Review: 'Jimmy Ellis: Home Again' - a fitting tribute to a Belfast boy

Jimmy Ellis

A REHEARSED reading depends entirely on the script, the actors and the director, and in the case of 'Jimmy Ellis: Home Again' it succeeded in every way.

The audience in St Martin's Church on the Newtownards Road on Thursday evening was made up of his many friends and admirers, top journalists, television and radio producers, actors and directors, writers and, of course, family.

First on her feet after the one hour performance, part of the Eastside Arts Festival, was Robina Ellis, who worked with Glenn Patterson as he skilfully adapted the sequence of poems written by her husband in 2001.

Jimmy's family home lay empty, his parents had gone, his elder sister Eileen had moved to sheltered accommodation and he was spending the last day in the virtually deserted house.

As he stood by a window looking back over his childhood growing up in the shadow of the shipyard cranes, the moment had a profound effect on the actor and he was moved to write down the memories, happy and sad, his youthful relationships and the colourful lodgers who invaded his boyhood.

The heartbreak of losing his dog and the joy of finding it again, a crush on an older woman and his love for his mother, all wrapped up in his house in East Belfast.

He wrote: "I have tried to make the verse accessible in a popular sense without compromising its integrity and with the help of some family photographs, domestic props, pools of light and of course evocative music, my aim is to create something of the atmosphere of that old family residence."

Without doubt he succeeded and the hope is this cameo performance will travel to audiences far and wide.

The cast, young Jimmy, Michael Nevin, grown-up Jimmy, Stuart Graham, his mother Tilly, Katie Tumelty and musicians Fra Fee and Clare Galway, were tremendous and a rehearsed reading became a memorable night of theatre.

There were a few technical problems but the church offered a suitable venue, especially when the boy Jimmy sang 'Abide With Me' to mark the death of his father, as the young man's voice rose to the high ceiling and echoed around the brick building.

Fra Fee also has an exceptional voice and when the whole cast joined in a happy family party singing 'Mamma's Little Baby Loves Shortening Bread' we were right there with them.

The James Ellis of Z Cars and the Billy plays faded into the background as Jimmy Ellis the deep thinker and superb scribe stepped into the spotlight.

According to his son Toto, there's a wealth of writing yet to be examined and that bodes well for future productions.

Congratulations to Glenn Patterson and his sensitivity, to director Martin McDowell and his production company and to the actors who revelled in Jimmy's words.

An emotional night which will happen again on Saturday August 4 and hopefully many more times in the future.

Jimmy Ellis was welcomed home with a standing ovation and prolonged cheering and clapping.

If he was looking down on us I think he would be smiling.

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