It seemed it might never happen, but it did. Gabriel Byrne made his debut in the West End in London! He started out in the theater in London, after leaving his home in Dublin, and then life took its twists and turns and he never came back. But now he has done it, and in the best way, too. The Apollo Theatre in London played host to our favorite Irishman as he brought his beguiling one-man show to appreciative audiences for a 9-day tour, before the play heads off to the bright lights of Broadway in October.
The reviews are in, and this quote says it all:
I have gathered together most of reviews and here are excerpts, presented to remind us all, not only what we might have missed because we just could not make it to London, but also that Mr. Byrne can hold everyone in the palm of his hand with his talent, his words, and his spirit, not just those of us who call ourselves his fans–and that’s a lovely thing to remember! heart
Caroline McGinn/Time Out London
September 13, 2022
Irish screen legend Gabriel Byrne’s solo show is a dappled light and dark journey into his childhood memories
This one-man autobiographical show, written and performed by the wonderfully craggy Irish star Gabriel Byrne, is a lilting, lyrical trip down memory lane.
As a writer, Byrne’s a nice, pointed humorist with a lyrical streak a mile wide. As a performer the 72-year-old is a deft raconteur and a gifted mimic: he slides from character to character with completeness and ease: now channelling his mother, smoking wistfully over a rare afternoon tea at a fancy hotel; now his hilarious, movie-loving grandmother; now Brendan Behan, drunk one morning and on the wrong bus. Later, we get memorable vignettes featuring amateur dramatics, plumbing and Richard Burton, on a late-night drinking sesh in Venice.
This show is based on his book of the same name and as a memoir-writer Byrne seems seriously determined to dig down to the roots and essence of his experience, whether that’s in a vivid metaphor, a well-rehearsed joke, or the exact accent of a remembered voice. There’s light and darkness here – mostly light, but Byrne is frank about his alcoholism and his sister’s cruel mental illness and, most upsettingly, his abuse at the hands of a seminary priest. This is hard to watch, a ‘concreted’ memory that contrasts horribly with the lilting openness and humour of his early childhood, clearly a loving start despite material poverty.
…This show is playing on the West End briefly and is bound to Broadway, where I bet it will be lapped up. It deserves to be: for all its ease of presentation, and very personal reflection on one actor’s life, it more than earns its place on the big stage, and lingers on, provoking thoughts and feelings long after the curtain drops.
Miriam Gibson/London Box Office
September 13, 2022
In Gabriel Byrne’s one-man show, Walking With Ghosts, he heads back to his boyhood in Dublin- the characters, the noises, the boyhood scrapes. And we’re lucky enough to be coming along for the ride.
Byrne’s love of language is evident in Walking With Ghosts’ script. Metaphors, such as, “his teeth looked like a row of fridges” abound. Byrne’s chameleonic performance sees him portray his granny, a music-hall comedienne, his teachers, a local vagrant, and himself at various ages. Blue eyes lasering out of his skull, Byrne draws you into these characters, so that you not only believe that Byrne is them, but also that you’re seeing the setting and the other people around them. Byrne isn’t just talking to the audience, he’s making us feel as if we’re experiencing events with him. Byrne’s performance is closer to confessing than raconteuring, which enhances Walking With Ghosts personal feel. The performance is especially impressive given that Byrne is the audience’s sole focus. The closest he has to a co-star is Sinéad McKenna’s gorgeous lighting design. The lights drift between colours and brightness, pulling us further into Byrne’s world.
Humorous, haunting and hopeful, Walking With Ghosts is a gripping masterclass in the art of story.
Greg Stewart/Theatre Weekly
September 9, 2022
An exceptional piece of storytelling told through a tour-de-force performance
It’s quite a feat for one person to carry an entire show for a full two and a half hours, yet in Byrne’s presence, time simply melts away. This impressive performance spans the life of a man who has mixed with Hollywood royalty yet focuses very much on his native Ireland.
