Owen O’Neill: Red Noise

Owen O’Neill is a much better poet than he is a comic. I recently and unfavourably reviewed him in The Best of Irish Comedy, but this new offering, Red Noise, sees O’Neill in his element. The show is mainly a reading from O’Neill’s most recent collection, Licking the Matchbox.

Though the poems can (and, some might argue, ought) to be understood without addition, O’Neill’s anecdotal snippets provide welcome background, giving the audience a fuller understanding of the poems’ referents.

On this particular day, audience engagement seems something of a problem for O’Neill, who struggles to get more than individual responses from those attending (perhaps it’s that, at 3.45pm, few have acquired any Dutch courage). Once he plunges into a poem, however, he is mesmerised, disappearing into a world conjured by a combination of linguistic artistry and gesture.

It’s the poems’ performative quality that qualifies Red Noise as spoken word. Though O’Neill disdains the common supposition that ‘the Irish are great storytellers’, he fulfils the stereotype with aplomb. This is helped by the fact that his poems, if not following a linear narrative, revolve around the central theme of a childhood spent in County Tyrone. Though the poems can (and, some might argue, ought) to be understood without addition, O’Neill’s anecdotal snippets provide welcome background, giving the audience a fuller understanding of the poems’ referents.

Yet since the show’s strength derives from its close interweaving of poetry with contextualising narrative, those poems that attempt narration themselves (one spanning almost ten minutes) seem laborious. Rather, it is those that sketch memory, for example his depiction of the Crucifix on a primary school “painting day”, that are most vivid.

Like Seamus Heaney, the late Irish bard to whom O’Neill dedicates a poem (as he emphasises, ‘before he died’), O’Neill draws out the bigger picture through small detail. Each fragment of memory he pieces together can be stood back from to form a larger image: that of pain. Lightning strikes, bamboo whiplashing, playground beatings, pangs of confessional guilt. All amount to a childhood the pain of which was less a irremediable trauma than a baptism of fire, one whose reality leaves a lump in the throat.

Reviews by Rivkah Brown

Underbelly, Bristo Square

Soweto Afro-Pop Opera

theSpace on the Mile

An Evening with Dementia

Banshee Labyrinth

Rebranding Beelzebub

The Assembly Rooms

Owen O’Neill: Red Noise

Pleasance Courtyard

Pierre Novellie is Mighty Peter

Underbelly, Cowgate

Mush and Me


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

Red-headed fiery poet Owen O’Neill would like to meet affluent professional audiences with GSOH for an afternoon of bittersweet poetry and funny stories. ‘O’Neill is a master of the poetry performance because he is not only a poet, but also a stand-up comedian and actor, and uses these skills to great effect to bring his poems and stories vividly to life. Not to be missed.’ (Glasgow Herald).

Most Popular See More

Frozen the Musical

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £12.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £35.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £15.00

More Info

Find Tickets