The Colleen Bawn

Ian Lloyd Anderson, Charlie Murphy in 'The Colleen Bawn.' Photo: Richard Gilligan

Ian Lloyd Anderson, Charlie Murphy in 'The Colleen Bawn.' Photo: Richard Gilligan

Ian Lloyd Anderson, Liz Fitzgibbon in 'The Colleen Bawn.' Photo: Richard Gilligan

Ian Lloyd Anderson, Liz Fitzgibbon in 'The Colleen Bawn.' Photo: Richard Gilligan

Dion Boucicault’s melodrama is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, but in truth it has rarely been out of fashion for long in more than a century. The convincing staging of such melodrama requires a consistently calibrated approach in which acting, costuming, staging and direction convey a single relation to melodrama as concept. A pick and mix relationship to this genre doesn’t work. A full-scale commitment to the artistic requirements of another age is admittedly a tall order, especially when a postmodern sensibility is shared by those on stage, behind the scenes and in the audience. It can be done, however, as was apparent in the National Theatre’s recent production of London Assurance, or in the concurrent productions of The Shaugraun and Stewart Parker’s Heavenly Bodies on the Abbey’s two stages in 2004, which bridged the gap between the sensibilities of the age of creation in one and that of performance in the other.

It is significant, then, that the most successful elements of Bedrock and Civic Theatre’s staging of The Colleen Bawn are those which heartily subscribe to melodrama as genre. The star turn is delivered by Alyson Cummins’ set and Sarah Jane Shiels’ lighting. The use of screeds reproducing familiar etchings of Kerry’s lakes and mountains, the stuff of Victorian travel books, combines with a stunning adaptation of the Victorian predilection for silhouette art and the recreation of the lurid lighting of a gaslit theatre. The heightened effect is that of villainy afoot. Equally impressive is the unfettered performance by Michael Glenn Murphy in both his roles - as Danny Mann, the snivelling and warped servant of Hardress Cregan, and as a British officer (but most particularly in the former role). Murphy’s Danny claims utter devotion to his master and to be above blaming him for the childhood accident which made Danny a cripple; but we in the audience must be able, amid the broad strokes of his stage Irishness, to spy the hard-edged duplicity in the role. In Murphy’s perfectly poised performance we do.

'The Colleen Bawn' presented by Bedrock and the Civic Theatre at Project Arts Centre.The romantic quintet comprises the dastardly Hardress Cregan (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) whose deference to his mother and fear of penury outweigh his love for the tragic heroine of the title, the peasant Eily O’Connor (Liz Fitzgibbon); the heiress Ann Chute (Charlie Murphy) whose fortune can save Cregan’s bacon; and Kyrle Daly (Will Irvine) whose love for Chute is pure of motive. This is stuff of operatic proportions and should coalesce as such, with the fifth party, the iconic Myles na Coppaleen (Irvine again), adding a note of comic counterpoint. However, such convergence is impossible under director Jimmy Fay’s baton as each actor is allowed to enter into the melodrama on a different note. The most unconvincing of these is Charlie Murphy as Chute, whose rendering of the unselfish aristocrat devolves at times into a foot stamping Bridezilla, but mostly hovers somewhere on the edges of thirties screwball comedy. Her body language vacillates wildly between erect Victorian lady and a shoulder-shrugging and slouching debutante who can at times exhibit a peculiarly lumbering gait.

Anderson as Cregan fails to cut a dash, and in his secondary role as Father Tom he is overstretched - an actor too young to impose his authority in the role. Irvine’s Kyrle captures the forlorn quality of his courtship of Ann Chute, although he is at times too wooden to convey his desperation; the actor inhabits his na Coppaleen role much more convincingly. Fitzgibbon as Eily has the seraphic visage and the sweetness of temper one would expect in the role; it is her universal desirability and vulnerability as the orphaned beauty that is lacking.

Karen Ardiff, playing both Mrs Cregan whose fear of a downward turn of the wheel of fate sets the corruption and deceit in train, and Sheelagh Mann, mother of the servant Danny, injects melodramatic crisis vocally and physically. There is little difference in the portrayal of the two maternal roles though. Although each woman stands to lose a son, the stakes are very different. Finally the comic potential of the proposed middle-aged mismatch between Mrs. Cregan and the conniving agent, Corrigan (CiarĂ¡n Taylor), who holds the financial cards in the saga, returns Fay’s production felicitously, if only in small measure, to the borderline farcical condition of all melodrama and points toward the final upbeat resolve of Boucicault’s version of the original tragic tale.

Christina Hunt Mahony, who directed the Center for Irish Studies at the Catholic University of America, now lectures in Trinity College. She is the editor of Out of History: Essays on the Writings of Sebastian Barry.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Colleen Bawn by Dion Boucicault

26 July - 04 September, 2010

Produced by Bedrock Productions, Civic Theatre & Project Arts Centre
In Project Arts Centre

Directed by Jimmy Fay

Set & Costume Design: Alyson Cummins

Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels

Sound Design & Original Music: Philip Stewart

With: Liz Fitzgibbon, Karen Ardiff, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Michael Glen Murphy, Ciaran Taylor, Will Irvine & Charlie Murphy