Nostalgia that hit all the right notes

Karl McGuckin and Peter E Davidson who wowed in A Grand Adventure in the Playhouse.
Karl McGuckin and Peter E Davidson who wowed in A Grand Adventure in the Playhouse.

It was a bold move - taking a show which had been a sell out success at the intimate venue of Derry’s Playhouse to the bigger stage, and bigger venue of the Millennium Forum.

But Josef Locke: A Grand Adventure - the story of the remarkable rise, fall and rise again of one of Derry’s most favourite sons - was a show that was made to travel.

Penned by local scribe Felicity McCall, the two hour show provided exactly the right mix of high drama, pathos, comedy and of course music - which had the audience clapping and singing along.

And even though the music of Josef Locke was a little before this reviewer’s time - it was impossible not to be caught up in the toe tapping and sheer nostalgic joy of it all.

Under the direction of Playhouse in-house producer Kieran Griffiths - the Playhouse has made a number of bold moves in recent times. Plays are no longer things we simply watch - staged in traditional settings.

The staging of A Grand Adventure followed this new trend - and was all the better for it. A simple set allowed the four actors - none of whom left the stage during the show to move through time, location and mood effortlessly.

The key role of Josef Locke - in his prime - was played by Karl McGuckin, a barrister/ barritone who as the Josef’s story moved through the years was able to perfectly capture the ambition, the self doubt, the bravado and - eventually - the humbling of the great man himself.

Bringing the iconic songs of Josef Locke to life on stage was no mean feat - but McGuckin’s vocal performance was nothing short of breath-taking. There was hardly a dry eye in the house during his understated but exquisite rendering of Ave Maria - and as for the thundering climax to The Town I Loved So Well - it was one of those rare ‘hairs on the back of your neck standing up’ moments.

He was supported on stage by three other local actors - but support seems too small a word as for my money it was the performances of Orla Mullan and Peter E Davidson which brought the light and shade, the comedy and drama to the show.

Both playing a variety of characters - from a cheeky chorus girl to a drink addled comedian - they both slipped between personas, accents and attitudes with style.

Orla Mullan joined in with the singing - and her voice was a treat. But much of the talk in the audience was of Peter E Davidson’s characterisation. A long time regular of the Derry theatre scene - his performance was a highlight - especially playing Locke’s chancer of an agent.

Eleven years old Brenn Doherty also joined the team on stage - giving a subtle and delightful performance as young Joseph McLaughlin from Creggan, who dreamed of big things.

This was a show heavy on nostalgia, and loaded with the feel good factor. But under the expert hand of Felicity McCall it also showed the many flaws of the great man himself while still allowing the audience to keep a special place in their hearts for him.

Derry Playhouse should be congratulated for this show - which will soon travel to the Lyric in Belfast. It shows that a locally produced show can rightfully take its place in any theatre, and can be of a comparable standard to any big budget touring production.

I look forward to seeing what the team produce next - and just where they take it.