Tag Archives: David Bolger

Heartbeat of Home


Piccadilly Theatre

Heartbeat of Home

Heartbeat of Home

Piccadilly Theatre

Reviewed – 11th September 2019



“audiences will love the upbeat energy and the showstopping artistry of these outstanding performers”


Billed as a show about people leaving their home in search of a brighter future, the producers of the Irish dance sensation Riverdance now bring us Heartbeat of Home. Playing at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End, this almost two hour dance extravaganza brings not just a high octane group of Irish dancers, but representatives from the dance traditions of flamenco, Latin, and street dancing as well. Add to that a vocalist, backed by a gospel choir, and a terrific group of onstage musicians, the danger is that this show has too much talent and not enough of a narrative to bring it all together in a coherent way. 

It is left to the cyclorama to present the story of these dancers, and it must be said that this one works to spectacular effect. It portrays mostly sea scenes in the first half of the show, including a ship leaving the shores of home, and a scene of a dazzling storm at sea. In the second half, which focuses on the lives of the emigrants in their new home, the cyclorama focuses on a variety of cityscapes, but also one impressive trip across the rugged scenery of the western United States. One cityscape in the show pays tribute to the iconic photograph of iron workers taken by Charles Ebbets. Here the choreography and set projections on the cyclorama come together seamlessly to present death defying dancing that really does look as though the dancers are performing on a beam high above New York City. In Heartbeat of Home, the whole effect is a bit like being at an IMAX theatre with live music and dancing. The talents of lighting designer Peter Canning, set designer Alan Farquharson, set projection designer David Torpey, with additional set projections by David Mathias, are all used with mesmerising effect.

Not surprisingly, the main reason audiences will seek out Heartbeat of Home is for the dancing and the music. It is a treat to watch the dancers enjoy showing off not only the moves of their own traditions, but bringing off a few moves from each others’ traditions as well. But this “fusion dance” style works better in the second half than the first, as one might expect. And if the time on stage is always weighted heavily in favour of the Irish dancers, their breathtaking sequences are what keep the show moving forward, and the audience cheering and applauding. Ably assisted by featured dancers Maggie Darlington and Bobby Hodges, Irish dance Choreographer John Carey delivers the goods, and anyone who enjoyed Riverdance will not be disappointed by Heartbeat of Home. The dancing is admirably supported by a band of highly talented musicians who work together flawlessly to play composer Brian Byrne’s lively music. Under the direction of drummer Mark Alfred, the music is as varied as the dancing, but once again, it is the Irish soloists who put on a stunning display of virtuosity. Patrick Mangan plays like the All-Ireland fiddle supremo he is, and Cathal Croke is another champion on the uilleann pipes. Robbie Harris on the bodhrán drum holds the audience spellbound, and the dancers in constant motion.

Heartbeat of Home is more of a hybrid than a true descendant of Riverdance, although it has several recognisable features in common. Nevertheless, it offers a hugely enjoyable evening in the theatre, and audiences will love the upbeat energy and the showstopping artistry of these outstanding performers.


Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Darren Bell


Heartbeat Of Home

Heartbeat of Home

Piccadilly Theatre until 13th October


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Austentatious | ★★★★ | January 2018
Strictly Ballroom | ★★★★ | April 2018


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These Rooms – 5 Stars


These Rooms

Shoreditch Town Hall

Reviewed – 8th June 2018


“this riveting work shines some light into the darkness”


First presented in a dilapidated Dublin building two years ago as part of the centenary marking the Easter Rising, “These Rooms” is an intense, immersive blend of theatre, dance and installation. Drawing on eye witness accounts it recalls the events of Dublin’s North King Street Massacre in April 1916 – when fifteen civilian men were killed in house-to-house raids by British soldiers. In this utterly compelling, haunting and thought-provoking depiction we are forced to consider both stories: those of the civilians who were victims of and witnesses to the North King Street Massacre, and those of the men of the South Staffordshire Regiment who committed this act.

Created by the Irish performance companies, ANU and CoisCéim Dance Theatre, there is not an ounce of exposition or preaching here. Instead we are taken on a journey into the victim’s homes, not as flies on the wall but as one of them. Yet directors David Bolger and Louise Lowe are attuned enough to the absurdity and cruel contradictions of conflict that we also feel, at times, that we are the perpetrators too. We are delivered some brutal truths of history. Robbie O’Connor, in a spellbinding performance, asks us to define the phrase “take no prisoners”. But it is genuine fear, not aggression, that reflects in his eyes as he does so. As a regimental soldier he has no idea what he is doing in Dublin. And neither do we, but this riveting work shines some light into the darkness and, more importantly, brings the victims’ overlooked story, and its far-reaching aftermath, to the fore.

From the off it is impossible to remain impassive. The choreography, with its mixture of violence and virtuosity, beauty and barbarism, bypasses narration and takes a more expressive path straight to the core of each character’s emotions. The attention to detail is shared by designer Owen Boss who has transformed the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall into ‘these rooms’ of the title: the smashed walls, barricades of broken chairs, abandoned breakfast tables, the corner pub at closing time. Within these walls the characters search for meaning, taking us with them – sharing a drink with them, sharing secrets, sharing bread and marmalade and grief. We are shown fragments, but these minor details are what paint the bigger picture. Úna Kavanagh’s devastated response to the question of the colour of her husband’s socks, for instance, uncovers the trauma of identifying victims. People who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At the heart, though, are the powerful and evocative performances. The finely nuanced emotions, whether expressed through movement or dialogue, reveal more of the history than the scant documentary evidence can. Especially as the subsequent investigations into the massacre were fudged – with the incredulous argument that the ‘fog of war’ made it impossible to figure out what really happened. A hundred years on these actors bring the horror of these events alive in a compellingly stirring and important piece of theatre. Intimate yet panoramic, this show is totally unmissable.

As we are lead, after a breath-taking ninety minutes, back up into the courtyard there is total silence. The broken women, frozen in their shared grief, merely follow us with their gaze. No applause, though we know that once we have grappled with, and untangled the emotions that writhe within us, the ovation in our heads is thunderous.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Hugo Glendinning


These Rooms

Shoreditch Town Hall until 22nd June


Previously reviewed at this venue
The Nature of Forgetting | ★★★★ | April 2018
We can Time Travel | ★★★ | April 2018


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