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The Good Old Days of Dublin’s Theatre Royal at the National Concert Hall, July 18th 2014.

The Good Old Days of Dublin’s Theatre Royal strikes a chord with an audience that fondly cherish the memories.

While the show laments that the art deco theatre on Hawkins Street was replaced by the less visually attractive Department of Health building, it is the Department of Education that should take note, as this reviewer who wasn’t around for those good old days seldom found a history lesson so enjoyable.

Although the concert performance was advertised to begin at 1.05pm, if you are not there by 12.50pm you will miss a slide show of stills of the theatre projected onto a screen. Coupled with a few tunes evocative of the 1950’s, the largely mature audience begin their trip down memory lane before a word was spoken.

Conor Doyle soon begins his narration ( although the term lecture would be a more suitable as he gives his thoroughly researched presentation on Dublin’s fourth Theatre Royal). The theatre was used for cinema, theatre and among other events, boxing, as Doyle recounts was the favourite of then Minister for Industry and Commerce Séan Lemass. The presentation/concert focuses on the stars who used to tread the boards of the theatre’s history between 1935 and 1962. Various celebrities from this time are projected on the screen, and the audience (many of whom probably attended the theatre) are calling out their names before the text appears, almost like a game show.

Indeed this relaxed environment carries on throughout, where on a number of occasions the audience is asked to join in with the singing, and in some cases do the actions. Pushing the damper in and pulling the damper out in Glory Glory Alleluia was particularly accomplished from an audience re-identifying with the variety shows.

Doyle’s presentation is interspersed with songs by those celebrities, from Bless this House by John McCormack to The Trolley Song by Judy Garland, performed Gerry Noonan and Dara MacMahon, who both echo the style of music hall. Crowd pleasers are the name of the day, with Jimmy O’Dea’s Biddy Mulligan and Noel Purcell’s Dublin Can be Heaven being particularly well received. The songs nicely compliment the anecdotes from Doyle, who tells of how Judy Garland stuck her head out of her dressing room and sang to the two thousand who couldn’t get tickets, and how Dublin’s taxi drivers wrote to Danny Kaye, thanking him for keeping audiences later than trams and buses ran. And Pauline Cooper on the piano cannot stop smiling as the feel good atmosphere pervades the room.

Noonan, MacMahon, Cooper and Doyle find a winning formula, as nostalgia is the overriding theme of the day. The songs cater specifically for the older audience, and while they have a superb afternoon out, it seems a shame that younger audiences miss out on a part of Dublin’s history that has been largely forgotten. However, there is plenty of mileage in The Good Old Days of Dublin’s Theatre Royal, and the promise of another performance in the same venue in October will undoubtedly bring this enthusiastic audience back.

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