“What we think of as home is actually our childhood”. Gabriel Byrne
The impossibility and poignancy of trying to go back to our youth is captured beautifully in “Walking With Ghosts”, two hours of Byrne alone on stage conjuring up the people, the places and the incidents that have shaped his long life.
The warmth and love of his parents and family feature large, but perhaps even larger is the miasma of the Catholic Church in Ireland at that time, which shaped his education and thoughts for years. He powerfully evokes instant recognition for anyone who has experienced such mind control, the guilt, the repression, the belittling and the violence of words and deeds. Beatings and put-downs were constant at school. Even the hymns reflected this mindset “Blood of My Saviour, bathe me in thy tide..”
That Byrne and others could laugh and sport and flourish amidst all this testifies to the strength of human spirit, but he was caught up to the extent that at age 11 he went off to England to study for the priesthood.
There he flourished and did well, but a ghastly experience with a rogue priest sickened him to such an extent he returned home. Thereafter his career choices floundered until a love of acting drove him to join a touring company that was the making of him.
The second half of the show is darker, even as we follow his rise to success. The unhappy struggles of his sister with mental illness and her early death affect him deeply, and his own life spirals off in a descent into alcoholism.
So many ghosts are conjured up, the personal and the well known. The stage set by Sinead McKenna literally reflects this in a glass darkly – a cracked web behind and a glossy floor beneath casting ghostly shadows about him.
He is truly mesmerising. This show has to be right up there as a major Festival hit.
Walking With Ghosts, Edinburgh International Festival, 24-28 Aug, https://www.eif.co.uk/
Photo credit Jess Shurte