I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls
This is an old-fashioned Irish love story. It is not the kind of play that tends to get produced in the new millennium and in many ways this is a pity. The title refers to both a minor opera written by an Irishman and also a Laurel and Hardy film which was apparently based on it.
It is set in a run-down shack of a cottage (designed by Libby Watson) that perfectly captures the feel for a deprived, rural North of Ireland. This feeling is enhanced by an assortment of lyrical Irish music, some played live on a harmonium.
The three actors play five parts in three separate time lines. The pivotal character is a slightly eccentric but very strong willed Catholic woman, Madelyn.
Initially, we see the only two mourners to arrive for her wake. These are a young musician from London who has been in thrall to her since she was a child, and a shy, quieter older man.
They reminisce for a considerable time about the woman that they have both clearly loved in some way or other. The play then moves into two separate flashbacks one covering young Daniel's visits to the old and slightly dotty woman and the other relating a desperately sad and rather beautiful tale of largely unrequited love.
The main storyline tells how a beautiful, brave Catholic woman in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland had fallen in love with the local policeman who is a Protestant. This inevitably causes problems for both, problems which are exacerbated by the somewhat watered down political views of her beloved, protective brother, Liam. He is a colourful character who cannot go into a bar without causing a fight and whose idea of fun is to paint parts of Queen Victoria's statue green.
Two different mysteries are ultimately revealed and together they explain the intricacy of the relationships and the sadness of all three lives.
The acting is very good: in particular, Ann Marcuson as Madelyn effortlessly transforms herself from aged spinster to young beauty both in bodily form and mental attitude. She receives great support from Shaun Hennessy as the Protestant policeman who loves her and professional stage debutant Matthew Morrison as her brother, Liam.
The play which is an adaptation of a short story by Bryan Gallagher is very moving as it reaches its denouement but takes rather a long time to get there. This helps the characterisation, which is very good and gives audiences a feel for the patient frustration of the play's (rather subdued) hero and heroine. It does though, seem less appropriate in a well-acted play than on the page.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher