To have taken the 19th century melodramatic romantic comedy The Shaughraun by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault from a traditional, usually heavily staged setting and perform it outdoors in Crediton Town Square was a brave feat, requiring vision and verve from Peter Hamilton and Crediton Arts Centre last summer. The gamble of offering Crediton a piece of non-Shakespearean open-air theatre paid off and the show was so well received the suggestion of an indoor revival this spring was warmly welcomed both by the home crowd and further afield.
Coming into the intimate snug-in-pub welcome of a packed Crediton Arts Centre on Saturday 31st March the audience was greeted by live Irish folk music, lifting and transporting the spirits to another place, Suil-a-Beg, County Sligo on the West of Coast of Ireland, and another time, 1858, when the ownership and autonomy of Ireland was being fought over.
Despite the heady, heavy political backdrop the piece is comedic and the humour was well played out. Tom Blaen performed a chortle-inducing foppish English officer Captain Mollineaux, in love with the witty Irish gentlewoman Claire Ffolliott (Katherine Marsland) but duty bound to follow his orders to capture her brother, escaped convict Robert Ffolliott (Stu Wight), affianced to her friend Arte O’Neal (Petrina Truman). Truman carries the refinement and status of Arte well and remains frostily aloft to the lascivious advances of Cory Kinchela (Pat Laver) to make her his wife and possession having crippled her financially by the poor management of her lands and estates. Fortunately for Arte and Robert, the loyal and inventive poacher-cum-vagabond ‘shaughran’ Conn O’Kelly (Tim Hole) is determined to foil the double-crossing of Corry and sidekick Harvey Duff (Eddie Holden) to help his friend Robert.
Hole’s portrayal of Conn was the driving force of the performance, his mesmerizingly energetic story telling lighting up the stage, infectiously invigorating his fellow cast members with the optimism to defeat Kinchela and Duff whatever the cost…
Hole was well supported by his love Moya Dolan (Victoria Crossly), gentle and yet full of joyful mischief, the peaceable Father Dolan (Geoff Fox) and emotional Mrs O’Kelly (Hilary Hamilton). The Chorus did an entertaining job of keeping the audience abreast of where they were as the adventure capered around the landscape of Suil-a-Beg.
The show toured three other venues (Beer, Moretonhampstead and Newton Abbot) before coming home to Crediton Arts Centre.