As part of the Bath Theatre Royal’s ‘World Theatre Season’, The Bath Ustinov Theatre staged three UK premieres of world acclaimed plays for the spring season; something Ustinov Artistic Director Laurence Boswell has been credited for, offering the venue a new lease of life through its innovative programming.
Outside Mullingar written by American John Patrick Shanley and directed by Sam Yates is a gentle, comical and deeply sentimental story of two Irish neighbouring families bound together by their farming land and an unsettled dispute over a small strip of crossover land. Set in a small Irish farm kitchen inspired by his cousin’s family farm in Killucan near Mullingar, Shanley – who wrote the 2008 film Doubt – brings us a fictional stage play that is deeply rooted in his Irish heritage. Shanley of course is no stranger to Ireland, despite being a New Yorker his family is traditionally Irish. Having visited Ireland in 1993 with his father spending time in Killucan, he knew there was a story to be told about traditional Irish life.
Originally commissioned by the Manhattan Theatre Club, Outside Mulligar‘s UK premiere at the Ustinov was a fitting, intimate venue to house this significantly robust and honest farm kitchen set, which really bought the plays intended emphasis on Irish tradition to life; the lighting in particular did well to highlight and symbolise importance of the grand kitchen table where most of the family talking takes place. The farm kitchen, as Shanley has put it himself, is ‘the holy grail’ of the farm; a representation of his ancestors. The significance of this was every bit as important as the acting.
Actor James Haye portrays the old and stubborn Tony Reilly who intends to keep the bloodline running on his farm after he dies, but is reluctant to hand it down to his son Anthony Reilly (Played by Owen Mcdowell) because he feels he ‘Doesn’t love the farm enough’, threatening to hand the farm to Anthony’s American cousin Adam instead. Anthony is a complicated character who lacks ambition and is quite content on fulfilling his farm duties. The story introduces his neighbour Rosemary Muldoon (Played by Deidre O’Kane) who despite holding a petty childhood grudge against him sees potential in Anthony and has secretly always longed for him.
Following the death of both Anthony’s father Tony and Rosemary’s mother Aoife (Played by Carol Mcready) , Rosemary begins to make her feelings known to Anthony. Throughout, McDonnell plays an endearingly sheltered and emotionally inept character in Anthony, that is perfectly counterbalanced on stage by O’Kanes portrayal of the more open and forthcoming Rosemary Muldoon. The duo bought much energy and laughter to the final third of the play, which shows their relationship blossom, revealing a history of love, longing and ambiguity to their complicated relationship. The performance opens delicately and takes a while to take off, but its O’Kane and McDowell who really steal the show towards the end – an outstanding on stage relationship, with high energy and humour.
A short but sweet story, Outside Mullingar is a fantastic representation of Irish Heritage, and the togetherness of its neighboring community. This is a real heartfelt, ‘girl next door’ comedy about love that knocks at your own your doorstep. 7/10
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