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Real-life tale of love, wealth and murder turns out to be an hilarious romp

YOU wouldn't think it to look at the poster, but The Colleen Bawn is loosely based on a real-life murder case.

Actually, playwright and actor Dion Boucicault found inspiration in a Gerald Griffin novel which, in turn, was inspired by the death of a 15-year-old girl named Ellen, whose life was taken almost 200 years ago in Co Clare. Her crime? That she had married above her station. Her killer? Her husband's servant. So, Boucicault's melodrama (originally staged in 1860) is probably tough-going, right? Wrong. It's hilarious.

In fact, the only real slog here is that the Druid Theatre Company's newest version of The Colleen Bawn comes with two intervals. Hardly necessary, given both the tone and pace of director Garry Hynes' production. At one point, Marie Mullen, playing the parts of both Mrs Cregan and Sheelah, is required to do so in the same scene. That should give you an idea of the fun involved.

Basically, we're in 19th century Ireland and former rich boy Hardress Cregan (Marty Rea) and his mother are to lose their estate, which means poor Hardress better marry his wealthy cousin, Anne Chute (a fantastic Aisling O'Sullivan).

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The only problem is Hardress has secretly wed a peasant girl across the lake (Kelly McAuley as Eily O'Connor, "the Colleen Bawn"). His loyal servant Danny (a creepy yet brilliant Aaron Monaghan) suggests a solution: he could make Eily disappear.

It doesn't help that Anne's heart also belongs to another (Hardress's mate, Mr Daly). Throw in a whiskey-drinking fool (Rory Nolan as Myles), a priest and a sleazy magistrate and . . . well, it gets messy. Especially when Danny acts on his promise to get rid of the peasant wife – without Hardress's consent.

Occasionally, it all plays out like a serious drama (not least the murder scene). Sometimes, it even threatens to become a full-on musical. But we're mostly in farce territory here, and The Colleen Bawn is at its best when it allows for its fine, comedic performers and scintillating wordplay to take over. O'Sullivan (all the best lines) and Nolan (all the best expressions) excel throughout. The stage design could have been better (a large, painted cut-out of the Killarney mountains isn't good enough), but we'll let them off the hook. If only because of its excellent cast. HHHHI

Running until Saturday


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