Review of ‘Walking with Ghosts’: “Fame doesn’t change who you are”

Irish acting legend Gabriel Byrne shares more than his unquestionable talent onstage for a super limited run before shedding both his light and darkness on Broadway. Guillermo Nazara tells us about this gripping one-man play, where the acclaimed thespian reveals his inspiring strength through the weaknesses, longings and mistakes of his life.

They say that great men dream of ordinary lives. But greater men may be those who already have them, they just make them stand out. That’s no doubt the case of one of the finest actors I have had the pleasure of seeing – let alone reviewing. There’s no question that Gabriel Byrne has achieved many things most people can only dream of. Yet, on the whole, he’s no more than a simple guy with a simple heart, yearning for the same things all of us do: happiness and fulfillment. Walking with Ghosts is a story of war, of inner war – a quest for understanding the charm and ugliness of our own environment, and of oneselves; a confession of the angels and demons that illuminate and dim the path we make and take, and whose true identity we may not unveil until the epilogue of our own existence.

Led by American director Lonny Price (previous credits include Sunset BoulevardSweeney ToddCompany and Sondheim! The Birthday Concert) through a script penned by Byrne himself, the show drags us abruptly into its bittersweet dramatism from the very beginning. Surrounded by the elegant obscurity of an uncomplicated, yet never plain, set design, Byrne’s memories and emotions burst and unroll through his captivating speech and even more intoxicating eloquence and magnetism. In a sea of beautifully chosen words he masters at playing with (both through ink and talk), his experience as a narrator and yours as viewer merge in the creation of some sort of new special universe, where all the surroundings (including the rest of the audience) melt away to leave just the two of you alone. actor was no longer there, for he’s been replaced by the friendly (even fatherly) figure of a man opening up to the wisdom and realisations of his personal journey.

To anyone slightly familiar with Byrne’s acting skills, it will not come as a surprise his performance exudes, above all, remarkable authenticity. There’s not a single moment where such spontaneity fades away, nor the mesmerism of his interpretation. He and his so-called ghosts coexist onstage through the same channel: himself, in an astounding montage of changing characters and scenes painted in such believable manner you’ll find yourself not as a spectator, but a direct witness of his own story. That compelling power can only stem from its relatability, as no matter how coincidental your experiences may be with his, anyone can easily connect with the primal feelings of love and hate, passion and disgust, frustration and inspiration; and more specifically, the ongoing need for our own redemption, coming to terms with our flaws and forgiving us in an attempt to improve. In this play, you’re not just aware of what’s happening, you know because you’ve been there.

As Richard Burton once told the by-then young starting actor on a long drinking night, fame doesn’t change who you are. Mr. Byrne is no exception, he’s still that small vulnerable boy that once ran away from the hostility of a world he never asked to be a part of – and always will be. And through that ongoing crave for the beauty he hasn’t found in reality, he’ll remain great in the whimsical eyes of art.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Walking with Ghosts plays at the Apollo Theatre on a strictly limited run till 17 September before transferring to Broadway. Tickets for the show are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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