OUTSIDE Mullingar is a play about Ireland. It’s a play about love. It’s about the land and the love of the land. It’s about how we communicate – and how we don’t. About truth and lies, about knowing who we are and finding our way through a dark and puzzling world.
It comes on a bit like all those grim and blackly funny plays that have made Irish theatre so exciting in the past few years. But it subverts your expectations, because it makes you cry and it makes you laugh and you leave the theatre with a warm glow which is quite rare in contemporary drama.
In short, Outside Mullingar is a delight, thoughtful, funny, touching, sometimes very dark and shocking, and totally original.
John Patrick Shanley’s 2014 play is receiving its UK premiere at Bath Theatre Royal’s Ustinov Studio as part of this spring season of world theatre, following the absurdist Byelorussian comedy The Harvest.
It has an excellent and well-matched cast of four, Owen McDonnell as Anthony Reilly, James Hayes as his father Tony, Deirdre O’Kane as Rosemary Muldoon, and Carol MacReady as her mother Aoife. The play opens as the Reilly father and son return from the funeral of Christy Muldoon, and wait for the arrival of the widow and her apparently difficult and antisocial daughter. Anthony and Rosemary are both single and in their late 30s, Tony is old, a widower still mourning his wife, and as grouchy as hell. Aoife is bereft without the man who was the love of her life, and looking to her own death which she knows will come soon. Tony is looking to the future too, planning for the farm. He says that Anthony does not love the land. He is thinking of leaving the farm to a nephew in America.
But, we soon discover, the nephew is not actually being given the farm – he has to buy it, so that Tony can leave a proper portion for his son. And the nephew will not buy the farm unless he has all the land – and that means that Tony must get back from Aoife the “ransom”’ strip which Christy bought from him many years ago. He and Anthony have to open and close two gates and cross a field to get from the road to the farmhouse. Tony says it was a loan (which he has paid back) – Aoife says he can’t have it.
It sounds like a dark and gloomy story heading for a grim ending – the truth will be stranger than Tony knows or Anthony can dream of. Swans and bees and flowers are as important to this story of Irish farming folk as the cattle and the hard unforgiving land.
A story of love in unexpected places, of an inarticulate man finding his voice and a repressed woman giving vent to her feelings, Outside Mullingar is a little masterpiece of warm human observation from the playwright who gave us the brilliant screenplay for Doubt (starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Moonstruck (with Cher, Nicholas Cage and Olympia Dukakis). It runs to 16th May and I urge you to see it!