Monday 24 October 2016

Review: The Girl Who Believed in Magic

Julie Feeney
Julie Feeney

Let's get one thing straight: Julie Feeney is an extraordinary talent.

Musician, composer, conductor and orchestrator, the Galway artist -  whose enchanting dress sense has, on occasion, come close to stealing the spotlight - is one of a kind. Hers is a prodigious collection of songs that continues to astound and enthral, not least, in a live setting, with band and orchestra intact.

The Girl Who Believed in Magic - more of a theatrical undertaking (well, she did always have an eye for the dramatics), created and performed by Feeney and directed by Mikel Murfi, should have been a mesmerising event.

According to the official synopsis, as a child, Feeney performed magic shows in her living room. There'd be an admission price and everything. Tonight, a giant silk screen displays an image that we can only presume was one of her early flyers.

To begin with, a young girl's narration informs us that we're about to see a concert and a magic show. It may, in fact, be "a Bosco show too". So far, so very whimsical. And then it all gets a little …weird.


The narrative, such as it is, suggests that Feeney may be trapped in her younger self's show. Draped in a white gown and lying on the ground with a microphone in her hand, our leading woman starts to sing. Images of Alice in Wonderland flash across the screen.

Later, a heart monitor; passages from a book; a silent film; splashing waves, and so on. The songs (many of which we already know) are supposed to fit into what proves to be a paper-thin concept. But here's the thing - Julie doesn't exactly make it easy for herself, or indeed, her audience. What exactly is the aim here? Is this really just another gig? A stilted performance, without the obligatory banter and applause, Feeney's creation resembles something of an awkward art installation, with too much of a focus on complex movement, design and elaborate costume changes (devilish one minute, Kate Bush the next).

It's just Julie, a backing track and a few live instruments (keys, accordion and drum sticks). The end result is a rather bloated and occasionally monotonous airing of Feeney's songbook (Dear John and Love is a Tricky Thing included) with visuals tacked on. That's it.

Feeney's vocal is beautiful, and there are times when it sounds as though she's just hit two notes at once. But even when the silk screen drops, and Feeney steps out of her box and off the stage, something doesn't add up. Where is this production going? What happened to the magic show bit?

Alas, The Girl… takes itself far too seriously. There's no humour, no fun - no real magic, basically. Bordering on the pretentious, it's a disappointingly leaden display from an otherwise gifted artist.

Rating **

Running until April 11

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