An Abbey Theatre, Dublin, production
It is unusual that the undoubted star of this Abbey Theatre transfer is not only its youngest cast member but also the only canine one. Patch, who plays Tatters, is a dog to die for and while he says little, his comic timing and ability to work an audience through use of pathos is remarkable.
At its best, Riverdance director John McColgan's production is full of life and energy. Melodrama has now (literally) got a bad name for itself but back in the days when every facet of mid-nineteenth century life was dominated by what came to be known as Victorian Sensation, Dion Boucicault and his like filled theatres nightly.
The plot contains two really bad baddies, tall dastardly Corry Kinchela (Stephen Brennan) and ratty, little Harvey Duff (David Pearse). They know that if they play their cards right, they will get rich at the expense of the Ffolliotts and might even acquire an heiress along the way.
The dashing Robert Ffolliott (Stephen Darcy) has been transported to Australia on charges trumped up by guess who. While fiancée Arte (Emily Nagle) mourns, his beautiful sister (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) is entranced by the English captain (Rory Keenan) sent to recapture him on his return.
The joker in the pack is a vagabond with a heart of gold, Conn The Shaughraun, played by the energetic Don Wycherley. He has rescued his friend by travelling Down Under and is set to protect him through the two and three-quarter hours of the play. Male friendship goes beyond the call of duty as our hero lays down his life for his - or does he?
Inevitably, after many hisses, the baddies will be defeated, the goodies saved and the brave and the beautiful will marry - but only after each has been in mortal danger. That is melodrama for you.
John McColgan is a painstaking director who takes great care to achieve the right effects. This results in much humour from the script but a great deal more from his efforts to provide sight gags that delight, many involving young Tatters.
The typically Irish music and dancing could have been drawn straight from a backdated Riverdance and are delivered with gusto by the well-choreographed cast and band.
To be fair, while Patch is amazing, the other actors do their jobs well, over-acting as this type of play demands. They are complemented by a great set, designed by Francis O'Connor, making much use of revolves to create a fairy-tale atmosphere.
This version of The Shaughraun is great fun but unevenly paced as it combines moments of drama, pathos and high comedy with some flatter periods where it loses direction. Overall, it delivers what its audience will demand, a touch of Riverdance, a good few laughs and a chance to hiss and boo at some stagy villains.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher