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Ancient Rain @ Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review

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As storytellers in 'Ancient Rain', Paul Kelly and Camille O’Sullivan employ drastically divergent means to arrive at a harmoniously concordant end: the genuine evocation of the spirit of Ireland, in all its ragged and bloody glory.

Camille O’Sullivan is the flamboyant Nick Cave to Paul Kelly’s stoic Leonard Cohen; she is the Oscar Wilde to his Banjo Paterson; her voice can range from a raw and solitary whisper to a husky, primal howl, while he can convey the breadth of human experience with a laconic delivery of deceptive versatility; she appeared on stage adorned in rich and vibrant burgundy, while Paul came on in a suit of earthy brown. United on stage to present Irish poetry set to original compositions, these descendants of the same soil and cherishers of shared traditions delivered a work of profound beauty.

While sitting in the audience, I felt a little like one of Robin Williams’ students in 'Dead Poets Society': “right, after this I gotta go home and read ALL the poetry, underline the phrases that inspire and scribble comments in the margins”. Indeed, for audiences unfamiliar with the source texts, there was much to digest. Both performers, though, possessed as they were by a passion so tangibly apparent, skilfully conveyed even the wordiest of tales.

Camille’s rendition of ‘The Statue Of The Virgin At Granard Speaks’ by Paula Meehan was of such indescribable beauty and tragedy that it requires a poem itself in its honour; mere platitudes are insufficient to convey the emotions unleashed by witnessing this sprawling tour de force. It was such a fiery and convincing condemnation of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church that it would make the Pope blush with embarrassment.

Equally political was Paul’s 'A Demonstration', a 2014 protest poem about events a century and a half ago, was jarringly relevant to our current global plight. On 'Quarantine' and 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death', Paul contemplated the riddle of mortality. Together, the two were triumphant on 'Digging' and 'Ancient Rain', with both featuring the mournful weep of the cello, the pound of percussion, the euphoric wail of the electric guitar and Feargal Murray’s intricate work upon the piano.

'Ancient Rain' is a master work; Paul Kelly continues to daringly expand upon his legacy as one of Australia’s finest musicians, while Camille O’Sullivan can reinterpret like no other; she doesn’t simply reinterpret, she makes the work of others her own.

★★★★★

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