Some of the references might be lost on those of us who grew up outside of the Emerald Isle, but it’s always clear what Byrne is aiming to convey. This is storytelling at its finest, as Byrne allows us into various vignettes of his past in stories told with rich language and a captivating vividness . . .
Walking With Ghosts uses comedy to great effect, Byrne’s impersonations of these important characters in his life are very funny, and the favourite lines of his mother that Byrne repeats delight the audience.
Byrne also talks with frank honesty about more difficult periods of his life, he comes right to the front of the stage to talk about his battle with alcoholism and doesn’t shirk away from the problems that his sister would face on reaching adulthood. This switching between comedy and tragedy keeps the audience gripped, and utterly charmed, by Byrne’s natural ability to engage . . .
This failed priest and failed plumber has gone on to lead an extraordinary life, and Walking With Ghosts delves into Byrne’s past to show us all that personal history can be reconciled in a way that allows us to learn lessons and move on. This is an exceptional piece of storytelling told through a tour-de-force performance.
Mary Beer/London Theater 1
September 12, 2022
Whilst Walking with Ghosts is laugh-out-loud hilarious in parts – especially in the second act – Byrne does not shy away from the naked truths of his experiences. He finds a balance in tone that does something rather remarkable: the brutal and awful are not tempered by a brittle wit but, rather, the devastating and comic manage to co-exist authentically. And through this very human duality, we as the audience go on both a dramatic and emotional journey, but find a kind of peace for it.
Lonny Price’s direction reveals a strong instinct for pacing that pays off whilst Sinead McKenna’s set and lighting design aid a sense of theatrical completeness. It is, however, the remarkable talents and honesty of Gabriel Byrne that provide us with a story so personal and affecting but also, fundamentally, universal. Emotionally engaging and entertaining, Walking with Ghosts is so much more than an autobiography; it is a window into the human condition.
Sarah Crompton/What’s On Stage-London Theatre
September 12, 2022
Gabriel Byrne: Walking with Ghosts at the Apollo Theatre – review
… Under the sensitive direction of Lonny Price, the evening also has moments of extraordinary, concentrated stillness and sadness. The long section in which Byrne describes the way he was abused by a priest he liked and trusted at the seminary where he went at 11, is almost unbearable to watch; his words and actions underline the depth and damage of the betrayal. Years later, he tracks him down and rings him in his retirement home. Sitting at the desk, he recounts the conversation. The man does not remember him; all the fury and hurt he feels, ebbs away in the face of a frail voice at the end of a phone.
He is equally honest about his alcoholism, about his sister’s mental illness, about the poverty he grew up amidst and the shame it caused him. Yet Walking with Ghosts isn’t a bleak evening. It feels as if Byrne is gently teasing out the links between the person he once was and the person he has become, understanding his present by his accommodation with the ghosts of his past.
In particular, the show feels like a tribute to his parents, who scrimped and saved to give him the best life they could – and never showed him anything except love. In his gentle memories, they come to vivid and inspiring life, his mother relishing her treat of a tea in posh Dublin hotel, pulling on a cigarette full of longing, his father shocked by the prices when they go out for a celebratory dinner.
You feel the force of their goodness throughout an evening that is beautifully paced and finely judged. Byrne reveals himself as a writer with an eye for detail and the soul of a poet – and as an actor of considerable power and finesse. It’s an understated night of theatre, but a rich one.
The major UK news outlets reviewed Gabriel’s play when it premiered in Dublin and later ran at the Edinburgh Festivals. Here are three more reviews from London theater news sources to check out:
The ArtsDesk.com/Demetrios Matheou
September 12, 2022
Walking with Ghosts, Apollo Theatre review – a beguiling Gabriel Byrne opens up
The acclaimed Irish actor adapts his memoir into a stirring one-man show
Irene Lloyd/Everything Theatre
September 12, 2022
Evocative tales of the ghosts of his past, told with humour, joy and sadness by consummate storyteller Gabriel Byrne.
Jarlath O’Connell/The American: The Transatlantic Magazine
September 13, 2022
We all walk with ghosts, but the point is how do we, if ever, make a reckoning with them. Not to be missed.