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The Review : Beyond Breaking Glass


Hazel O'Connor - Beyond Breaking GlassHazel O'Connor returned triumphantly to Coventry with an astonishingly explicit and honest show entitled 'Beyond Breaking Glass', first premiered last year at the Edinburgh Festival. Since then she and Cormac DeBarre, her talented Irish harpist have extensively toured this tour de force in Britain, Europe and the USA.

For those who are unfamiliar with Hazel's tortured tale of punk anonymity to seeming overnight film star status, rapidly followed by every major rip-off that the entertainment industry can inflict, then this show is a salutory tale.

In a lesser artist's hands this could have been a mawkish story flavoured with the bitter taste of sour grapes, but Hazel turns this autobiographical journey into an illuminating and very touching history of her life, with just two microphones and handful of props on a bare stage. Her faithful Coventry audience lapped it up.

A mournful Irish lament, 'Blackwater Side' kicks off the show, before Hazel energetically bursts into her monologue with the words, 'I was born in Coventry to a working class family, Irish father, English mother'. From then on it was like being on an enjoyable roller coaster ride, with Hazel expertly weaving the text and punctuating the highs and lows of this formidable saga with some of her most familiar songs.

Her voice is still as strong and masterful as it was back in 1979. The beautiful lilting Irish harp accompaniment added a shimmering backdrop to Hazel's classic 'Will You', which she introduced as the 'tea and coffee song'. Hazel tenderly managed to encapsulate the vagaries of love and yearning with her soulful, bluesy voice and it still brings a tear to the eye.

From the beginning, one could only sit back and admire her formidable skill at making the audience feel as though they were comfortably sat in her living room, while she laughed and joked and charmingly exposed the intimate details of her colourful life.

She was raped at sixteen; bombed in Beirut, where she worked as a dancer during the Lebanese Civil War; a film star and hit song writer by her early twenties before her upwardly spiralling career went pear-shaped amid legal wrangling in the aftermath of her signing a hideous record and publishing deal with a couple of sharks, who for the purposes of this production are tactfully called 'Mr Pelvis and Mr Damage' of Shaft Records. In an artfully ironic gesture, these two characters are depicted in the show as hand-held puppets, evidence of Hazel turning the tables on her puppet-like status at the time. When she tells us at the end that they went bankrupt in the late eighties, the audience whoop for joy at her vindication.

Familiar chart hits like 'D-Days' and 'Eighth Day' are joyously reprised, exposing their hidden depths in the light of Hazel's experiences. I particularly enjoyed 'Rebecca', a new song written about one of her friends who lost her life so young and the valedictory 'Walk On'. At times it was hard not to compare Hazel with that older soul sister, Marrianne Faithful. Hazel has the same vulnerable, throaty rasp that lends real pathos to her melodies and words.

By the end of the show, she had the audience wrapped up and in her pocket, as they enthusiastically demanded an encore. I can only echo Hazel's sentiments, when she told us that: "It ain't about what you get, it's the journey you take".

Here is a woman in the prime of her life, who has had to conquer battles that most people only dream about, but has come through them with her sense of self and pride still intact and whatsmore still able to enthrall. Long may she reign victorious!



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Arts Alive - 29 May to 3 July 1999

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CWN / the blackroom / June 99

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