Athlone Little Theatre promises local audiences one of their funniest nights for years as Paddy Martin’s hilarious production of The Colleen Bawn by Dion Boucicault gets under way from Sunday April 19.
Hilarious dialogue, bizarre special effects, and even more bizarre costumes form part of the backdrop to an intensely enjoyable night of pure entertainment.
A sad story reinvented as a merry romp, Paddy Martin’s take on this venerable Boucicault classic is part Blackadder, part Monty Python, and amazingly good fun.
The Colleen Bawn actually began life as a real, tragic, and all too grisly murder, which became notorious in the Ireland of the 19th century. The real life colleen was a young Limerick woman named Ellen Hanley, brutally murdered on the orders of her feckless landed gentry lover, John Scanlan.
Within two generations, her tragedy had been reinvented by Dion Boucicault as a light hearted romance. Boucicault also repopulated the tale with an array of charming Irish rogues, such as the renegade horseman Myles na Capaleen, which pseudonym would later be adopted by the legendary writer Bryan O’Nolan, for his Cruiscin Lawn columns in the Irish Times.
The story on stage is comedy itself. Ellen has mutated into Eily O’Connor, a lovable peasant girl of strong passions and atrocious grammar, while Scanlan has turned into the far less evil Hardress Cregan, her dithering upper class lover.
A gallery of wonderful characters is itself rendered most enjoyably by a gallery of the local theatre’s most talented performers, but what will also make this production most memorable is the array of simply ingenious directorial touches from Paddy Martin.
It’s a potpourri of wild Irish blarney, zany dialogue, and hilarious episodes which recall everything from Flann O’Brien to Gilbert and Sullivan.
Eily herself is played by Deirdre Flynn, the richly talented young actress who delighted huge audiences for her debut this year in Willy Russell’s One for the Road. As Hardress, John McGlynn, star of everything from The Field to The Brothers Malone, brings superb comic panache to the role of Eily’s prissy, dithering paramour.
A la Blackadder, the play differentiates most hilariously between the nobility in the story, led by Hardress, his mother, and bossy horsey girl Anne Chute, and the peasants, led by Eily, the puckish Myles na Capaleen, and the whiskey priest, Father Tom.
Like nearly everyone else in the play, Myles, played by Jason Gill, is also in love with Eily, but, like a highly unlikely Bogart in Casablanca, resolves to help the colleen in her unquenchable thirst for true love.
A very strong cast also includes Anne Hoey as Hardress’s mother, who faces the appalling prospect of marriage to the hilariously slimy lawyer Corrigan (Harry Smith ) if Hardress’s planned marriage to Anne doesn’t go through.
As the high spirited Anne, Mary Geoghegan is, as always, an utter delight, and she has romantic complications of her own in the shape of Kyrle Daly, played by John Elliott, making a most welcome return to the local stage.
John Donnelly is also certain to enthral audiences as the lovable Father Tom, the moral centre of what is sometimes a very topsy turvy story.
The part of Danny, Hardress’s deformed servant, who resolves to do away with the poor colleen, is played with real menace by the very talented Ronan Flynn.
Olive Martin also makes a very welcome return as Danny’s mother, Sheelah, who also gives refuge to the fair colleen.
This hilariously complicated search for true love is certain to delight everyone from nine to ninety.
It’s the ideal spring antidote to those lingering economic blues, as well as one of the most ingenious productions you’ll see anywhere in Ireland this year.
The show runs from Sunday April 19 to Friday April 24. Early booking is advisable and can be had from (090 ) 6464324, or directly at the theatre.