The Colleen Bawn

August 4, 2010


There have certainly been worse shows this summer than Jimmy Fay’s take on The Colleen Bawn. There have been worse performances, weaker visions and less cohesive final products. But no other production has projected the smug sense of self-satisfaction that drips off Bedrock’s staging of this Dion Boucicault melodrama.

There is some nice imagery, a fabulous set from Alyson Cummins (Off Plan, No Escape) and a performance or two worth talking about (Michael Glenn Murphy’s Danny Mann, Ian-Lloyd-Anderson’s Father Tom). But it’s all pissed away in Irish theatre’s unyielding devotion to its love of laughter.

This is a play about love. The love of a wife for a husband, a mother for a child, a servant for his master and a friend for a friend. It’s about unrequited love, thwarted love and a love that transgresses social standing- a crossing of wires that ends in a brutal attempted murder.

But this production is about one liners, rapid transformations of character, comical exits and even more comical entrances. Its played for shits and giggles with the characters underhand behavior and the scripts violent undertones submerged by some of the most offensive mugging I’ve seen all year.

The cast of characters strut across the stage played to such an extreme, both physically and vocally, it becomes all about what they were doing rather than why. Working with a reduced ensemble director Jimmy Fay has devised a witty way of having two characters played by the one actor appear on stage at once. But this farcical approach overshadows the text and is played by actors so amused by what they are doing they sprout jazz hands and tap dance out of character.

Aside from this major flaw the acting is passable (though diction takes a trashing as they struggle with the Kerry brogues) with Liz Fitzgibbon’s as Eily O Connor and Ciaran Taylor as Mr Corrigan,seeming unguided yet finding the odd moment here and there to show what they could have done with a clearer directorial hand. Karen Ardif and Charlie Murphy however ham it up so much it feels like breakfast time back home while Will Irvine, as pleasant as his performance is, lacks the required chutzpah of a Myles Na Coppaleen.

Fay has scent marked this piece so instead of caring about how it relates to our world or what it says about it’s own time we marvel at its presentation and his ingenuity.  He pays homage to silent movies, to shadow play and to vaudeville but aside from making us go gee wiz they really don’t add anything to the piece. Soon after their introduction they are dropped since they can’t inflate the humor.

The Colleen Bawn has it all. Two tender love triangles, an attempted murder, a few musical segue ways and a number of nuanced characters who deserve more thaught than they are shown here. Yes they are funny but they are also struggling to survive, to live up to their responsibilities and to find that one piece of happiness the world has carved out for them.

A decent melodrama exaggerates character and plot in order to appeal to the emotions. But here the exaggeration is so gross it quashes them, focusing solely on the farce and forgoing all heart.

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