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Big Fish as presented by Thurles Musical Society

Big Fish as presented by Thurles Musical Society

Date of Adjudication: Saturday 23rd March 2024.

For those who may not know it, Big Fish is a story of a hard-working and passionate everyman, Edward Bloom, who likes to tell stories to his son, all of which are heroic and imaginative, but none of which allow the boy to really know his father who is constantly on the road, and therein lies the heart of the story; a son’s quest to find his real father, knowing that his time is running out.

Given the episodic and surreal nature of this story, it was certainly a good choice of Director, Oliver Hurley, to present it against a backdrop of dynamic projections. The attention to the technical quality of this production was beautiful, taking us on a visual journey of epic proportions. The use of projections, courtesy of John Hurley, was a show in itself. Whether it was the town scape of Ashton, the fields of daffodils, the effects of the flood that wiped out Ashton, the banners and flags of the Red, White and True routine or the bright and colourful Circus environment, the detail and the smooth transitions between projections was an absolute work of art. Structurally, the set was very well designed, with varied levels, a wealth of entrances and points of access, and three concealed playing areas, which worked like clockwork and allowed all the major props and set pieces to be changed and set out of view of the audience, and it was all so efficiently employed by Stage Manager, Anthony Kirby and his team.

The lighting was perfectly on point, allowing every important piece of drama to be highlighted while creating a perfect ambiance and atmosphere with surrounding shafts and beams of colour and effects. That the lighting never interfered with nor washed out any of the projections was an indication of top-quality plotting and planning. Also, very much on point was a sound system that allowed every word to be heard and balanced beautifully against a full orchestral sound. The combination of all these elements elevated this production to an extremely high technical level. My one small concern about the set was that there were times when the vast expanse of white board surrounds, free of projections, looked a tad sterile, but this was a small gripe in an otherwise stunning technical display.

The show throws up plenty of opportunities for creative choreography too, and on this front, Oliver provided plenty of variety, with well-devised tap and military routines and flamboyant circus montages, and while sometimes the chorus and dancers performed with more enthusiasm than precision, they never lacked energy and commitment. But where this Chorus excelled was in their musical accomplishments, giving true harmonies and robust energy to the many fine choral pieces of the show. They also acted and reacted with great realism to the scenes as they unfolded.

David McElgunn’s portrayal of the central character, Edward Bloom, was superb in its simplicity, mesmerizing in its lack of flamboyance, remarkable in its normality and deeply moving in its sincerity. In a role that could easily be overplayed, David captured the essence of a normal guy, escaping his humdrum existence in a world of adventurous imagination, with his only constant being the incredible love he had for his wife and son. Even as he struggled with his conscience and his mortality, one never doubted the depth of his sincerity and the strength of his love. Added to his wonderful acting was a strong and melodic vocal quality, blending to make this an excellent all-round performance.

John Hayes played Will Bloom, the confused and often neglected son, in search of the real father he had never had a chance to know. John was at his best in his confrontations with Edward, capturing the frustration and anger of their relationship, but I was longing for him to show more emotion in the realization of his father’s dilemma as the show neared its end. He was, however, most sincere in his sentiments to his wife and mother. Vocally, he did a good job with his musical numbers.

Fiona Delaney was fabulous as Sandra. Her reaction to Edward’s protestations of love was comically confused and yet delightfully accepting, and from that moment on, her devotion to him and her love for him was never in question. She sang strongly as one of the Alabama Lambs, but it was a heart-rending rendition of I Don’t Need a Roof that was one of the emotional high points of the show. Beautifully performed.

Linda Ryan cut a strong and confident figure as The Witch, exhibiting wonderful stage presence and a fine and authoritative voice, and also blended into the chorus for many of the song and dance numbers.

Trisha McElgunn tenderly played the forlorn Jenny Hill, living an existence of unrequited love for Edward. She was as homely and sweet as she was melancholy, and her final scene, where she opens Will’s eyes to the reality of his father’s love for him, was played with warmth and sincerity.

Marie Therese Kirby impressed as Will’s pregnant wife, who, despite a rocky start to her relationship with Edward, developed an appreciation of him with a more sympathetic nature than her husband. Nicely played.

Frank Tuohy was brilliantly cast as Karl, the Giant, looming over the rest of the cast, and creating a funny and extremely likeable character, filled with an unexpected level of intelligence and business acumen.

Brendan Bailey got good comedy from the role of circus owner and sometime werewolf, Amos Calloway, also putting across his vocal contributions with confidence and character. Barry Derby performed well as Don Price, playing the bully very well, huffing like a child when fate, and Edward took Sandra away from him, and redeeming himself somewhat when he acknowledged Edward’s part in saving Ashton.

Ben Collins played the cheeky rapscallion, Zachy Price, with confidence and good comedic effect.

A young Eanna Hayes showed great maturity and understanding in playing Young Will, capturing the excitement of listening to his father’s stories, but also the frustration of realizing that he never saw the real father, pre-empting the angst of his older self. For one so young, he showed an impressive grasp of the emotional side of the story.

The show was delightfully costumed, from the everyday costumes of the present to the more colourful and flamboyant costumes of Edward’s adventures. There was good detail in the Scout and military uniforms, the Giant, the Witch, the Werewolf, Red Fang, and the dancing and parading choruses. The make-up and wigs, too, were consistently good and added much to the overall look of the show characters.

But perhaps what made the strongest impression on me was the musical quality of the show. With a score that was completely unknown to me, and probably to the musicians in a very fine orchestra, I am quite sure Musical Director, Mary Rose McNally, did a mountain of work trying to familiarize everyone with the music. There was great body to the orchestra, with a wonderful string section, and secure reeds and brass, all kept together by thorough and precise direction from the piano. There was great energy in the full choruses, and a light

touch to the more romantic and emotional pieces. The same could be said for the Choral work, which seemed thoroughly rehearsed and was delivered with robust assurance. The music of the show really is quite beautiful, and Thurles did an extremely good job of promoting it.

It would be trite of me to suggest, in hindsight, ways in which this production could have been improved, for to take an unknown piece and to present it to such a high standard, was a wonderful achievement, of which Thurles, Mary Rose McNally and Oliver Hurley should be rightly proud. In thanking you all for such an accomplished introduction to this amazing show, I leave you with a quote that could have been penned about the most beautiful image of the evening:

“For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon the inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the Daffodils.”

I believe Wordsworth would have enjoyed that scene.

Peter Kennedy

Gilbert Adjudicator 23/24

Photos by John O’Loughlin


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