Star-crossed lovers and attempted murder in Victorian melodrama

Kelly McAuley and Marie Mullan in The Colleen Bawn
Kelly McAuley and Marie Mullan in The Colleen Bawn

THEATRE REVIEW: The Colleen Bawn @ Grand Opera House, Belfast

A beautiful peasant girl - the Colleen Bawn - is secretly married to the hoighty-toighty Hardress (Marty Rea) whose family estate is under threat, an estate presided over by a wonderfully imperious Marie Mullan as Mrs Cregan.

This funny melodrama by Victorian Irish playwright Dion Boucicault is laden with humorous misunderstandings, crossed wires, drink, over-egged characters and at its heart, a secret passion that almost leads to ruin. Boucicault - who spent much of his career in America - gets much fun out of the gulf in manners between the landed gentry and the Irish peasantry and the way love can force even the most fearful snobs to cast their prejudices aside.

There were two stellar performances in this production that displayed the kind of intuitive acting that cannot be taught: Rory Nolan as bootlegger and ultimate wit Myles-na-Coppaleen, and Aisiling O’Sullivan as the toffee-nosed yet kind Anne Chute who is pressured to marry Hardress while her heart belongs to another (but, phew, all the lovers find the right arms to fall into in the end). Funny in the way an episode of Father Ted is - all Irish blether, getting the wrong end of sticks and half-drunken invocations to the Almightly - only here we had less clergy (John O’Lohan’s fabulous turn as a fatalistic bishop notwithstanding), this is a drama of quick twists of fate. It confronts the shadows too; we witness a near resurrection when the Colleen Bawn is half-drowned in the lake only to be rescued by the charismatic Myles in a denouement that had everyone smiling.


The Colleen Bawn runs at the Grand Opera House, Belfast until February 1. Visit or call the box office on 02890 241919.