Who is The Colleen Bawn?



A pure voice in the messy business of spousal disposal. Kelly McAuley is The Colleen Bawn
A pure voice in the messy business of spousal disposal. Kelly McAuley is The Colleen Bawn

DION Boucicault was the right man to make a play of the tragic tale of the Colleen Bawn and keep the story fresh, vital. He even did a turn in the first production, New York, 1860 as Myles na gCopalleen her suitor, which may explain director Garry Hynes’ promise of “mirth and edge-of-the-seat entertainment”.

You’ve guessed it, Druid is behind the production coming to Lime Tree Theatre, Tuesday February 4 to 8. Hynes has cast some of her favourite actors: Marty Ray playing killer rogue Hardress Cregan, Marie Mullen as Mrs Cregan Snr and Sheelah Man; Aisling O’Sullivan in cranky (spirited?) form as heiress Anne Chute.

Who is this Colleen Bawn? The original of the species was Ellen Hanley, who at 15 years was married by John Scanlan who ultimately got his man servant to kill her, hence freeing himself up for a monied bride.

Druid/ Boucicault introduce us to an Eily O’Connor, played by Kelly McAuley, this actress’s first turn-out for the Galway based outfit.

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The London based McAuley has real admiration for this young cailín caught in a society web spun to preserve privilege around its own.

“I think she’s gutsy and well able in some ways to win her ground. And she does win Hardress over in the end. Eily is pure – she loves, loves, loves, gives, gives gives. Remember that Boucicault made her to be in her late teens in the 1800s and she grew up in that time. She was loved by her friends, family, the peasantry”.

Why did the villainous Cregan marry her? “I believe [those values] are why he loved her, being unfamiliar to him, someone so true to herself”.

“Mirth” and “mortage melodrama” are terms the Tony-winning Garry Hynes has attached to her production: “She has dotted it with light and dark and what she has done is bring great slapstick moments,” Kelly McAuley elaborates. “Garry really does understand it in huge depth and it is amazing to work with what she sees in things. Mirth is in the highs and lows of the rollercoaster”.

More on Thursday 6 in Arts page on this tale of “tangled love, misplaced honour and downright skullduggery”.

Book for what little seat is left on www.limetreetheatre.ie, staging tomorrow February 4 until Saturday 8. The theatre has issued a parking notice re limited space re the volume of traffic so do park legally and freely in surrounding avenues and streets.