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Dillie Keane ‘Songs My Mother Would Have Hated’

Part of the comedy singing group Fascinating Aïda, Dillie Keane for the most part keeps it light, but eventually, there are some reflective moments, and not all of them were directly connected with her mother, despite her calling the show ‘Songs My Mother Would Have Hated’. She didn’t want to talk about what it was that kept her from writing fresh material for this show in recent months (that is, on top of the material already prepared), relying on more cover versions of existing songs than she previously envisaged. If you knew, you knew.

Dillie Keane
Dillie Keane

Well, I knew, but I didn’t find out until some time after tragedy struck, as the obituary for Keane’s partner, John O’Neill, didn’t appear in the Telegraph until the end of September, although he had died of a stroke on 13th August. Keane didn’t tell her own fanbase until the end of August, having chosen to complete a run of Fascinating Aïda shows at the Edinburgh Fringe before sharing the news. O’Neill was an owner and trainer of racehorses, a markedly different but nonetheless pressurised world from that of live entertainment. No doubt he would have been at the Pheasantry if he’d been able, and it was clear, even without any direct references to it, that O’Neill and Keane’s partnership was solid and dependable.

Keeping audiences entertained comes naturally to Keane, and even funerals were the subject of a jaunty tune, because they are, in a sense, a celebration of someone’s life. “I’m off to a funeral, hippity-hip-hooray! / A person I didn’t know very well has sadly passed away!” This is the kind of gently acerbic humour (at least by contemporary standards) that dominates the evening’s proceedings. I found myself wondering, given Keane’s (staged) reluctance to perform a certain number for ‘fear’ (inverted commas mine) of being cancelled – quite how sharp-tongued things could really be.

Pretty sharp, as it happens: ‘Internet Love’ is pretty much what it says on the tin, though the narrator finds herself feeling compelled to lie about her age when she finds someone she deems suitable. ‘Pam’ is about as aggressive and confrontational as things get, a story about a woman who seduces not only the narrator’s husband, but husbands of other women too: it’s a showdown worthy of a blockbuster movie. Michael Roulston does a sterling job throughout on the piano, stepping aside for a few minutes in the second half to allow Keane to play a couple of tunes herself.

The audience learns much about Keane’s mother, Miriam – theirs was a Roman Catholic household, and when Keane brought a previous solo show some years ago to her home city of Portsmouth, her mother was, the story goes, largely responsible for selling out the show. Having told her fellow parishioners how dreadful she thought the show was but without giving further particulars, many of them wanted to find out for themselves how ‘bad’ it could really be.

Then there’s the ‘Song of Sexual Re-orientation’: “If someone bumped my doughnut / Then I might be very happy as a dyke”. The ever-increasing limitations of advancing years seemed to be something of a running theme, perhaps best expressed in ‘This Ain’t The Hokey Cokey Any More’, in which the kind of bedroom activity that used to happen quite naturally decades ago is attempted, with hilarious, if painful, results. Keane doesn’t take herself too seriously, but she doesn’t put herself down either. Barry Humphries, in his own solo show, recently said, “These days, you don’t have to be funny. You just have to identify as funny.” The thing about Dillie Keane is that she is genuinely funny, and if these are songs her mother really would have hated, that’s her loss. A witty and whimsical show.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Dillie’s mother, now long gone to join the Choir Invisible, despaired of her daughter. “Don’t sing those awful songs, you’ll never find a husband!” she said over and over. Her mother was right. Now at an age when most of her contemporaries are enjoying their leisure and spending their children’s inheritance, she’s working as hard as ever. Back with a new(ish) collection of songs culled from various sources, she continues to behave badly and sing about it. So if you’re passing by Shankhill Cemetery which is just south of Dublin, and you hear a curious whirring sound, it’s her mother. A better plan, however, is to come and see her show.

Booking 13th – 16th October 2022

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