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Review: Murphy’s Legacy, Hall One, Sage Gateshead

New Irish dance show Murphy's Legacy brought some of the genre's top performers to Sage Gateshead's Hall One

Some of the Irish dance stars performing in Murphy's Legacy at Sage Gateshead
Some of the Irish dance stars performing in Murphy's Legacy at Sage Gateshead

Sexed up Irish dance became a global phenomenon 20 years ago in Dublin with the Eurovision Song Contest interval entertainment that became Riverdance.

Subsequently, in imagination and reality, it graduated from sawdust floor to arena stage with dancers jigging, arms by sides and hair flowing, to a big amplified sound rather than fiddle or penny whistle.

Michael Flatley became a star, for Riverdance, Lord of the Dance and others. This was Newcastle-based ex-Lord of the Dance performer Chris Hannon’s attempt to do something similar.

Saturday’s one-off was a test to see if his show has ‘legs’, as they say in showbusiness.

It certainly didn’t lack legs in the human sense.

Some of the world’s nimblest, most expressive legs set out to captivate a large audience. Clad in percussive dance shoes, they pounded the stage with dazzling rhythms.

This was a hugely ambitious undertaking and all credit to Chris and his team for giving it a crack.

There were creaky elements. The amplified voice of the narrator in the first half nearly blew our heads off at the front of the hall and the back-projected graphics, replaced in the second half by lighting effects, brought distant memories (showing my age here) of Captain Pugwash.

The story, of clan Murphy driven to flee Ireland in search of a better life only to wash up on an island inhabited by an unfriendly masked and hooded tribe, provided the loosest framework.

But most impressive was the array of talent on display. Chris and fellow Irish dance champs Kaila-Lee McManus, Zach Klingenberg and others dazzled to a classy six-piece Irish folk band at the back of the stage – heavily amplified, of course – while softer musical interludes were provided by Lily Clarke, a supremely confident and talented singer currently studying for GCSEs at Heaton Manor School.

Irish dance seems to work best up tempo with dancers – the more the better – flicking their legs like ponies.

Lacking ballet’s ability to accommodate slower movements, the baton was passed here to contemporary dance, putting the amazingly expressive Lucy Anne Hudson centre stage.

As a high profile showcase for something that rarely gets that opportunity in the North East, Murphy’s Legacy was brilliant and exciting. The long applause was well deserved.

It would be nice to think someone saw enough to take it further.

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