On Eagle's Wing

The thrilling story of the Scots-Irish emigration to the New World

'Three great cultures: Scotland, Ireland, America. Forged together in the fire of history.' So says Peter Corry, the powerful vocalist who plays the lead character of Andrew, a brave family man in search of a better life, in the superb piece of musical theatre that is On Eagle's Wing.

Most of you will no doubt be familiar with the national emblem of the United States of America, that of the bald eagle, apparently chosen for its strength, majesty and long life, and thought to symbolise freedom.

America hailed itself as the land of the free, a place where people could seek a better life, filled with opportunities and free of famine, fear or persecution. And a place devoid of feuding Kings.

Throughout history, Irish and Scottish emmigrants fled there in their thousands. When a small 17th century sailing ship ‘Eagle Wing’ set sail from the harbour in Groomsport, County Down in 1636, it signaled the start of a surge of emigration of Scots-Irish across the Atlantic.

On Eagle's Wing tells the story of a people on the move from Scotland to Ireland and on to the New World. A story filled with music, dance, tragedy, passion and humour.

The show takes off in an airport setting and feels very modern. The music that follows is a bit Disney: ‘Do You Know Who You Are?’ But the message is about tracing your family tree - as our initial characters presume to do.

Producer and composer John Anderson points out in the programme that 'deep down, most of us want to know where we come from. The family line, however humble, obscure, revealing or even sometimes surprising is becoming of more and more interest to us all in this transient society'.

The next scene takes us back in time with Corry playing a convincing Highlander (or should that be Lowlander?) with tartan abounding as we enter the Scottish Lowlands in 1682.

We witness spectacular Scottish dancing and get our first taste of the outstanding dance routines that prevail in this production. All the frivolity comes to an end, however, with a gunshot from an English redcoat. Tragedy ensues and after experiencing famine and religious persecution it’s off to Ireland.

On arrival in the Emerald Isle, the audience is greeted with a contemporary dance scene from a cast clad in peasant clothing. 'You Don’t Belong Here' is a supercharged, rocky, feisty performance that mixes dance, fighting, flashing lights, weaponry and song, delivering one hell of a spectacle. Highlander meets Thriller! as choreographer Gail Davies delivers another accomplished set piece.

As the story unfolds, act two lacks the frivolity of the previous act. A wedding, a tragedy, a revolution and a white house reception. But the best is yet to come. And what a finale! Bring on the dancing girls and boys.

What follows is perhaps some of the best modern dance sequences I have ever seen in a stage production. Young men enter in kilts, accompanied by girls in tight black outfits and cheerleaders strutting their stuff. Cowgirls and cowboys light up the stage all in white, delivering mesmerizing moves. The energy, exuberance and talent in this troupe take the breath away.

Throughout the show, Corry gives a convincing and engaging performance and proves he can act as well as sing, carrying off all kinds of wonderful hairstyles in the process. There are also some great comedy moments from Paddy Jenkins and Marty Maguire, who play affable drunks. The cast as a whole cannot be faulted.

This show has the potential to soar to great heights. On Eagle's Wing is piece of locally produced musical theatre that has all the ingredients of a powerful West End production.

Whatever side of the fence you sit on, the view from On Eagle’s Wing is an uplifting and entertaining one. So, open your mind, spread your wings and get out your kilt! The Eagle has landed. 

Anne-Marie Marquess

Catch On Eagles Wing at the Millennium Forum, Derry, Tues 14 Oct - Sat 18 Oct 2008