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Derek Gifford of Folk Northwest

reviews The Paupers Path to Hope by Mick Ryan show The Pauper's Path cast

This is a 2-CD set of Mick Ryan's commissioned folk opera which dramatises the era of the workhouses which were set up in the 19th century following the passing of the New Poor Law Act of 1834. The drama tells the story of seven people forced by circumstances beyond their control to enter the workhouse. The cast includes Mick as 'Mark' a feckless pauper, Roy Clinging as 'Richard' a former hard working pauper, Judy Dunlop as 'Jane' a childless pauper, Heather Bradford as 'Helen' the wife of 'Mark', Maggie Boyle as 'Mary' a widow pauper, Paul Downes as a tramp and also the workhouse master and Phoebe Kirrage as a workhouse child.

The question has to be asked, of course, as to whether the play transfers successfully to a purely audio performance on CD. As with previous works of a similar nature by Mick Ryan it does so because many of the songs work as 'stand alone' items and also because the occasional spoken narrative in between the songs keeps the listener informed of the story line.

As can be deduced from the cast list the performances are all excellently executed. The one name that most people will not know is that of Phoebe Kirrage. She is a fourteen year old lass but sounds a far more mature singer than her young years suggest. Look out for her because I think she'll make her mark in years to come.
As far as the songs are concerned the title song 'The Pauper's Path' certainly lends itself to extraction as a stand alone work as does the opening song 'The Workhouse' and the optimistic 'The Path to Hope'.

It is impossible in a short review like this one to comment on all of the 28 tracks but I must say that Paul does a credible Midland accent on 'This is the Workhouse', 'You Can't Have That' and 'Industry, Usefulness, Virtue'. Also his superb guitar work percolates throughout both CDs. Among the songs that impressed me the most was Judy's melancholy performance of 'My Child' and also Mick singing 'In Their Eyes'. Maggie shines on 'Where Shall I Go?' too.

Because of Mick's seemingly endless talent as a song writer the whole show keeps the listener's attention throughout the two recordings and you don't necessarily have to have seen the show live to appreciate it. The notes in the cover booklet give the background to the songs and the story and useful information about each of the performers.

This is yet another accomplished work of musical art from Mick and his associates which I can recommend whole heartedly.