Theatre - The Colleen Bawn


Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn is one of those epic works of the 19th century that demands a certain chutzpah of any modern company that wishes to stage it. Druid are well up to the challenge. Under Garry Hynes’ direction, the company play it for laughs, revelling in the absurd plot turns and heightened language that are both hallmarks of the Boucicault oeuvre.

At the heart of the drama is Hardress Cregan’s dilemma: he must wed his cousin Anne Chute if he is to save the family estate in Co Kerry, but he is already secretly married to the local beauty Eily O’Connor, the Colleen Bawn of the title. Marty Rea plays Hardness as a slightly ineffectual if well-meaning son of privilege, while Aaron Monaghan plays his boatman, the cripple Danny Mann, as a misguided schemer. It is Danny who hatches the plan to solve Hardress’s dilemma by disposing of the Colleen Bawn.

As the play progresses, it is the women who steal the spotlight. Hardress’s betrothed, Anne Chute, is portrayed by Aisling O’Sullivan as a fearless and spirited character who always speaks her mind. Druid veteran Marie Mullen doubles as Hardress’s mother Mrs Cregan and Danny’s mother Sheelagh, playing up the confidence of one and the distress of the other as events unfold around them.

Later, Rory Nolan steals the show as Myles-na-Coppaleen, the ebullient poacher and poteen-maker, whose every arrival on stage pushes the energy levels up a notch.

As one might expect of Druid, the sound design and set are world-class. Three musicians perform live throughout, and at one point there is a splendid thunder-storm. The glass structure that stands centre stage variously serves as the sun-room of the Big House, a cottage and Myles’s hide-out in the hills. The most magical element, however, is the glass tank that transforms into the lake across which Danny conveys the Colleen Bawn.

This production of The Colleen Bawn highlights once more how essential Druid are to Irish theatre. But it also points up the dearth of new dramatic writing in Ireland. Sure, there are always plays being written, but nothing on the scale of Boucicault’s work has emerged for years. Druid are set to produce a new work by the veteran playwright Tom Murphy later this year. The next challenge for the company will surely be to uncover his equal among the younger generation.

Star Rating 4/5

Art - Vera Klute: Dadweight

Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

The first work one notices on entering Vera Klute’s exhibition in the Ashford Gallery at the RHA is ‘Birds’. It’s hard to miss it: 13 stuffed birds suspended from the ceiling. Nine have suffered the indignity of crashing into an invisible window. All of these have yellow plastic splatters attached to their beaks, with a cartoonish impact description on each: ‘WHUMPF!!!’, ‘GUNK!!!’ and ‘SPLONK!!!’.

As a comment on the sheer futility of endeavour, the work is darkly humorous, but not without truth.

The piece is one of seven in the exhibition from Klute, a German artist who lives in Dublin. Her work includes sculpture, drawing and painting — all imbued with a delicious sense of subversion.

‘Untitled’ (2014) is a work in bronze, three sets of teeth on metal stems that chatter unnervingly as one passes. ‘Deadlock’ has the headless skeletons of two chickens, painted a vivid pink, locked in an unresolvable conflict.

There are two drawings, beautifully executed in pencil and watercolour on paper, that appear to be of rural vistas — sloping hills and sky — until one checks their titles, ‘Meatscapes I and II’, and realises that their subjects are slabs of flesh. Another drawing, ‘Idle Hands’, has the fingers of two hands intertwining; closer inspection reveals there to be one digit too many on each.

The least compelling work is the diptych, ‘Overcast’. Each of the pieces describes a clouded sky. Searching for some twist in them to match that in her other pieces, one finds there is none. But perhaps that is Klute’s intention: to confound expectations at every turn.

Deadweight reveals Klute to be an artist of daring and intelligence, from whom one can expect much in the future.

* Deadweight runs until Feb 23.

Star Rating 4/5

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