Eric Worrall of Cheltenham Festival - Gloucester Echo
reviews The Navvy's Wife by The Navvy's Wife CastThe folk tradition of these isles has helped to keep our social history alive at the personal level with stories that have passed down the generations in song, prose and in poetry. The Navvy’s Wife is singer-songwriter Mick Ryan’s memorably well crafted contribution to this tradition. It charts the history of those who provided the muscle to build the canals, railways and roads of this nation, the navvies, through personal stories told and sung by a truly excellent ensemble of singers and musicians.
Ryan, taking the role of Paddy, kicked off the show with the rousing Men from Limerick, Men from Clare. The song told of how the first navvies were drawn across the Irish Sea by their need for work and pay, Ryan’s imposing stage presence and powerful voice bringing dignity to the role.
Jackie Oates, on My Paddy, was completely convincing as the navvy’s new young English wife, her soft vulnerable voice conveying deep apprehension at the life ahead, while Heather Bradfield’s beautifully clear voice on Farewell My Son expressed the deep sadness of the mother left behind in Ireland. Judy Dunlop used her more lived-in tones on the title song The Navvy’s Wife to portray the wife as an older woman weary of ten years’ hard and mean existence.
Multi-instrumentalist Paul Downes also took his turn to get into character, and with Dunlop provided the most dramatic moment of the show with The Eyes Have It graphically describing the endemic violence in the camps between the English, Scots and Irish workers.
Two hours of rich narrative and outstanding music ended to great acclaim with a rousing ensemble song The Land Around You. The Navvy’s Wife is a profound addition to the nations’ folk tradition and deserves to reach the widest audience.