The Poetical Life of Philomena McGuinness

Any one person show relies heavily on the performance of the central cast member and the quality of the script, luckily The Poetical Life of Philomena McGuiness is blessed with excellent examples of both.

If you leave this play feeling anything other than touched and inspired, then you are probably not breathing.

This show focuses on the story of the eponymous Philomena as she ventures from her home town in Ireland to train as a nurse, moving to London and then following the troops to Normandy for the 1944 D-day landings. As you would expect from a narrative covering the war years, the story is laced with tragedy and heartbreak, but a skilful script from Joshua King ensures that humour and wit are always on hand to lighten the mood.

Jasmin Gleeson gives a masterful performance as Nurse McGuiness, effortlessly portraying the changing attitudes of a young girl who may well start out as “flighty” but through the course of the play is transformed by her experiences. Gleeson does well to avoid cliché as she tells Philomena’s story with nuance and concern, her performance showing a love of the character and a deep emotional connection to the material. We also see Gleeson’s range as she transforms herself in to Philomena’s friend Mary, various doctors, matrons and head nurses, doing so whilst maintaining a clear distinction between the roles.

The simplicity of the staging, just a nurse, a table and a bottle of whiskey, belies the rich and detailed world that the play creates. The audience are drawn a convincing portrayal of life in wartime London through a well-crafted script, a phenomenal performance and some skilful use of lighting.

Located in the Greenside venue on Infirmary Street, The Poetical Life of Philomena McGuiness deserves an engaged and thoughtful audience. It’s a piece of excellent drama, enacted with skill and care by an actor with enormous flair and ability. The well written script allows Gleeson the chance to demonstrate her obvious ability and delivers an experience which is at once charming, funny, soulful and heartfelt. If you leave this play feeling anything other than touched and inspired, then you are probably not breathing.

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Reviews by Des Reynolds

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

It’s 1939 and Philomena McGuinness, a reluctant nurse, is on her way from Dublin to London. Newly recruited for the British war effort, she finds herself facing the challenge of a lifetime. But it is not the blood, the bombs, or even the wise-cracking soldiers that make her question her place here. It’s the fact that she is not just a nurse, but a poet too. Can one live a life true to the poetry inside them when they are constantly being defined by their role in the war?

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