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Jacqueline Patten of EDS

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

Mick Ryan was commissioned to write a folk opera
based on research into the workhouse, particularly
that of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, now a National
Trust Museum, where the first performance took
place in June 2011. As would be expected Mick
fulfilled the task admirably. This is the album of the
show and, in the course of a double CD, the
listener is transported into the lives of seven
‘residents’.
Traditional music has a penchant for dwelling
on the darker aspects of life but the grinding
poverty that forced people to be admitted to the
workhouse, is rarely explored in song; there is little
scope for romanticism or pathos. If life outside the
workhouse was harsh, life inside was much
harsher: the cost of running the workhouse fell to
the local ratepayers. It was the refuge of last resort
for the destitute.
The twenty-eight songs portray the lives of five
paupers, a tramp, and an orphan girl, with two
from the workhouse master, in which irony serves
to underline the severe conditions: ‘this is the end’,
‘entry’s free’, ‘poverty’s a crime’. With the variety
of song style and the narrative lyrics depicting the
characters’ lives, the audience is drawn into their
situation. As the workhouse master, Paul Downes
raises a smile through his sheer enjoyment of
emphasising the reality of his cruel domain; the
orphan, Phoebe Kirrage will touch the heart of all,
as will Jane (Judy Dunlop) who regrets not having
a child, and Mary (Maggie Boyle), a widow. Richard
(Roy Clinging) misses his wife, Jane, while
husband and wife, Mark (Mick Ryan) and Helen
(Heather Bradford) are delighted to be separated!
With Paul playing an array of stringed instruments
and Maggie on flute and bodhran, the performance
is superb.
Go to see it if it comes near you!