What does Tom Cruise's hideous fakey Oirish accent in Far & Away have to do with a French sounding playwright called Dion Boucicault? Well, without the latter, we never would have had the former. Surely, then we should try to forget Dion Boucicault? No way.
The Abbey's current run of Arrah-na-Pogue continues their much-deserved love affair with Boucicault's work. Last night's performance was poorly attended due the continuing evil weather but the show itself was no poorer for the small audience. If you think you've never seen this sort of play, you're wrong. Every time a foreigner bastardises our accent or says "Top o' the mornin' to you", you can be pretty sure it's because Boucicault invented the notion of stage Irish.
The scene is Co. Wicklow, a few years after the 1798 rebellion and deals with the return of a rebel (played by Rory Nolan and reminding me very much of a young Colm Meaney) and his interactions with his fiancée, her would-be lover, and a young couple who assist in hiding him. The Irish Times described the set as "Emerald City" but I loved it - from the tiny trampolines that the actors use to exaggerate motion to the unexpected movement of certain pieces of furniture. A beautiful baby grand piano played by Conor Linehan provides all the music on stage, though there is song in this production as well. The costumes are perhaps more colourful than would have been the norm when this play first ran or when it was set, but a modern audience requires colour and there's no harm in it. This is melodrama at its best: artificially heightened movements and speech, asides to potted plants and a wonderful puppet sheep that bleats at inopportune moments. The English characters are as caricatured as the Irish: mis-pronouncing Irish names and words; the Irish soldiers in English redcoats are sympathetically portrayed as "only doing their duty" and Gerard Walsh as the sergeant is particularly funny. Michael Glenn Murray as the Major is fantastic in the courtroom scene, both physically and verbally. Mary Murray as the titular Arrah at times seems to ramp up her already hilarious fakey Irish accent. The second act is a good deal shorter and more sombre, at times I felt the pace was a bit off. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable production, at least as good (if not as lavish) as the production of Boucicault's The Shaughraun a couple of Christmases ago. It's suitable for kids and would make a great family outing. It runs until 5th February, so hopefully only this week's performances will have small audiences.