Entertaining Ireland: Druid Theatre Company presents Colleen Bawn

For Garry Hynes, artistic director with Druid Theatre Company, 2014 has begun where 2013 ended, with the joyous revival of Dion Boucicault’s 1860 play, The Colleen Bawn.

Entertaining Ireland: Druid Theatre Company presents Colleen Bawn

Having premiered in Galway before Christmas, the show is in Dublin this week, before completing with dates in Belfast and Limerick. Hynes’s faith in the tension and pathos of the drama is charming, and she ignites the comedy without archly hamming up the ‘Oirishness’.

“You have to find a way to reinvent Boucicault, because we are not the Victorian audience that he was writing for,” she says. “But if you just ham it up, then I don’t see the point of that. Boucicault was one of those people who helped invent the mass audience that has now migrated to film. He was a master entertainer.

“He produced his shows on a very big scale and he produced shows to entertain. He’s almost filmic in his ambition, and the way he carries it out. I think, had he born 20 or 30 years later he would have been a huge impresario of early Hollywood.”

In the grand tradition of melodrama, The Colleen Bawn features love across the divide, mistaken identities, misunderstood messages, and likeable rogues. But it needs the right cast and this production is notable for Druid stalwarts, among them Marie Mullen, Aaron Monaghan, Aisling O’Sullivan, Maelíosa Stafford, John Olohan, Rory Nolan, and Marty Rea.

Much of Druid’s success is based on Hynes’s conviction in the centrality of the actor. The company has formally recognised its ‘de facto’ company of actors, with Mullen, Monaghan, Nolan, Stafford Marty Rea and Garrett Lombard all named ‘Druids’, honorary artists-in-association. (Hynes says there will be 12 or so Druids).

“You could actually write the history of Druid through the history of the ensembles,” she says. “There was the founding ensemble that lasted until the late 1980s. Then there were ensembles who came together around the Martin McDonagh plays in the 1990s, and recently there’s been the ensemble that came together around DruidMurphy. We wanted to formalise that, and to say that our collaboration runs over a period of time, not just over one particular project.”

The Druids ensemble can look forward to — once The Colleen Bawn closes — another immersion in the world of Tom Murphy. Following the success of DruidMurphy, which revived three seminal plays from the Murphy canon, Hynes is set to premiere a new work by the Tuam playwright. Titled Brigit, the play is a ‘prequel’ to Murphy’s 1986 hit, Bailegangaire — one of the most significant plays in modern Irish theatre, which was first produced by Druid.

“As a writer, Tom tends to work with the same material, to rework and redevelop it,” says Hynes. “That’s just what he did with us in the 1980s, with Conversations on a Homecoming, which had originally been The White House. So Brigit is revisiting a set of characters around which he wrote some plays, Bailegangaire and A Thief of a Christmas, in the 1980s.”

In 1987, RTÉ produced a one-off drama by Murphy that was also called Brigit and it also involved the characters from Bailegangaire. Are there resonances between the TV show and the new play? “To be honest with you, I can’t answer that,” says Hynes. “I just know what we’re doing in terms of a play. But there are similarities, because it is the same material and the same characters.”

Hynes is coy about the new Murphy production, as the final details have yet to be announced. A theatre-lover might wish for the new play to appear alongside a fresh revival of Bailegangaire, and perhaps even its sister-play, A Thief of a Christmas. Hynes only confirms that Brigit will debut in Galway during the summer. Mullen — Druid’s longest-serving company member and a co-founder with Hynes and the late Mick Lally — would seem perfect to play Mommo, the role immortalised by Siobhán McKenna in the original production. Again, Hynes bats away the speculation.

“Let’s just say Marie Mullen is very much on my mind,” she says.

The new Murphy play is just one of many developments. Poignantly, in November last the company fittingly renamed the auditorium at Druid Lane Theatre after their former ally, Lally, who died in 2010.

For next year’s 40th anniversary, meanwhile, audiences can expect to see a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Henriad’ (Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V), which is being penned by celebrated Irish dramatist, Mark O’Rowe. Workshops for that commence in March. Meanwhile, even in her downtime from Druid, Hynes will enjoy little respite: in May, she will cut her teeth in opera when she directs Leoš Janácek’s 1921 opera Kát’a Kabanová, at the prestigious Spoleto Festival in South Carolina. “It’s very exciting,” she says. “I love working with music in the theatre and I’ve long wanted to do an opera. But it’s challenging, obviously, because it is a different form.”

On a similarly ‘musical’ note, what of these stories circulating that David Simon (writer of hit TV series, The Wire) has submitted to Druid a musical based around the songs of The Pogues? Hynes becomes coy once more. “I’ve no comment on that,” she says firmly. “We’ve got a lot of projects in development.”

The Colleen Bawn runs at the Gaiety, Dublin, Jan 21-25, Grand Opera House, Belfast, Jan 28-Feb 1, and the Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, Feb 4-8. www.druid.ie.

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