It’s a typical Tuesday night out with the lads. Four people walk onto the glowing red Project Arts Centre stage, dressed in cut up Adidas trackies and camouflage. They’re all carrying shovels and singing a hymn-like song about the 800-year occupation of Ireland.
Following this introductory song, we are introduced to the character of Oliver Cromwell, based on the man himself. Except in this show, he’s not the strict, rotund, and ugly person he was in real life. Instead, Irish performance artist Xnthony and collaborators Sam Curtis Lindsay and Sally Ó Dúnlaing have devised a theatre-loving queer revision of Cromwell, who really just wanted to be an actor.
The touring musical production “Oliver Cromwell is Really Very Sorry” was an absolute fever-dream of a show, in all the best ways. It’s a queer, flamboyant, and wonderfully crafted production, and everything from the music (composed by Sally Ó Dúnlaing and produced and designed by KLONG), to the costume design (Joey Frennette) to the actors themselves was turned up to 10!
“My personal favourite was ‘Put Your Hands Up for Puritanism,’ a glittery pop hit that included Puritan God DJ-ing from the heavens”
Musically, the songs weren’t just typical musical theatre songs. From the intro hymn “How Well Do You Know Your Neighbours: 800 years” to “Put Your Hands Up for Puritanism” to “Hot Blood,” there was a massive variety of musical genres sampled. My personal favourite was “Put Your Hands Up for Puritanism,” a glittery pop hit that included Puritan God DJ-ing from the heavens while the cast danced around “preaching” the Puritan lifestyle. When I spoke to the musical director ÓDÚ, she stated that the inspirations came mainly from a pop background: artists like Madonna and Lady Gaga were cited, as well as vaudeville music and even 60s pop. Also thrown into the mix of music was some Berlin-esque techno when Cromwell was in the House of Commons. There were also ballads, including an “I want” song for the musical theatre aficionados out there, resulting in the most variegated soundtrack I’ve heard in a while.
Another thing to note was the costume design, designed by Joey Frennette. The costumes were certainly an interesting choice. Edited Adidas tracksuits with camouflage paired with Puritan-style collars and headpieces (as well as fishnets and harnesses) made a visual impact like no other. All the outfits suited the actor’s personalities, but the three costume highlights were the Puritan God’s costume, Oliver’s sash and cape when he becomes Lord Protector, and the biscuit tin that Cromwell’s decapitated head wears at the very end. Puritan God (Iestyn Arwel) donned a white and pink shimmering cape, which sparkled under the bright white stage lights. The second costume was Oliver Cromwell’s (Xnthony) massive, furred cape in the pattern of the English flag, as well as the accompanying sash in the same pattern. There’s a point in the musical where the cape is fully unfolded to its full length, and it takes up most of the stage. It was truly an epic moment to watch, and the impact of the cape is awe-inspiring. Lastly, the biscuit tin provided an amusing contrast to the large cape. Seeing his head in a tin being thrown around was an experience that surpassed the audience’s wildest dreams.
“This show is the ‘anti-Hamilton'”
Conceptually, the show is certainly unique. You would assume from it being a historically-based show that it would resemble Hamilton and Six in adaptation style. However, in fact the show is the “anti-Hamilton.” Xnthony, ÓDÚ, and Sam Curtis Lindsay intended to clear up a lack of information surrounding the antipathy between England and Ireland, as well as to show the life story of Cromwell and his time in Ireland in a uniquely humorous way.
This musical was a blast to watch, and if you’re interested in seeing it too, the tour is ongoing. Check out the @xnthony Instagram for tour dates and locations, as they’re going all around Ireland at the moment. They’re currently touring from November 1st-18th in Galway, Roscommon, Ennis, Longford, Limerick, and Drogheda!