in Cork.

Its musical adaption returns after a two-year hiatus, starring Dublin West End actress Jacinta Whyte and Eoin Cannon and produced by Pat Moylan, who has had award-winning shows in Ireland, the West End and Broadway.

Actress Jacinta Whyte is most well-known for her ability to belt out the hits of West End favourites like ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘Annie’ on the biggest stages. But it was 'Angela’s Ashes' which, after a career break, pulled her back in a big way.

“When I back to my career after having children, I didn’t really want to go back to doing eight shows a week again. I got a call from Pat a couple of years ago, but I saw the script and thought it was just too good to turn down,” she tells the Cork Independent.

“I read the book probably in the mid-90s when I was living in the UK, and it was the Irishness, the humour and fun which struck me, as well as the writing.”

Jacinta calls the production “an Irish Blood Brothers”, saying its blend of comedy and tragedy has given it an appeal to those of all ages. Crucially, she says the theatre production retains the humour of the original book she feels was lost with the movie adaption, which starred Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle.

“To me, I hated the film - it showed the abject poverty and didn’t ring true to the book I remembered. This production is a lot more true to the book – of course you have the misery, but you’ve also got the great comedy, and the music makes it so enjoyable for those who come to see it.”

Although the production received a rousing response when it toured on its initial run in 2017, she admits there was some apprehension before showing it in Limerick.

“We were slightly unsure bringing it to Limerick, because of the book obviously not depicting Limerick in the best way, but when they came they loved it. I think it shows the strength and survival as well that people had at the time, when poverty was in Dublin, Limerick, Cork – everywhere. But they got through it with laughter.

“My character Angela just keeps on getting beaten down – she loses child after child, she has an alcoholic husband, has to sleep with a relative to put a roof over her children’s head. But each time she gets up again, and I think that’s something very Irish.”

For Jacinta, the most important aspect of the play was ensuring it kept loyal to the books, and did its characters justice.

“You have to remember these are real people who lived, so we really went back to Frank’s original writings to try and do that,” she says.

“The most important thing for us is that we keep it loyal to the book, which if you read, one minute you’re laughing, the next you’re crying.”

The shows have even had some special attendees; the McCourt family themselves.

“We’ve all met Ellen, Frank’s husband, and their children, who have been so supportive of the production and the portrayal of the characters,” Jacinta adds.

“We had a lovely card from her last year saying ‘you brought my mother-in-law back to life’, which was really quite touching. We’ve had nothing but positivity from people who were attached to the real-life story.”

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