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‘Walking with Ghosts’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Gabriel Byrne, Walking with Ghosts, 2022
Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Irish screen legend Gabriel Byrne’s solo show is a dappled light and dark journey into his childhood memories

This one-man autobiographical show, written and performed by the wonderfully craggy Irish star Gabriel Byrne, is a lilting, lyrical trip down memory lane.

Byrne - a quiet man by Hollywood standards, in that he isn’t a notable limelight-seeker - has nevertheless had quite the career, directed by the Coens, Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch and every other quirky arthouse A-lister you can think of, in over 80 movies. But his showbiz years don’t get a look in here. This soulful patchwork of fond memories, funny stories and cautionary tales is happiest when hanging out in the Dublin of his boyhood with the ghosts of the folks who formed him.

As a writer, Byrne’s a nice, pointed humorist with a lyrical streak a mile wide. As a performer the 72-year-old is a deft raconteur and a gifted mimic: he slides from character to character with completeness and ease: now channelling his mother, smoking wistfully over a rare afternoon tea at a fancy hotel; now his hilarious, movie-loving grandmother; now Brendan Behan, drunk one morning and on the wrong bus. Later, we get memorable vignettes featuring amateur dramatics, plumbing and Richard Burton, on a late-night drinking sesh in Venice.

This show is based on his book of the same name and as a memoir-writer Byrne seems seriously determined to dig down to the roots and essence of his experience, whether that’s in a vivid metaphor, a well-rehearsed joke, or the exact accent of a remembered voice. There’s light and darkness here – mostly light, but Byrne is frank about his alcoholism and his sister’s cruel mental illness and, most upsettingly, his abuse at the hands of a seminary priest. This is hard to watch, a ‘concreted’ memory that contrasts horribly with the lilting openness and humour of his early childhood, clearly a loving start despite material poverty. 

Director Lonny Price wisely gives Byrne space to shine in a deceptively understated production which spotlights him standing or sitting on a chair, a stool, or thronged by little silver and gold lights in the surrounding darkness. This show is playing on the West End briefly and is bound to Broadway, where I bet it will be lapped up. It deserves to be: for all its ease of presentation, and very personal reflection on one actor’s life, it more than earns its place on the big stage, and lingers on, provoking thoughts and feelings long after the curtain drops.

Written by
Caroline McGinn


Event website:
£15-£85. Runs 2hr 5min
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